The twin vortexes of Book Twitter and BookTok
Read to the end for a conversation with activist and writer Jordan Uhl
Recently, I made the mistake of “finally trying to do TikTok” which, suffice it to say, is an experiment that has culminated in me having to utilize my phone’s Screen Time app-limiting feature for the first time literally ever. I had a pretty good time being wholly in-tune with my generation for a couple weeks, to the point where the viral “CHRISSY WAKE UP” Stranger Things remix sound was stuck in my head for multiple days in a row. And I enjoyed making a bunch of videos and getting my head around the in-app editor, but honestly it wasn’t that fun. Not fun enough to be worth the brain-melting compulsion to look at TikTok instead of doing literally anything else.
The algorithm couldn’t quite figure me out, which makes me more than a bit proud, but it did mean I was constantly getting served really brutally stupid #hustleculture freelance stuff as well as Get Ready With Me videos from skinny women with clean apartments (cannot relate). I did finally get some firsthand experience of the stuff that I’ve been reading and writing about for a hot second, though. BookTok, for one. (I really liked this TikTok for reasons that will be obvious if you are familiar with my vibe.)
BookTok is one of those corners of TikTok that you probably have heard of. It might be one of the more powerful parts of the app, in the sense that it is affecting real-world things like the New York Times bestseller’s list on a humblingly regular basis. Much like TikTok’s musical prowess, BookTok has the power to send titles shooting up the charts. Unlike TikTok’s viral music hits, mostly generic shitty pop, BookTok success is usually a result of genuine enthusiasm and devotion to the quality work of an author. Which makes sense, given how much more effort it takes to read and review a book as compared to listening to a song on Spotify. This means that an author can receive enduring success for not only their new releases but their back catalogue as a result of becoming BookTok’s newest Chosen One.
Book Twitter, another part of the online bookosphere, is less powerful than BookTok, mainly serving these days as a PvP arena for authors and agents and editors and readers to snipe at each other. On Twitter, you definitely do not want to become the Chosen One because it will not translate, usually, to sky-high sales.
Wrath Goddess Sing is one of those mythical retellings that have been popular lately. In the grand tradition of Madeleine Miller, it puts a novelistic spin on a well-known tale, in this case the Iliad. The book, written by Maya Deane, a trans woman, portrays Achilles as a trans woman, and surrounds her with a cast of characters reinterpreted in similarly creative ways. Deane is a scholar of the Mediterranean, incorporating a great deal of historical detail into her story alongside elements from the Iliad. I have not read it yet but I really want to!
The recent kerfuffle-turned-backlash-turned-transmisogynistic-pile-on, beginning on Book Twitter and leaking over inevitably to BookTok, revolved initially, from what I can tell, around her incorporation of the concept of slavery in the story, including characters who are slaves… just like they were historically and in the original Iliad.
But instead of detailing the minutiae of the controversy, I’d rather recap the strategies people have used to counter it. Goodreads user dathomira, who some might remember from their unforgiving review of Zabe Ellor’s Silk Fire a few months ago, wrote a long, lyrically moving positive review of Wrath Goddess Sing in which (among many other things) they pointed out that “framing any of what has come to pass as 'critical discourse' instead of what it is (clout-chasing via lying to a segment of social media you know will not open a book or think for themselves) is ludicrous beyond imagining.” And Twitter threads from transfeminine writers and readers have also worked to put the backlash into context.
But hot allostatic load cannot be reversed or removed, only relieved. For Deane, a quite minor and unhyped author who by most accounts has written a very good debut novel, to have to deal with her entry into the publishing world met with this kind of unforgiving reaction, is saddening. I can hardly imagine how difficult this has been for her.
As theorist Nathan Jurgensen so pithily put it recently, nothing is non-ideological, even if it happens on the internet. BookTok and Book Twitter have the power to directly affect careers on a more intimate level than other areas of the fandom internet, especially debut authors whose future depends on the performance of their first book. Just because these controversies are happening in a corner of the fandom-adjacent internet that you might not care about does not mean they aren’t symptomatic of the continued braiding-together of transphobia and fascism happening Out In The Real World, with the end goal of depriving trans people of their livelihoods and freedoms.
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Will It Pancake?
User @whathowtry (real name Laurence) has a bunch of different series he does across his various social media channels. He reverse-engineers crappy DIY life hacks, he makes viral food, and posts general interesting tips. His whole brand is actually kind of an interesting example of the debunking viral economy, in which creators do viral prompts in decidedly unviral ways to debunk them, thus going viral themselves. There is no ethical viral media creation within an algorithmic platform, etc., etc.
Anyways, one series he does is “will it pancake,” which I really enjoy. He’s pancaked a Red Bull and also turned Monster energy drink into “caviar” lmao. But I think my favorite is this video of him turning a Big Mac into a pancake.
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Google “Biden Inflation Rule 34”
Alrighty, here’s a delightful little episode that played out in the replies of a terrible tweet that was posted by right-wing pundit Steven Crowder.
Earlier this week, Crowder posted a tweet about the actor Elliot Page. If you’ve been ignoring all of this (congrats), the MAGAsphere has been having a days-long meltdown over various Twitter suspensions that several large accounts have received for deadnaming Page. In the replies, a user named @KaenineC wrote, “Ask teachers who forgive unfinished assignments and missing classes for students who self-identify as trans and non-binary and let these students bully other students without being criticized for bullying.” Just to be clear: this is not a thing.
Then another user named @thelettuceman9 had a very helpful reply:
I don’t want to over-explain the joke here, but inflation is a sexual fetish and rule 34 is an easy way to surface pornography of something on Google. Luckily for us, it seems like @KaenineC did not realize that and has taken the bait. The user then screenshot @thelettuceman9’s tweet and is sharing it as proof of the Biden administration pro-trans conspiracy. Just great stuff all around.
Twitter Is Finally Letting Us CoTweet
According to both the FAQ Twitter published and the promo video they released, a CoTweet will allow two users to simultaneously author the same tweet. I literally cannot, for my life, understand how or why this would be useful to anyone, but I also think convoluted and worthless product decisions like this are an undeniable sign that a social platform is in the final years of its life, so as someone who is actively rooting for the complete destruction of Twitter, I think this seems pretty good.
My favorite thing about the CoTweet is that doing one is wildly convoluted. You have to message a user, send them an invite, which once they accept, puts the tweet on their timeline. Gosh, if only there was already a way to share another user’s tweet on your timeline, but with only one button. Oh well.
NFT Drama Has Come For Reddit (Again)
Yesterday, Reddit announced what it’s calling “Collectible Avatars” and the community is not happy about it. Here’s a fun detail, in the announcement, there is no mention of the word “NFT,” but that’s basically what they are. The avatars exist on the blockchain and have to be purchased with a wallet that’s linked to Reddit. According to the announcement, “the blockchain gives you — the purchaser — ownership over your Avatar, no matter where you want to take it, on or off Reddit.” That’s crazy, so does saving it for free to my desktop.
Even more confusing, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of a secondary market for these avatars. Maybe Reddit plans to build some kind of marketplace for these later, but it feels like a big thing to leave out, considering there’s literally no incentive for buying NFTs unless you can go sell them somewhere after. Oh, even worse, a user in the comments noticed that there’s also all kind of weird terms of service regarding how you transfer the ownership of the avatars. It also explicitly says that users should have any “expectation of economic benefit or profit” when purchasing them. Seems bad!
A Dad Weighs In On Final Fantasy VII Characters
Honestly, some points where made.
A Kate Bush Cover I Liked
Look, there’s a lot of Kate Bush covers going around right now. And, you know, that’s fine. “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” is a banger and deserves to enter the pantheon of greatest pop songs of all time. And I thought this cover by the band The Wombats on Australian radio station Triple J was particularly well done.
BONUS: Here’s Jordan Uhl’s Biggest Pop Culture Blindspot
Everyone loves to ask the internet’s most-plugged in writers and creators questions like “what are you reading,” or “what’s in your bag,” or “what’s your money diary,” etc. So I decided to do something different: What aren’t you paying attention to?
This week I talked to Jordan Uhl. He’s a writer, activist, streamer, and author of a new newsletter that is great called I Hate It Here And Never Want To Leave. He was nice enough to open up about his complicated feelings about a certain massive superhero media franchise. You can check that out after the paywall jump!