Bookstagram is igniting political conversations about the need for greater representation in books, one page at a time.
By Jakob Andreasen
Vanshika Prusty is a voice amongst the crowd.
“Avid readers are strange, and quite particular, in the sense that we are all unique in our reading taste. Yet, we come together for one thing: diversity. We come together so even a 30-year-old Indian woman is able to go to a store and look at a cover and finally—finally see herself and her life as normal, valid, accepted. And none of this would be possible without social media,” she said.
Prusty agrees that diversity is fast becoming a trend in mainstream fiction and that consumers no longer want stories filled with predominately white, male, cis-gendered characters. They want variety. They want representation.
A relatively new phenomenon, Bookstagram; the community of book-loving users on Instagram who frequently share their bookshelves and book-related content, is increasingly popular every day, at least one new bookstagram every hour.
Evolving beyond a place to share book-related content, the community has become a platform that promotes the need for diversity in books.
The non-profit organisation @weneeddiversebooks, almost at forty-thousand followers, discusses the lack of diverse narratives in children’s literature.
Recently, the non-profit, awarded Angie Thomas, a Young-Adult contemporary author, The Walter Grant. The funds allowed Thomas to write her debut novel, The Hate U Give; which is inspired Black Lives Matter movement and a New-York Times bestseller.
The page recently advocated for better representation of fat people, an often-misused group, and discussed that they can be celebrated instead of mocked.
Prusty, @thatreadingwraith on Bookstagram (currently has almost 6000 followers), is constantly sharing and voicing her opinions, and remaining unapologetically bisexual.
“I think it’s extremely important to voice your opinions online. I think of it as a learning experience; when you say something offensive, or not well-versed in the topic you speak on, you allow yourself the opportunity to learn by being, and I hate this term, ‘called-out’,” she said.
Many are, what Prusty calls, ‘called-out’ and aim to mend their mistakes. Susan Dennard, the author of Truthwitch, Windwitch and most recently Sightwitch, a Young-Adult fantasy filled with magic and political intrigue, recently shared on her Bookstagram page the problems with her work. Dennard discussed the topic of consent and acknowledges that she should’ve handled her writing more appropriately.
“People make mistakes, I understand that, and I can forgive that if someone is genuinely sorry. But people like Keira Drake, author of perhaps the most racist book published this year, The Continent, don’t deserve a second chance, in my opinion, because not only did she get a chance without even genuinely apologizing for what she’d done, but she didn’t fix her problem even when she was given the chance to,” she said.
The Continent follows protagonist Vaela Sun as she tries to survive a desolate land. However, many readers are outraged with how representation, in this novel, is mistreated.
One user called the book a “perpetuation of the stereotype of “dark-skinned savages.” Labelling the novel, “extremely offensive.”
Another said, “take those outdated opinions and shove them right up your ass because no one wants to listen to them.”
Prusty expresses, “You can make a mistake, but once you do, it’s your responsibility to apologize and fix it. It’s your responsibility to be better,” she said.
Diversity in the book world has been gaining traction over the past few years. Successful titles: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Simon VS the Homosapien’s Agenda by Becky Albertalli, a Young-Adult contemporary that discusses LBGTQ+ themes, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Young-Adult Fantasy with a disabled main character, and recently Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a West African inspired fantasy.
@hoarding.chapters recently posted a photo which highlighted the diversity in Children of Blood and Bone. Her post went viral in the Bookstagram community. “Bask in the blackity blackness of it and be blessed,” she captioned.
Other bookstagrammers voiced their thoughts on the importance of diversity in books.
@dontgobrekkermyheart, “Diverse books have become my favourite books to read because they teach me cultures and take me to atmospheres I would never have known before. It isn’t just about representation, but also, creating this sense of pride and strength for the individual that specific diverse book represents,” she said.
@highladylyss, “I think its super important that there’s diversity and good representation in books for the readers to see that they’re not alone and that there are people like them in literature,” she said.
@florbookish, “Representation and diversity are important, being able to read and relate to someone that looks like you or that goes through the same stuff. And we all should voice our opinions about it,” she said.
@amaras_rose, “Diversity is super important. I think books should accurately represent the diverse world we live in,” she said.
The community is a place that celebrates diversity. They don’t shy away from voicing the importance of representation, and they are always welcoming of new book lovers.
“I’m so happy that we have more readers here. Stories are important, books are important, and everyone should be in this community. It’s a loving, welcoming community, and I can’t imagine who I would be without it,” Prusty said.
This article was sub-edited by Janelle Taouk