The community of bookstagram sees users from different walks of life sharing their love for literature through carefully curated posts online.
From intricately decorated posts to the exploding popularity of #BookTok garnering almost 4.6 billion views on TikTok, the community of book blogging has taken off with a digital spin on social media in recent years.
Undergraduate Amanda Chang, 19, is a book blogger herself on the literary side of Instagram, or bookstagram, as it is fondly known.
We spoke to Amanda, who runs @Squiggly.Reads on Instagram, as she shares her experience in the bookstagram community and how she combines her love for the arts and books through her platform.
It goes without saying that one of the key characteristics of being a book blogger is to first be an avid reader and Amanda is no stranger to that.
Her interest in reading trails back to her time in primary school, where she used to read an average of three books a day – a habit she often got into trouble with as she read between her classes.
As someone who was always curious to learn, reading was almost second nature for her. But that interest waned as she grew older, especially when reading became an activity that was compulsory in school.
It was not until early 2020, during her nine-month long break before university began, that she decided to read the novel Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
“When I read that book, it felt very refreshing. Maybe because I’ve never had this feeling of seeing things from someone else’s perspective for a very long time,” she said of the fictional novel, which discussed issues surrounding transracial adoption, identity and motherhood.
The process of discussing a layered topic through the characters while being able to empathise with their struggles was an experience unlike any other activity, which helped to renew her interest in reading.
“I haven’t had the experience of time flying by so quickly until I read that book. It made me realise that there are many books out there that are so fun to read which I am not forced to go and pursue,” she said.
Currently on her gap year, Amanda spends her time learning new skills while on her internship. Reading also became one of the things she did over the circuit breaker, where she used to share her book reviews on her private social media account.
But with few of her friends as invested in her reviews as she did, Amanda turned to bookstagram and started @Squiggly.Reads in July.
Having followed the bookstagram community prior, Amanda shared that she initially felt “like a kid” among older bookstagrammers and used to feel inferior that her reviews were not as well-written as others.
That feeling of worry soon dissipated as she grew comfortable sharing her own thoughts for her followers to enjoy. The community of bookstagrammers were also welcoming, often looking out for each other within the close-knit community, Amanda shared.
Starting her own platform also gave her the confidence to reach out to other bookstagrammers whom she followed.
“My impression is that not everyone in Singapore reads and that everyone is too busy. To see that there are other people who share the same love, opinions and who want to discuss other themes and plotlines is something that I enjoy a lot,” Amanda said.
When asked about what she enjoys most about running her account, Amanda said: “I found a lot of joy in sharing what I thought about a book and being able to go back to [my previous reviews] to see what I initially thought about it or how my opinions changed over time as I spoke to more people.
“Sometimes, people hate something I love or sometimes I hate what others love, which is something I find really interesting to read about from someone else’s perspective.”
“I also really like it when someone shares that they decided to read a book because of me too since I did not expect that my words would have held any weight at all,” she added candidly.
To decide her next read, Amanda usually picks her books based on recommendations from other bookstagrammers she follows. Most of the books she has read so far are borrowed and she often visits the library at every available opportunity.
On why she prefers to borrow her books, Amanda said: “I don’t usually buy my books because I can’t take the pressure of it being left on the shelf and for me to spend tangible money on it. If the book is not good, what do I do with it?”
“I usually read on the way to work, when I’m coming home from work and sometimes at night. I usually take three to four days to finish a book, sometimes maybe up till a week.
“I bring the book with me everywhere I go. Whenever I walk past somewhere with a nice scenery, I would stop by and snap a picture of the book with it along the way,” she explained.
She would usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book on hand so that she will have something to read no matter what mood she is in, as well as to strike a balance between her readings based on the subject matter.
When asked about what she looks out for when reviewing, Amanda said that the biggest point for her are the characters. However, she candidly admitted, she does not always follow a fixed criteria and usually base her reviews on how much she enjoyed the story instead.
While book reviews are the main focus on the account, Amanda also shares her love for the arts through her account.
Her book reviews are decorated with illustrations and animations that she created on Procreate, a digital application. The designs are usually inspired by the theme of the story and can take between five to 30 minutes to complete depending on the complexity of the design.
When asked about how she thinks her account has grown over time, Amanda shared that she was content with learning to be more ambitious in her designs and photography.
When she first started the account, her plans were to feature her books taken against the same backdrop to set a fixed theme for her posts.
Having grown tired of the design, she decided to experiment with her shots and her platform has now evolved to feature her artworks and illustrations of varying themes.
“Besides reading, I’m also interested in design so this place allows me to carve out my own ‘unique selling point’ in terms of animating the pictures and finding a way to make the posts special,” she said.
“Whenever I have such ideas (to illustrate), I feel that it challenges me as a designer to figure out how I want to design them, which [becomes a part of my work] process.”
The idea of picking up a book may seem unattractive to some, since it is much easier to sit through a show on Netflix than get back on the habit of reading.
While indulging in a television series might seem more comfortable and easier than dedicating time solely to read – something which Amanda herself does at times too – she believes that there is “something organic” about reading still.
“Even though you can infer and read expressions to figure out what a character is thinking… Reading really puts [the character] in perspective and forces you out of your comfort zone to empathise with the character,” she explained.
On her thoughts of what readers can do to start reading again, Amanda shared that the simplest way is to start with reading what you like.
“Don’t read something that you are not interested in even if others enjoy it. Just read something that you are passionate about.
“Interested in feminism? Go read about it and you will find that there are so many perspectives and experiences that you may never have from people that you may not be able to meet in person,” she said.
When asked about her all-time favourites, Amanda excitedly recommends the Harry Potter series – one that she has personally read multiple times and that she said will “seal the deal” for readers.
As for non-fictional books, she recommends Eating Chilli Crab in an Anthropocene, a locally published book on climate change in Singapore which she had done a review on previously.
“I would advise people to just read stuff that you are interested in. If you are not interested in it then find another to read instead. There is definitely a book for everyone and we just need to go and find it.”
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