Opinion

I’m Tired of Queer Book Lists Without Context

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Let me be very clear: I’ve been running a bi and lesbian book blog for more than a decade. I write a weekly queer books newsletter. I follow dozens (hundreds?) of queer book blogs, YouTube channels, and TikToks. I love queer books, and I love reading queer book recommendations.

No, my problem is with something that plagues queer BookTok, and that is lists with absolutely no context at all. A TikTok will begin with, “Oh, you think there are no good sapphic books?” and then it will be be a rapid fire blinks of book covers, ranging from The Color Purple by Alice Walker to Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill. There will be no distinction between genres or tones. Sometimes, but not always, they’ll be separated by age groups, but that’s about it. There will be no reason given as to why the books are good, and it’s not even clear whether these are books the TikTokker has read or whether they’ve just heard they’re good.

I began to suspect queer BookTok was more guilty of this — simply listing books without giving even a one word description — but I confirmed my suspicions when I studied the top 50 queer BookToks and compared them to the top 50 BookToks in general. What I found was that there were far more titles mentioned per TikTok on queer BookTok. So these rapid fire book lists aren’t just a feature of BookTok in general, but especially on queer BookTok.

I’ve been on the queer bookternet for a while, and I have seen this before. In the early days of book blogging, posting a top 10 LGBT books list was perfectly reasonable. Then Tumblr had its own lists. YouTube had less of this, because there was more time to fill, so BookTubers were more likely to actually talk about the books they were recommending. TikTok, though, goes at a much faster pace, and so these lists abound.

So, what’s my problem with rapid fire queer book lists? Well, a few things. One is that they’re not helpful. If the category is very narrow, then it makes sense. Here are five great nonbinary middle grade fantasy books? Awesome. I already know 1) the age range 2) the format 3) the genre AND 4) the identity. Most likely, if I am interested in the topic, I’ll want to check them all out. A list of 20 great LGBTQ books without any other description, though, is not enough to go on. I can judge them based on the cover, but I don’t know anything about them except that they aren’t straight and cis. There are probably ones included I would be interested in, but I have to do my own research to find out.

The implication is that all queer books are alike. That “gay” is a genre category, or a style. But — it should go without saying — there are queer books of every possible style, format, genre, mood, and age range. There are tearjerker queer books and fluffy romances. There are middle grade sci-fi novels and dense political thrillers and a million other genres. They will all appeal to different readers — queer or not — and it does them a disservice to collapse them into a single identity label with no other identifying features.

I’m also frustrated because there are so many amazing resources out there now for queer books. Book Riot, of course, has a zillion LGBTQ book lists (and we’ll tell you why you should read them, too!) and LGBTQ Reads is a fantastic source for finding queer YA — and there are dozens more book blogs putting out stellar content every week: specific, niche lists; detailed reviews; round ups of queer book news and new releases; interviews with queer authors; and tons more. TikTok often seems to be unaware of any of this, though, and is starting at square one.

I recognize that one to three minutes is not a lot of time to pack in information, and I’m not looking for in-depth reviews. Really, I just want the same amount of information that I’d get in a tweet. I want to know why you’re recommending it! What makes it good? What makes it unique? Is it similar to a book I have read and loved? This can be a sentence worth, or it can just text attached to the cover image.

Queer BookTok, I love you. I love the energy and the amount of content that comes out every day. I just would like just a tiny bit more depth, please. Just a bit.

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