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Reading between the lines: How celebrities brought print back to life

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News 7 Mar

Reading between the lines: How celebrities brought print back to life

Long gone are the days that reading was uncool. Fighting loneliness and isolation head on, people continue to search for communities wherever they can. TikTok has proved how successful shared interests can be when bringing people together. Celebrities are changing the meaning of reading and the more you read what they read, the closer you feel to your favourite famous personality. Much like anything turned cool, reading has become a social currency – things have shifted, and we want to understand why.

The celebrity reader aesthetic

No one celebrity can be singularly credited with bringing new hype to reading, but plenty come to mind when thinking about this phenomenon – Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Dua Lipa, Jacob Elordi to list but a few. Highlighted in our 2024 Trends Report, a Print Renaissance is emerging in response to growing enthusiasm for a less tech-driven life. 

Parasocial relationships have started to influence our personal likes and dislikes. In a world where everyone has become a content creator, attention is being drawn to the content curators. With the support of their loyal following behind them, all aspiring to buy, wear and like the same things as them, their tastes and sensibilities have now been extended to the masses, influencing consumption of items that might not have been as popular otherwise. And now they’ve adopted books. 

Helping to create a high-brow aesthetic, reading has taken a new visual identity. Becoming the ‘it’ item of the season, people are obsessing over Jacob Elordi’s book choices. The varied titles he carries with him at all times give him an ‘in-the-know’ allure. Cool, but collected. When worn by celebrities, books are about curation, not only of content but also of their image. And in a world where Gen Z and Gen Alpha have been carefully curating their lives, it would make sense that they’d also curate their minds.

Celebrity book clubs turned production goldmines

Capitalising on their word, celebrity book clubs have been hugely successful for years. But the likes of Reese’s Book Club and Belletrist have now moved beyond simply curating a list of new reads. Expanding their expertise beyond literary storytelling, both have shifted their efforts back to where their founders started their careers: the screen

With more than 2.5 million subscribers, Reese has taken her book club to the next level, approaching publishers and authors with notable or upcoming titles or new releases and agrees on a mutually beneficial exchange. She will promote the book on her platform and in return, they will negotiate the rights to adapt the novels into films and shows with her and her company, Hello Sunshine. Breaking the boundaries of the literary world, the Legally Blonde actress has proved that storytelling, as niche as it might or unknown as a story might be, will always have a place with the masses, showing her success through productions like Big Little Lies and The Morning Show. 

Belletrist have also expanded their book club to screen adaptations through their company, Belletrist Productions, which has already produced First Kill and Tell Me Lies, and has a first-look deal with MAX

New talent in an old space

However, despite the powerful place that celebrities hold in the world of taste curation nowadays, we can’t ignore the role that influencers play when it comes to catering to audiences. 

Where Booktubers used to be, now we have Booktokers engaging with viral challenges like ‘the silent review’ or readers sharing relatable experiences when reading a new book. 29.7 million posts later, it was no surprise to see publishers starting to react. In contrast to the usual criticisms levelled at influencers in other spheres, though, literary influencers deal only in authenticity. Despite being invited for events such as movie premieres of book adaptations and dinners with fellow influencers, these creators work with a medium that requires not only financial dedication but also time commitment. To promote a book, they have to have read it first, and most importantly, give their honest opinion about it. 

Book influencers rely on the content they review to secure their fanbase, creating a space of open communication to establish a community that returns to explore varied subjects and diverse topics. 

Influencers like Jenn Im, whose content usually revolves around fashion, and Oenone, former fitness influencer turned millennial podcaster, are just a couple of creators that have moved beyond their area of expertise and into the world of book clubs. Ultimately, this medium allows influencers to create a more intimate connection with their followers, and diversify their skillset beyond a narrow, specialist focus. 

They say what we are thinking 

At a time when many feared for the publishing industry, creators and celebrities have helped to breathe new life into it. Sales numbers of print titles skyrocketed in the past couple of years, and partially, the industry thanks social media. New purpose has been given to reading, as people to search for answers and guidance amidst crisis, or to seek out voices that articulate their inner thoughts.

Creators give us the opportunity to not only delve deeper into genres and books we already like, but also explore new areas to expand our circle of knowledge. On this Book Day, we celebrate not only the return of print, but also the people that made it possible.

MTM Book Club Recommendations:

As a way to celebrate Book Day, MTM’s very own Book Club gathered to suggest some of our all-time favourite books to help you get inspired for your next read:

Helen Wright, Research Manager

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: This beautifully written memoir explores grief, family, and the power of food through the lens of Korean-American culture. It’s a raw and honest journey that resonated deeply. #BookTok was right, this one is a tearjerker (but in the best way possible!)

Holly Friend, Research Director

The Idiot by Elif Batuman: Perhaps the most weird and wonderful thing I’ve ever read. It’s a campus novel set at Harvard in the 90s, which means everyone is excited about emails. As well as being nostalgic for a phone-free world, it’s a funny and philosophical look at learning, with a borderline-obsessive first crush plot that will transport you back to the wonderful embarrassment of adolescence.

Rafaella Dhelomme, Research Executive

Bluets by Maggie Nelson: An exploration of the colour blue that entangles fun facts, personal opinions, and a heartbreak all while creating one of the most heart-wrenching, hilarious pieces I’ve ever read! Experimental fiction, or maybe prose, or possibly nonfiction, there is no one to say what was going on in Maggie Nelson’s head, but she surely came out with something worth the hype.