Instagram, the social network founded on sharing pictures and videos, has been a boon for the written word. Really. If Instagram is where we post the most pleasing, pleasurable things in life – food, fashion, travel, design, selfies, an infinite number of pictures of your six-month-old puppy – why not books? In 2018, what you’re reading has become a vital cultural currency.
The book-brag – we are certainly bragging about something when we Instagram – can take many forms. A popular template is the “beautiful object” post, where users revel in well-designed covers. Some of this year’s most striking fronts include Haruki Marukami’s Chip Kidd-designed Killing Commendatore and the Canadian version of Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, with bold typography and a sense of intrigue imparted by unexplained octopus tentacles kissing the Gilller Prize-winner’s name.
(A variation on the theme is the “I love books” post, where users style their weekend literary finds for Instagram with the zest of a fashion influencer.)
Another is the “very important passage” post, where users share wisdom from a book they consider a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Taking a photo of a printed page can be a bit crude, depending on lighting, but the idea is to impart, well, an idea, a thought that helps say something about who you are, without having to type a single word; probably just one praise-hands emoji.
Where did all these social bibliophiles come from? Part of the appeal lies in the feeling that Instragram, where more than half its users identify as female, is a female-positive digital space. And while reading has traditionally also skewed female, so too has the sharing of books in a communal setting. It’s where the timeworn image of a book club of older women comes from, similar to that depicted in this year’s so-so Book Club starring Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen. Where the film dates itself is age. In the Instagram era, the mania for books is being driven by the app’s demographic sweet spot of users 18 to 29 (along with a sprinkling of the 30-to-49 bracket’s lower end).
All of these factors converge in the ultimate expression of a modern love for literature: the Instagram book club. Instead of red wine and awkward discussion, there are beautiful, hyper-curated accounts that present books perhaps as they were always meant to be seen – as an amazing lifestyle choice. It’s no wonder why celebrities, from Reese Witherspoon (@reesesbookclubxhellosunshine) to Emmas Roberts (@belletrist) and Watson (@oursharedself), have their own clubs, where they get to be tastemakers for hundreds of thousands of young women with their monthly book picks.
Where the visual language of Instagram can only convey a limited amount of nuance, books, in short, have become further ingrained as a cool shorthand for how you think, for what you believe in, for who you are. The happy marriage of books and Instagram proves that old adage: A picture is worth a thousand words, as well as many, many more followers.
Books in 2018
Everybody loves Edugyan
In the end, this year’s queen of Canadian literature was coronated with the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Bookies and prognosticators held their breaths momentarily when her novel Washington Black came up short for the Writers’ Trust and Man Booker prizes. But all was right when she was handed Canada’s most lauded literary award, plus $100,000.
Amid a glut of political reading – everyone has something to say these days – the year was bookended by two very different bestsellers: In January, Michael Wolff set the toxic tone for the next 12 months with his Trump tell-all Fire and Fury; last month, Michelle Obama gifted the perfect palate cleanser with her memoir Becoming.
No. 1 with a bullet
Love him or hate him, the only thing you can’t deny Jordan Peterson is his status as a No. 1 bestseller at home and abroad. The controversial Canadian professor released 12 Rules For Life in January and soon sold millions of copies and reached the top of numerous lists, including The Globe’s.
Watch what you read
My Brilliant Friend, The Hate U Give, Sharp Objects, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Sisters Brothers: It was a tremendous year for beloved books becoming fully realized film and television. Half the fun is seeing characters spring to life from the page – the other half is appreciating the artistic visions on display that have miraculously survived the Hollywood machine.
Watch what you read 2.0
The Kissing Booth is another book turned into film (and streaming on Netflix). But what makes this one noteworthy is the origin story: It was originally written by Beth Reekles, a British author then in her teens, and published on Wattpad, the storytelling platform started by Canadians Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen in 2006. Now it’s one of Netflix’s most watched movies of the year.
Leave one, take one
In October, Todd Bol, 62, died in his native Minnesota. His most famous creation, the Little Free Library, continues to live on around the world. The little boxes, which homeowners most often place in their front yards for people to leave and exchange books as they please, are a familiar – and much welcome – sight in Canadian neighbourhoods.
Politics in the age of Trump has spurred at least one feel-good story: one of the year’s best picture books. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, created by Jill Twiss and EG Keller and published by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, borrowed U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence’s family rabbit to tell a bestselling LGBTQ tale of inclusivity.
Reading on the go has never been easier. Invented in France, short-story-dispensing machines found their way this year to Edmonton International Airport, Calgary’s Central Library and Capilano University in Vancouver. And this summer, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport played host to CarryOnBooks, a CanLit vending machine.
You (still) go, girl
Rupi Kaur continues to ride high. While the Canadian Instagram poet didn’t release a new collection, 2018 has been about a victory lap that has seen her tour like a rock star across Europe and North America, including a triumphant homecoming stop in Brampton, Ont.
And a final word
Terese Marie Mailhot, Waubgeshig Rice, the late Richard Wagamese, Eden Robinson, Tommy Orange, Cherie Dimaline (2017, but with much late buzz this year), Joshua Whitehead, Darrel J. McLeod, Tanya Talaga, Katherena Vermette, Tanya Tagaq and so many more: so much great writing from Indigenous writers in the past 12 months. Read all that you can.