Aesthetics, Materialism, And Why I’m Not A Booktuber

So last week booktube and twitter kinda blew up over Steve Donoghue’s video and his subsequent comments. Basically, in his video, he talked about how “big booktubers” were attending BEA and pumping out an exorbitant amount of vlogs and hauls and he claimed to know who “real readers” are and that these big booktubers just aren’t it. That was offensive to many people in and of itself, but Steve accidentally fanned the flames when he commented,

“I mean, do [big booktubers] strike you as readers? When you watch their well-lit, well-filmed videos, with them sitting there wearing blush in front of studio lights, can you honestly picture them hunkered down with a book, happily reading, oblivious to everything else? I certainly can’t picture that.”

Now, many people took that as a rather sexist remark due to what they believe he “implied” about wearing makeup. I, however, don’t believe this was intended as a sexist remark, but rather a comment on how aesthetically based booktube is.

This is probably gonna offend some people but I just can’t not say it and that is: booktube is a lot about the aesthetic. AND BEFORE YOU GO GETTIN’ IN A HUFF LET ME SAY: I UNDERSTAND. As a performer, I understand that the way things looks matter. They do. First off, to address Steve’s makeup comments: when you have harsh lighting, you need makeup in order to look like you actually have, oh, you know, actual lips that don’t blend completely into your face. And you need good lights so people can actually, oh, you know, see you. And what performer doesn’t have a good set to perform on?

Now, WITH THAT BEING SAID, I, especially as a genuinely poor person, really dislike how aesthetically based booktube is. Why? Because due to how aesthetically based booktube is, we have grown accustomed now to seeing readers as these well groomed young men and women who have pristinely maintained gargantuan collections of books. And I can’t afford that. And I don’t believe that most of America can afford that either. I can’t afford to have 600,787,942,300,081 books. I can’t afford to haul 600,787,942,300,081 more each month. I can’t afford to always be wearing the best makeup and the trendiest clothes. I can’t afford the lighting and equipment it takes to produce so called “high quality” videos. I just can’t. That’s the reality of my life.

Steve’s video and comments bring up a really good point: does a “real reader” always have to have the biggest, bestest, newest collection of books? Do they have to lead a perfect, wealthy life? I think what he was trying to say is, “Look, if you don’t/can’t have that perfect look, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a reader.” And I can get behind that. Now, did he say this in the most polite, PC, unoffensive way? No. But that doesn’t mean what I perceive as his intended message rings any less true.

Part of why I’m a blogger rather than a booktuber is because I don’t have to sit in front of a huge bookshelf full of books. Because I don’t have that, I can’t have that. And when I’m behind a computer, typing away, no one can tell. Part of why I’m a blogger instead of a booktuber is because people can’t see whether or not I’m “beautiful.” When you’re writing, that doesn’t matter. And I hate to say it, but when you’re filming, it does matter.

Have we become too aesthetically based? Too materialistic? Has it gotten to the point on booktube where if you’re like me and you can’t afford to have a huge collection of books and “well-lit, well-filmed” videos, you’re not a “real reader” in the eyes of viewers? Because I think it kinda has.

This is just the point of view of an outsider. But I think that’s a valuable point of view as well. I am in no way saying that Steve’s comments are nice or that what people thought he was saying is okay. But I am saying that we can take some of the truth behind his ugly words and use it to reflect upon ourselves, our society, and what we value.

Do you think booktube is too aesthetically based? What do you think of Steve’s video and his comments? Are they sexist? Or are they just poorly worded?

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Lila is a 27-year-old college student studying physics and a lover of literature. When she's not busy reading or saving the world through science, Lila can be found singing jazz and blues and obsessing over hedgehogs (a.k.a. the cutest animals in the multiverse!)

24 thoughts on “Aesthetics, Materialism, And Why I’m Not A Booktuber

  1. I love the points you made. Being a booktuber makes it seem like you have to buy all of your books (which can be extremely expensive). Personally I think the Bookish community has become too materialistic. It seems like you have to buy books to be a real reader, I hardly ever see anyone with library books anymore. Plus I think Steve’s comment was taken way out of context, he definitely could have worded it better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. thanks, melanie! i definitely think steve’s comments were taken way out of context! and good point about how not many people have library hauls–two great booktubers who do library hauls are trina at between chapters and shannon at leaning lights, but they’re the only booktubers i’ve ever seen with library books, which is pretty sad!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I find this to be a problem with bookstagram too (not so much how YOU look, but how everything else looks). It seems to me like to have an evenly moderately successful bookstagram, you have to have A+ lighting, you have to have a nice camera, you have to have props to use, etc. I have an Instagram, but pretty much anything I post are just stacks of books because I don’t have the time, money, or energy to worry about other stuff lol Booktube and bookstagram (and to be honest, the book community in general) definitely can make you feel like you’re not a “real reader” if you can’t buy all your own books (and have new releases as soon as they come out) and if you can’t present them in a certain way which can be incredibly frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i can definitely sympathize with feeling like people look at you like less of a reader because you can’t buy all of the books or the newest releases! and i agree with you tat bookstagram has the same issues with being an aesthetically based platform.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think there are sexist undertones to the remark, but my first reaction was similar to yours. It sounded to me like he was saying anyone that invested in film and curating a Youtube channel and making videos was probably more interested in videos than reading. Which is stupid because it’s possible to have more than one hobby/interest, you know?

    But I agree with you in general that Booktube is hard. I don’t really watch it. But to be successful, you definitely are going to have to invest in a good camera, good lighting, and good background scenery to show off your books. Just sitting in your bedroom and filming probably isn’t going to cut it. I don’t have the time or money for that, and film isn’t really my medium anyway. I think I’m better at writing honestly, and it does that the benefit, that, right now, I am commenting on this post in my pajamas without having done my hair today yet, and who would even know. Booktube sounds like effort. :p

    Liked by 1 person

    1. agreed, you can totally have more than one hobby and they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive as he implied. and there probably were some sexist undertones there and some bitterness and prejudice in his remarks.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The way he worded it was offensive, but as you said, it was definitely a discussion starter. The same thing goes for bookstagram. I can’t afford physical copies of books and I don’t have cute little trinkets to put in each shot, so I do what I can knowing I’ll never be a big bookstagram account, and that’s okay with me. I blog, tweet and post things on Instagram based on my love for books and to somehow be part of the community and be able to join conversations such as this one.
    Why is an aesthetically pleasing account more popular? Because the audience enjoys seeing beautiful things, professional looking things maybe get more respect, and that’s understandable, but there’s gotta be room for less professional looking accounts as well. That relies on us as an audience -supporting different people in tandem with the ones that already made it “big”.
    I don’t know if my rambling makes any sense, sorry hahaha
    Thanks for the discussion 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i definitely agree with you on why aesthetically pleasing accounts are more popular and that steve’s comments were worded very offensively (even though i don’t think he meant to come off that way–although i can’t say as i don’t know the guy personally, lol). i too struggle with bookstagram for the same reasons. books, props, and equipment can be expensive! i didn’t mentioin bookstagram because the video was targetting booktubers in particular. but i think bookstagram has the same problems.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. GODS YES basically the only place I get books is libraries and I never see anyone saying that they got books from libraries, it’s all arcs or bookstores…

    (I don’t watch youtube though because my dad blocked it on my computer so I can’t say?)

    (also I was going to write a post about this [the topic, not the video] [even though I’m not technically part of the book blogging community] but had no idea how to word it *flails* I love this post <3)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i’d love to see a post with your take on the subject, even if you’re removed from the book blogging community! over half of my books are from the library or are digital audiobooks from audible. if you’d like to see great booktubers with regular library book hauls, i recommend watching videos by trina at between chapters and shannon at leaning lights!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There is a lot of sense in the points you’ve made, and I can agree. It’s more likely that you’d fail as a Booktuber if you have an awful looking bookshelf and your videos aren’t aesthetically pleasing. The same can be said for Bookstagram too. When I started bookstagram, I posted (and still do) plain pictures of my books. When I compared them with others, well, there was a clear difference. They were more colourful and bright…they just looked amazing. I don’t have adorable little things to add to my pictures, and most of my books are second hand (and I don’t have a bookshelf)so you can see why that didn’t work out for me. Booktubing wouldn’t have worked out for me either, as I’d rather not display the sad excuse I have for a bookshelf.

    Nonetheless, I do respect successful Booktubers. We shouldn’t blame them for having what the average reader might not. It is materialistic in nature, but that appeals to many of us. I can’t say I watch Booktubers though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. you certainly make an excellent point fatima and i absolutely don’t mean to blame or vilify booktubers! in the end, we do get the content we as consumers demand.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Completely understand. It’s part of the reason I don’t watch Booktubers though. It doesn’t really appeal to me when it’s all perfect looking and colourful. I just want to hear/read about books, and I don’t mind how it looks. Does this make me less of a reader? No way!

        Liked by 1 person


    Despite my love for booktube, I’ve been finding increasing fault with the aesthetic obsession. Not only that, but sometimes when booktubers try to make themselves more relatable to readers that don’t have the opportunities they do, they can end up saying some cringe-y things. Today I was watching a video where a booktuber referred to herself as a “poor college kid”….as she stood in front of 4 bookshelves fully stocked with hardbacks of new releases.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a really great post! In all honestly, I don’t watch Booktube at all, but the same can be said in regards to Bookstagram. I have an instagram, and I already know for a fact that it will never compare to more popular accounts, because 1) I don’t have the money for random props and 2) I don’t have millions of hardcovers lying around. Where do all these people get this money? I think it’s great that people like taking photos or videos and investing in them. But yeah, it doesn’t make you any less of a reader OR a professional if you don’t have good cameras or lighting.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The comment for me is really cringe-worthy. I think being a Booktuber is hard and I agree that it depends too much on the aesthetics. Because come on, would viewers be attracted if the setting and lighting and over-all appearance isn’t good? I have a high respect for Booktubers they go through a lot of process just to publish a video. I actually thought of starting a BookTube channel, but I just couldn’t take filming myself seriously plus it really does require of “looking-good” infront of the camera. Same goes for Bookstagram, most of the time the pictures isn’t about the books anymore but it’s more of the aesthetics of the picture and the feed.

    Booktube and Bookstagram for me are both high maintainance and time-consuming yet effective platforms. But as a not-so charismatic person without the money and skills to take pretty pictures, Book blogging is the one for me. And I think it doesn’t depend in the aesthetics too much, I mean your blog needs to look good and easy to navigate, but it’s really more of the content of the posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. very true. i respect booktubers very much as well because filming and editing and “performing” is a long, tedious, work heavy process. and bookstagramers put a lot of work into their pictures. we all put time, work, and love into our work, be it a video, a picture, or a blog post and all of us deserve respect for that. my concern is just that the platforms of booktube and bookstagram are way too aesthetically based and therefore can get kinda exclusive

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is such a great discussion, Lila.

    I do think there were sexist undertones to the comment, but Steve isn’t the only guilty one – it’s more so society as a whole. I don’t agree with the way some people handled the whole situation, but I did like the discussion it bought.

    I definitely understand where you’re coming from about more successful Booktubers having extremely aesthetically pleasing set ups ect. It’s easy to do book hauls with massive boxes when the majority of the books are provided or “sponsored” by the publishers, haha. That’s not say I don’t respect them for all the hard work they do (I love and am obsessed with BookTube and a bunch of the bigger BookTubers haha) – it’s just it is a very unrealistic standard for the average person..

    This is also how I feel about Bookstagram and why for the longest reason I didn’t even bother making one. Everyone has all these cool props and accessories and I have…..none of those, haha. It can definitely feel like you’re not good enough at times!

    I feel like sometimes the average person has to remind themselves that you belong in the community just as much (I know I’ve had to) – even if you don’t own books and get them all from the library. You still are allowed to be a reader/blogger ect.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hmm this is such an interesting post and gave me so much food for thought! I can kind of see his point and don’t see it as sexist, just a little dumb. He was on the money about some of it- cos like you said it’s frustrating to see how obsessed with hauls booktube is cos like you I can’t afford to splurge on books like that (Somehow, I don’t think it would be aesthetically pleasing if I had a booktube and did hauls, cos it would consist of me saying “look what I got for 99p on my kindle or look at this tatty old book I picked up in a second hand book shop”) But personally, I think that might be more of an indictment of society in general and how materialistic it’s gotten (and I’m saying this as someone that’s typical of this current issue- so I’m not trying to be preachy). And saying people are not “real” book readers is so dumb- I mean it’s a cliche, but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Plus it’s *youtube*- it’s a visual medium so frankly it’s supposed to be aesthetically pleasing. That’s why most people watch it- seems really daft to criticise that.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hmm, I don’t know. I do agree with your all your points, but I also feel like we as viewers and readers outgrow it relatively quickly. When I first found out about BookTube I subscribed to the big BookTubers with the pretty bookshelves and the awesome book hauls. However, I soon realized that they all promoted the same books and gave the same “generic” reviews. I unsubscribed and just remained subscribed to the ones I found entertaining. Nowadays I don’t usually bother watching book haul videos. I’m more interested in hearing what they have to say about a book or the book community. So yes, I think you’re absolutely right but I also think, based on the comments I’ve read and my own experience, that people sooner or later outgrow this “phase” and look for something with a little more content. Something a little more than pretty shelves. And also, not all big BookTubers are the same, some you can tell do love reading because they DO have something to say.
    As far as his comments being sexist, I don’t think they were. It think it was more judging a reader/non reader by their appearance.

    Liked by 1 person

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