In Defense of Being a Sexy Bookish Homebody

November 13, 2018
Cup of coffee next to a stack of books
Art by Kirsten Hemrich

Sometimes I take pictures of my books. I pull my favorites from their carefully selected spots on my shelf, and put them on top of my blanket, where the sunlight is shining. Sometimes I put them next to a cup of tea, or a small bundle of fake flowers. After I take my pictures, I edit and post them on my Instagram account dedicated to books, aka bookstagram. Bookstagram is an online community of readers who share their love of books by taking fun, creative photos. The community mostly consists of young women, which is perhaps why some people are offended by it.

In late October, Vulture published an article by Hillary Kelly, titled “Here’s an Annoying New Instagram Trend: Throwing Yourself on a Pile of Open Books.” Kelly’s article is a scathing critique of booklovers who dare to do anything creative with their books, and it is problematic from the beginning. The opening line sets the tone for the rest of the article: “Over the past several years, we book lovers have endured quite a bit. First there were the rainbow-hued shelves.” Apparently, organizing your bookshelves by color is an affront to the entire book reading community, although I fail to see how organizing my personal bookshelf into a beautiful rainbow negatively affects anyone. She refers to book lovers with a collective “we,” lumping all readers into one mass category. The subsect of “book lovers” that are causing so much trouble for the entire book reading population? The aforementioned young women from the bookstagram community.

Kelly’s article reflects two much larger problems: the denigration and devaluing of activities, hobbies, beliefs, and passions of (young) women, and the hyper-sexualization of women’s bodies. In one of her more holier-than-thou lines, Kelly writes

“And you’ve certainly seen the favorite layout of sexy bookish homebodies everywhere: camera pointed directly down at tousled sheets, a book flipped over as if set down for just a moment, a cup of steaming coffee set to one side, wool-sock-clad feet in the frame but not a hint of pants. They’re reading, but suggestively.”

I believe that when Kelly uses the term “suggestively,” she uses it with two meanings in mind. The women in the pictures are not really holding the books, so they are “suggesting” to the viewer that they are reading. Even worse, the girls are also reading sensually, sexually, and provocatively. Well, I had no idea that you could read sensually, but I feel so enlightened now. I had no idea that when I’m home alone, lying in bed between my sheets (which are tousled because that is the nature of sheets), with a cup of tea on the bedside table (it’s never coffee, Kelly), warm socks on my feet (which get cold), wearing underwear (this is 2018 and I don’t have to wear pants if I don’t want to), reading an awesome fantasy novel with a badass protagonist, that I was really being a “sexy bookish homebody.”

I love bookstagram. I found it during my first year of college when I was depressed and lonely, and it gave me a community when I had none.

Much of the online bookstagram community, but not all, is dedicated to the genre of young adult. Young adult fiction, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, you name it. As I’m sure you can imagine, a genre of literature aimed at young adults has faced its fair share of criticism by those who wish to seem more “scholarly” and “intellectual.” Kelly takes this tone of intellectual superiority. She writes, “novels and histories and essay collections and treatises are just vehicles for style, unidentifiable bits of black ink that I’m secretly hoping rubs off on these ‘grammers’ faces after they spend 25 minutes in uncomfortable poses.” 

The women posting these pictures love books and reading. They are not uneducated, though Kelly might believe them to be. There is no one way to love or appreciate books. Taking pictures of books does not decrease their value. If you want to believe that you’re more intellectually superior because you don’t take pictures of books, then go right ahead. The bookstagram community will continue to share gorgeous photos of books, not worrying about proving their intellectual capacity, and appreciating books in whatever way, shape, or form they want.

I love bookstagram. I found it during my first year of college when I was depressed and lonely, and it gave me a community when I had none. People’s pictures got me excited about reading and trying new books. Instead of sitting alone in my dark dorm room, I would walk twenty minutes to the indie bookstore and buy the sequel to a book I couldn't stop thinking about. A book I would never know about were it not for a picture posted by a young woman, expressing her love and excitement. The passion and excitement of women is a powerful thing, which is why so much effort is put into censoring and silencing it. To all the sexy bookish homebodies out there: keep doing what you love. Now I’m off to do what sexy bookish homebodies do best: read a good book.

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