Air Mail Pilot is old enough to remember that people once worried the Internet was going to ruin reading and books. Air Mail Pilot is also old enough to remember that people once worried social media influencers would destroy civilization altogether. (That was just a couple years ago.)
And yet, here we are. Not only are reading and civilization still more or less with us—Air Mail Pilot likes to think of itself as a bastion of both—but social media influencers are now some of the biggest book boosters around. Better yet, they’re kids.
It’s mostly happening on TikTok, under the hashtag #booktok. “I started reading again after six years when I came across #booktok for the first time last October,” an English girl named Mireille Lee recently told The Guardian. Mireille is 15, which means she had quit reading when she was 9. (Air Mail Pilot hopes she at least got through Green Eggs and Ham.)
One of the books Mireille got turned onto by TikTok was The Selection, by Kiera Cass. It’s a young-adult novel that sounds like a cross between The Hunger Games, The Bachelor, and Cinderella. Mireille loved it, and passed it onto her 13-year-old sister, Elodie—another non-reader. “I was into gaming,” Elodie explained.
But she loved The Selection, too, and posted a short video based on the book’s “aesthetic”: quick shots of pretty girls in princess-y dresses and pretty boys with their shirts off—imagine if the novel had an Instagram account or mood board. The video got 1,000 likes in a day, which inspired the sisters to start the @alifeofliterature account on TikTok. They now have 305,000 followers, most of whom presumably also read books. Or at least like to watch 10-second videos about books, which is better than nothing.
Kate Wilson is an English 17-year-old with another influential #booktok account, @kateslibrary. One of her more popular videos is “Book Quotes I Would Get as Tattoos.” It highlights works ranging from the homework-y (A Tale of Two Cities) to the sorts of supernatural romances devoured at summer camps (The Invisible Life of Addie Larue). Kate has 135,000 followers, but as yet no tattoos, at least from what Air Mail Pilot could tell by looking at four or five of her videos.
Publishers say #booktok helps sales. This spring people started posting videos of themselves weeping as they got to the last page of They Both Die at the End, a young-adult romance by Adam Silvera. Though first published in 2017, the book went back on the best-seller lists. “Books that can make me cry instantly have my money,” said Ayman Chaudhary, a 20-year-old booktoker in Chicago.
According Olivia Horrox, who runs marketing at Silvera’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, #booktok videos provide a “visceral” sense of a book. “There’s something about the fact that it’s under a minute,” Horrox told The Guardian. “You watch a thirty-second video and someone’s like, ‘This book has LGBTQ romance, it’s really heartbreaking, it’s speculative fiction.’ And then the viewers think: ‘Oh, okay, those are all things I’m interested in. I’ll go buy it.’”
But #booktok isn’t all good news for writers. Mireille Lee’s video “The First Time I Read Murakami” shows her looking increasingly flustered as she flips through the pages of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. She finally bats it away as if it was a big gross bug that had gotten into her face. The Japanese novelist will have to console himself with his armload of international literary prizes.
When you consider that Katie McCabe has spent her 14 years of life aboard a converted fishing trawler that her family calls home, it seems as natural as the tides that she plans to become the youngest person to sail singlehandedly around the island of Britain.
At the helm of a wood-hulled 26-foot sailboat, Katie set sail from the harbor of Exmouth, a town towards the southwest corner of Britain, late last month. She is sailing counter-clockwise around the isle, and plans to be back home to crack open her schoolbooks alongside her classmates in September.
Don’t let Katie’s age fool you into thinking the task before her is anything easy. She faces tearing winds, vicious currents, and thick beds of fog—all characteristic of the local sailing conditions—not to mention the long, sleepless stretches of sailing that solo-piloting a boat without electronic navigation requires. (Her father will be following behind her at a distance of 2 to 10 miles, like any concerned parent would, so no need to fret and phone child services…)
“I really wanted to sail the Atlantic but my parents wouldn’t allow me,” Katie told The Times of London, “so I thought, Why not go around Britain?”
And why not break a record while she’s at it, too? The current record for youngest solo journey by sail is held by Timothy Long, who in 2020 at the age of 15 circumnavigated Britain over the course of 11 weeks.
Katie loves sailing for its therapeutic value, she told The Times. “It’s just really nice and calm and it’s nice to know that you can be powered without an engine.”
Along the way she’ll be raising money for Sea Shepard, a company that fights illegal fishing and cleans up abandoned fishing nets, and Lonely Whale, aimed at clearing the ocean of plastic refuse.
Show this story to your parents—who knows, they might even let you try the Atlantic crossing!
“That dog loved nothing more than interacting with other people,” Carlos Fresco said of his 10-year-old labradoodle Monty. “He loved attention—if you stopped he’d put a paw on you, or rest his chin on your thigh, looking at you as if to say ‘stroke me again,’” he told the BBC.
Carlos, 57, a U.K.-based hotelier, described how Monty was first diagnosed with leukemia 18 months ago. He initially responded well to the chemotherapy, but this past May the cancer returned and he started “fading fast,” Carlos told The Times of London.
It transpired that Monty wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his muscles, which meant that despite looking fit and healthy at first glance, he was struggling to walk or run.
Since he was a puppy, Monty could be found by his owner’s side, often hiking and trekking in the English countryside. Despite living in a basement London apartment, recently the pair had visited Wales, summiting the country’s highest mountain ranges.
It was for this reason that Carlos decided to take Monty on one last adventure on hearing the news about his cancer, pushing him up 2,907 feet to the highest peak of the Brecon Beacons in a wheelbarrow.
“It couldn’t have been a better last week for Monty,” Carlos told The Times. “We like walking and found this rusty old wheelbarrow behind the shed. We pumped the tire up, oiled the axle, chucked some blankets in and tried Monty in it in the garden—it was perfect.
“Although he was weak, he enjoyed all the fuss and attention received by so many well-wishers,” Carlos said of Monty. “People on the hills were so kind and equally so sad at his deteriorating condition. In fact total strangers asked if they could share in pushing Monty on his last journey.”
In the wheelbarrow, accompanied by his favorite Tigger toy, Monty savored one final view of the surrounding mountains.