A few years ago, I remember sitting down on the sofa with a mug of tea and a comfortable blanket ready to enjoy some book time. But this wasn’t a reading experience. It was ‘The Book Show’ with Mariella Frostrup presenting, and it was an hour of bookish discussion. From reviews of the latest titles, to short videos of classics, to interviews with authors and peeks into their writing spaces, ‘The Book Show’ covered pretty much everything. It was just once a week and it was a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a book conversation.
There was another, although I was less keen on it: ‘The Channel 4 Book Club’ I think it was called. It was alright, but there was a lot of messing about, and the interviews and short vids didn’t carry as much interest with me. But it was still a book program.
Now? Nothing. Both shows were cancelled in fairly rapid succession as TV people decided that nobody wanted to watch programs about books. I was upset. Apart from anything else, Mariella had a competition to win a year’s worth of books and the sexiest reading chair you’ve ever seen. How was I going to be in with a chance of winning that if the program wasn’t running?
Much has changed in the book-discussion field. It obviously has to do with the internet (as everything seems to, nowadays). At one time, most conversations about books were contained in front parlours and newspaper review columns. Now the conversations are on Twitter and the reviews come from Goodreads, both platforms fuelled by the consumer.
YouTube, or as it is named by book people involved, BookTube, is now the TV show of choice when it comes to talking about books. Conversations are held in the comments sections as different content is generated by the Tubers.
And maybe that’s the key with these things. Unlike ‘The Book Show’, those who generate the internet content are just regular readers and we can connect to that. There has always been an understanding in publishing that word-of-mouth between readers is better for selling books than many well-developed marketing campaigns could. Successes like Fifty Shades of Grey and Girl on the Train wouldn’t exist were it not for the conversations around them.
‘The Book Show’ gave some insight into an author’s world, but it was also a kind of promotion, a way of showcasing new releases and specific titles. The same with ‘The Book Club’. Both these things were slightly tainted with the idea that a purchase after watching would be a good idea. By having celebrities on chairs and couches, the sense of falsity about the proceedings was always there.
With the BookTube, things are different. It is just people, regular book-loving people, who are talking about being book-loving people. Sure, they give their reviews, but it is just like any other self-respecting book lover would. We like talking about books. They like talking about books. It’s just one, intimate conversation about books.
And there is a level of intimacy. Most of these videos take place in the Tubers’ homes – their fronts rooms, their bedrooms. They become that friend that we talk to about books that gets the word spreading, rather than some far away aficionados that we can’t get in contact with unless we tweet at them in short bursts.
In one respect, book TV still exists and doesn’t do too badly. The documentary of book things continues to appear randomly in the background and it is rather lovely to stumble across them and find out more. Recently, BBC4 released a documentary on feminist publishers Virago which was absolutely fascinating. Imagine… produced two programmes on Man Booker winners: Marlon James and Howard Jacobson. These types of programmes provide that backstory to books, that insider knowledge, that we don’t get very often. I’ve been catching up on some of these little gems lately and it’s been great. I’ve dragged out my mug and my blanket once more to enjoy.
So, book TV has shifted over to the web just like so much bookish life. What’s really important to remember about this is that the conversation is still going. People still love to talk about books and share their experiences with others. They love to review and get behind the scenes. They love to see new perspectives and ideas and see if they match up with their own. Book people still love books.
Do you remember any book programmes you used to watch? Have you got any favourite BookTubers? Share them in the comments and let’s keep the conversation going.