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From Gossip to TikTok - Literature and Connection

Writing by Eleanor Bye. Illustration by Polly Burnay.

Gossiping is a guilty pleasure. Sometimes you just can’t help yourself - it feels indulgent. And when you hear those words from someone - that they have gossip - it is exhilarating. I remember being sat in a chemistry lesson at school, being told off because my friend and I could not stop whispering about her best friend getting together with her ex-boyfriend (although I’ll have to save that drama for another day).

Much the same, thousands of years ago, stories spread as quickly as gossip does now. Passed from person to person, generation to generation like a family heirloom - eventually, these stories became what we now know as myths. Storytelling, therefore, was a fundamental component of forming connections.

This is a theme that transcends history; poetry was designed to be performed in the oral tradition, or the lyric which put poetry to music. Similarly, theatre brought in massive audiences and the relatively new form of the novel has opened up a new way of creating connections.

Perhaps our era lacks the romance of the nineteenth century, but it makes up for it in the number of connections we’re able to make. From Wattpad to Goodreads to TikTok, there are plenty of places to find literary connections that stretch across the globe. Personally, I write reviews on Goodreads as if it is a regular column on the front page of the newspaper addressed to thousands of people. In reality, I’m lucky if my two followers skim-read it. Nonetheless, I will speed through a book largely for the feeling of fulfilment of giving a rating and scrolling through the thousands of others - because everyone is a self-proclaimed literary critic.

In quarantine, I found myself going through a book every one or two days because a fictionalised landscape was preferable to our nightmarish reality. I was not alone in this sentiment as I found myself deep into the dark crevices of #booktok. Naturally, everyone has some very passionate opinions, and sometimes it feels like a very divided place (don’t insult Twilight...I learnt that the hard way). Nonetheless, the comment section was united by a shared love of reading. As a result, my pile of to-read books was growing much faster than I could keep up with.

This was not helped by my participation in a book swap over lockdown. This massive exchange entailed sending your favourite book to a complete stranger, and then eventually (through some organisation that I didn’t quite understand) you would be sent a dozen books as well. I didn’t know who had sent most of the books I received, but it was exciting to receive so many, knowing how much those books are loved and being connected to some unexpected people through them.

Literature has brought me so many connections. Perhaps I am a little biased being an English Literature student. However, storytelling has been, and continues to be, the foundation of community (even if many of the stories we now share are of the Instagram variety). And yet somehow, being a bookworm has become synonymous with being a loner, even if the reality is anything but. The cliched recluse: Hermionie Granger, Kat Stratford, or even Lisa Simpson, united in their exile. However, in my experience, literature has the power to do the opposite and I’d happily gossip about the drama unfolding in Pride and Prejudice any day.

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