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Why is Nonfiction Rare on TikTok?

Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

Tor Books

An explosive return to the library leaves the six Alexandrians vulnerable to the lethal terms of their recruitment.

Old alliances quickly fracture as those who remain within the archives wrestle with the ethics of their astronomical abilities. Elsewhere, an unlikely pair from the Society cohort partner to influence politics on a global stage, and still the outside world mobilizes to destroy them, while the Caretaker himself, Atlas Blakely, may yet succeed in his world-breaking plan.

The six Society recruits must decide what they're willing to betray for limitless power—and who will be destroyed along the way.

BookTok certainly has a reputation for propelling particular books into the zeitgeist and rocketing their authors to success. But those books are nearly all fiction. Where’s the nonfiction? I have two main theories for this, one of which I can back up with some research. The other one admittedly goes off of vibes.

We’ll go with research first to give myself some credibility.

Fiction’s prevalence is a matter of readers’ and TikTokers’ ages. According to Library Journal’s survey, Generation Z reads a good deal more fiction than nonfiction. Additionally, Generation Z dominates TikTok, according to a leaked TikTok sales presentation Business Insider detailed. Assume you’re randomly sampling TikToks about books (which, of course, you’re not; the mysterious algorithm is funneling you). You’re most likely to land on a Gen Zer posting about their reading habits, which are likely fictional.

Vibes, You Say?

Of course, there’s more to it than that, and here’s where I go on vibes. Ultimately, I think it comes down to fandom. If you’re trying to join that erratic dust devil that is “the algorithm,” you need to make content that grabs people’s eyeballs. Posting fannishly about fiction enables that. Content creators can tie character’s behaviors into jokey memes. They can emote about “book boyfriends” and whatnot, and they can reuse popular voiceover audio clips and tie them into their bookish fandoms. That’s just harder to do with nonfiction.

So, where is the nonfiction on TikTok?

As with all things TikTok, it’s there if you spend a minute looking for it rather than letting the FYP firehose wash over you. Perhaps the most dedicated nonfiction BookToker is schizophrenicreads, whose account is chock-full of wonderful recommendations. Patchespapercut hosts the Morbidly Curious Book Club on TikTok for nonfiction readers with macabre sensibilities. Similarly, the Celebrity Memoir Book Club podcast has a TikTok presence for those who indulge in that nonfiction subgenre.

Plenty of other BookTokers read widely, folding nonfiction into their regular content. Searching TikTok for events like #nonfictionnovember or adding “nonfiction” to a search for another event like #transrightsreadathon is a great way to find them.

What nonfiction books do come up time and again on TikTok? It may well be my particular view into the TikTok landscape, but I see things generally falling into three categories. Let’s have a closer look, along with examples.

BookTok Nonfiction Trend #1: Memoirs

the cover of Crying in H Mart

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

This mega-popular and heartwrenching memoir by the lead singer of the band Japanese Breakfast shows up a lot on TikTok. If you’re interested in a fraught mother-daughter relationship layered with stories of immigration experience, illness, identity, and more, this emotional book is a real gut punch. I recommend listening to the audiobook, read by the author, if that’s an option for you. If you like books that make you cry, you’ll want to read this one.

cover of everything i know about love

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

This is a memoir to read if you feel like you’re bumbling through your 20s (or 30s or 40s, I don’t judge). It’s a funny and heartwarming look at love and loss and life and all that big stuff. Think of it as a catch-up with that friend who’s a little self-destructive and a little self-indulgent. Her stories, though? Can’t be matched. It’s also great if you’re feeling nostalgic for a time when parties and dates were your biggest concerns.

A graphic of the cover of In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

I’m always glad to come across this singular and thought-provoking memoir on the app ostensibly used to make everybody’s brains shut off. Machado’s memoir of an abusive relationship is told in fragments that adopt many different styles and genres. The storytelling tropes and themes invoked are familiar to us. The twist? The subject matter itself—abuse within a queer relationship—is a story rarely told.

BookTok Nonfiction Trend #2: Morbid Nonfiction

The Radium Girls cover

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Here’s a book that comes up a lot with the morbid BookTokers. It’s a book at the nexus of history, science, and feminism. When radium was discovered to have glow-in-the-dark properties, an industry making clock dials and instrument faces sprung up. Women who worked painting with radium licked their brushes—as they were instructed to do!—thus ingesting this wildly toxic radioactive material. This book compiles the deeply emotional and tragic stories of the women who were not believed when they spoke up about their mysterious illnesses.

cover of still life with bones

Still Life with Bones: Genocide, Forensics, and What Remains by Alexa Hagerty 

This book knocked me flat. There have been multiple genocidal regimes in recent history that made a practice of disappearing people, an act that leaves loved ones in an unbearable state of despair. But there are people working to find and identify human remains from these fairly recent atrocities with the goal of giving a measure of peace to victims’ families, as this book details. Here comes a little soapbox moment: Sometimes, people with morbid interests indulge in too much true crime and end up with a very toxic mindset. They might become overly suspicious of their fellow humans or detached from the suffering of victims and their families. This kind of book is perfect for people who have morbid interests but want to use them for good. Books like this help readers gain new perspectives, learn important history, and connect to our shared human nature that finds death-related rituals important.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach book cover

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

This book has been around for a while, so the fact that it comes up in TikToks by the morbid nonfiction girlies truly delights me. Mary Roach has a wonderfully conversational way of writing, and her interest in regular people and their lives is genuine and charming. While this book about what happens to a human body in death is, at times, very funny, it’s also very touching and respectful. Oddly enough, it’s one of the most lighthearted books on this list.

BookTok Nonfiction Trend #3: Books to Help Understand Our Times

cover of are prisons obsolete

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis 

Among the BookTokers I follow, several are on journeys to understand prison abolition. If you are curious about this titular question, you simply must read the book. Davis is a monumental intellect, and you cannot go wrong with any of her books. When things seem impossible to change, I find it so important to read people like Davis, who use their powers of imagination to show us how the world could be.

cover of the hundred years' war on palestine

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 by Rashid Khalidi 

In 2023, many people found themselves woefully undereducated about the history of Palestine. Many Booktokers have been curating lists of books that will help people understand what events led to the current conflict, what daily life is like for Palestinians, and what Palestinian culture offers. You can find books that take views over millennia or over very short time spans, but this book will catch you up on the last 100 years.

Cover of Belly of the Beast by Da’Shaun Harrison

Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun L. Harrison

This book, written by a fat, Black, disabled, and nonbinary writer, looks at the ways anti-fatness and anti-blackness layer to devastating effect. This is an important book for people wishing to learn more about both police violence and anti-fat bias, as stories like Eric Garner’s are foregrounded. It’s not a very long book, but it is deeply researched and very thought-provoking, which I think are all factors contributing to its prevalence on TikTok.

A graphic the cover of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century edited by Alice Wong 

Disability justice is obviously a very urgent matter and more relevant than ever in the wake of COVID as a mass disabling event. This collection of essays from disabled writers is brash and heartfelt, a perfect jumping-off point for people new to reading about disability. As with any book about marginalized people, you may have your eyes opened to others’ realities. At the same time, you may witness someone putting words to your own feelings.

What Nonfiction Should be on TikTok?

Doubtless there are many corners of TikTok that I have yet to explore (and plenty of those can happily remain a mystery to me!) When it comes to nonfiction TikTok, I would love to see more content creators with niche or specialized interests curating books to read. For example, I’d love to have a go-to TikToker for the best art history books or books about books. So, if you’re a nonfiction reader and think you have what it takes to be a TikToker, maybe this is your signal that there’s plenty of room on that app for more voices and, believe it or not, more books.