Arts, Culture & Entertainment

Put down your BookTok book and pick up one of these recommendations instead

Expand your summer reading list with this hand picked alternatives to your favorite BookTok books

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Every time I go on TikTok for book recommendations, I’m met with a sad state of affairs. I have to believe that the current literary landscape consists of more than young adult fantasy/romance novels or just plain eroticaStill, you wouldn’t know that by getting your recommendations from TikTok.

I promise that I’m not the only person who goes on TikTok for book recommendations. Almost 40% of Gen Z usesTikTok and Instagram as search engines instead of Google. Gen Z users cite the personal reviews that TikTok provides as merit against Google. No better example of that is BookTok, a community on TikTok whose primary purpose is to connect readers, recommend and discuss books.

Of course, it’s easy for any community on TikTok’s primary purpose to be derailed. Recently, BookTok has been in the news because devotees of hockey romance books were accused of harassing a real-life hockey player, Alex Wennberg of the Seattle Kraken.

There’s nothing wrong with reading books that lean more towards pure entertainment than literature. I enjoyed reading every BookTok book on this list. But if you find yourself searching to read something more substantive (or if you’ve found yourself unexpectedly banned from Seattle Kraken games), check out one of these books, which have similar premises to your favorite BookTok books.

If you liked “Red, White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston, then read “All-American Girl” by Meg Cabot

“All-American Girl” is the PG-rated cousin of  “Red, White and Royal Blue.” “Red, White and Royal Blue” (RWRB) follows Alex Claremont-Diaz, the president’s golden boy son, falling in love with his mortal enemy, the prim and perfect Prince Henry of England. Forced to fake a friendship to save U.S.-British relations, Alex and Henry end up in a steamy secret relationship. Since its publication in 2019, the book has become massively popular online and is being developed as a movie of the same name to be released on August 11.

For me, a big characteristic of RWRB was its pie-in-the-sky approach to politics. RWRB depicted a liberal fantasy of the 2020 presidential election (no COVID, no Trump, red states magically turning blue…) alongside its fairytale romance. “All-American Girl” is similarly frothy, and despite being enmeshed in politics, doesn’t take them too seriously either.

Protagonist Samantha Madison is a D.C. high schooler who stumbles into the political world when she stops an attempt on the president’s life and catches the eye of the first son. Samantha, who dyed all of her clothes black because she’s “mourning for her generation,” is funny and sometimes ridiculous, and author Cabot deftly balances the irony of Samantha being both a national hero and a total pessimist about the state of the world. Samantha’s voice is snarky and witty, which makes “All-American Girl” such a fun read.

Although the romance is less prominent in “All-American Girl,” the plot and characters are just as entertaining. If you’re into easy-to-read political love stories, “All-American Girl” is a classic choice.

If you liked ”My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh, then read “Cleopatra and Frankenstein” by Coco Mellors

If you enjoyed reading aboutMoshfegh’s listless and unlikeable protagonist being sad in New York City, you’d enjoy Mellors’ more lively but still unlikeable protagonists being sad in New York City. In Moshfegh’s popular 2018 novel, an unnamed narrator embarks on her “year of rest and relaxation” — by way of sleeping for an entire year to get a fresh start in life. Rich and beautiful, the protagonist has no real problems in her life, so she decides to create some. Soon, the narrator realizes that she’s leaving her apartment during her long periods of sleep, but can’t remember anything she did. More so than any distinctive plot, the novel is marked by the narrator’s biting and sardonic commentary about the substandard world around her.

“Cleopatra and Frankenstein,” Mellors’ 2022 novel, is also about the trials and tribulations of the rich and beautiful. If you read “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” and thought, “nothing happens!” then you might like Cleopatra and Frankenstein, where there’s a similar vibe but more of a plot.

Cleo is a gorgeous but damaged 20-something artist who captures the attention of Frank, a gregarious advertising executive in his 30s. The pair impulsively get married as Cleo’s student visa is about to expire. The couple’s tumultuous relationship changes their lives and the lives of the people around them. m.

Personally, I love character-driven novels, so I had no trouble reading “My Year of Rest and Relaxation.” But for those of you who didn’t understand the hype around the book, “Cleopatra and Frankenstein” is less funny and less ridiculous, but certainly more substantive plot-wise.

If you liked “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, then read “Bunny” by Mona Awad

“The Secret History,” Donna Tartt’s cult classic 1992 novel, has spawned many imitators, though none so delightfully odd as “Bunny.” “The Secret History” follows Richard Papen, a classics student at a prestigious liberal arts college in New England. Richard, a loner at odds with his wealthy peers, becomes friends with the five other students in his classics program. Drawn to the bizarre and inexplicable behavior of the group, Richard finds himself ensnared in a murder plot involving their friend Bunny.

“The Secret History” is a classic for a reason, and no other book can perfectly encapsulate its moody, dark academia vibe. But “Bunny” is more fun, easier to read and female-centric, so it’s worth a read too. The novel follows Samantha Mackey, an MFA student at a similarly prestigious New England university. Samantha is an outcast in her cliquey MFA writing group, a group of girls so sickly sweet they seem poisonous. Like Richard, Samantha is inexplicably drawn to the group’s bizarre and frightening antics. “Bunny” is filled with magical realism, and every time you think you know where the novel is headed, you don’t.

“The Secret History” is one of the better books BookTok has popularized and highlights one of BookTok’s greatest strengths as a community. The novel, which was published over 30 years ago, has been able to reach an entirely new generation of readers. But if you’re looking for a “The Secret History” of today, look no further than “Bunny.”

If you liked “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, then read “Biography of X” by Catherine Lacey

Nothing is as it seems in “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” or “Biography of X.” Not only do both novels have unexpected twists, but their characters could so easily slot themselves into real 20th-century American history that you might have to Google if they actually existed.

“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” follows Evelyn, a golden-age Hollywood star nearing the end of her life. She narrates her life story — including her biggest secret — to the journalist she has instructed to write her biography. Each of Evelyn’s stories follows one of her seven husbands, but her true love was someone different all along. The journalist, Monique, soon finds that her life is more intertwined with Evelyn’s than she previously expected.

In “Biography of X,” the lines between fiction and reality are (intentionally) blurred even more. Half of the characters are real, like David Bowie, Susan Sontag and Jane Fonda — and the other half are not real, like Oleg Hall, Theodore Smith and notably, X herself. The novel follows CM, X’s widow, writing X’s biography to correct another biography released shortly after X’s untimely death. X was a controversial performance artist who enthralled New York City’s art scene in the 1970s and 1980s. CM is left to unspool the secrets of her late wife’s life. Unlike “Seven Husbands,” “Biography of X” is written as a full immersive biography, down to a fake copyright page.

Part of the intrigue of “The Biography of X” is the total transformation of America’s political landscape. In 1945, America split into three territories: the Northern, Southern and Western territories. The Northern Territory becomes a progressive haven; the anarchist Emma Goldman was FDR’s chief of staff, Ronald Reagan belongs to the Green Party and male artists complain that their work hasn’t been displayed in the Guggenheim in 20 years. The Southern Territory builds a wall to enclose itself in and becomes a dictatorial theocracy.

Lacey told the New York Times that she would “rewrite American history just to create a stage on which two women can have a relationship that doesn’t have to be justified.” This makes “Biography of X” interestingly juxtaposed with “Seven Husbands,” where Jenkins creates characters that blend so seamlessly into real American history that the relationship between two women needs to be justified again and again.

“Seven Husbands” is heartfelt and easy to read, but “Biography of X” is in an entirely different league of literature. While the narrative can sometimes drag and become self-aggrandizing, X’s story and America’s alternative history are so fascinating it makes up for it.

If you liked “Verity” by Colleen Hoover, then read “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides, “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn and ”Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

I finally read a Colleen Hoover book for the sake of this article. Hoover is perhaps the most quintessential BookTok author — her “struggle love” books are lauded by some and derided by others. Her romance novels were successful before they exploded on TikTok, but BookTok pushed their popularity to new heights, particularly during the pandemic. I don’t like romance novels, so I initially wrote off Hoover entirely. But I do love thrillers, so I decided to give Hoover’s immensely popular novel “Verity” a chance.

“Verity” is an entertaining read, but it’s a very mediocre thriller that doesn’t live up to its TikTok hype. The novel follows struggling writer Lowen Ashleigh, who is tasked with finishing a popular series after its author, Verity Crawford, is hurt in a mysterious car accident. Lowen relocates to Verity’s mansion in Vermont to finish the books. Both of Verity’s daughters have passed away recently in other mysterious incidents, so the only people who remain in the house are the incapacitated Verity, her son Crew and Verity’s grief-stricken but still charming and gorgeous husband, Jeremy. When Lowen finds Verity’s unpublished autobiography detailing her darkest and most chilling thoughts, Lowen is caught between her feelings for Jeremy and her fear that revealing Verity’s sins will turn Jeremy against her, too.

Hoover is truly impressive, not just for the massive empire she’s accumulated with her romance books but because of how many people she has encouraged to pick up a book again. So many girls in their late teens and early 20s have said how they hadn’t read since middle school before getting into Hoover. If you’re one of these people and have missed out on the most popular thrillers of the past few years, some good options are: “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides, “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn and “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn. “The Woman in the Window,” about an agoraphobic woman trapped in her house, has the same eerie atmosphere as Verity’s mansion. “Sharp Objects,” about a journalist who returns to her hometown to report on serial killings, has the same unsettling family dynamics. “The Silent Patient,” about a doctor obsessed with uncovering the motive of his mute patient who murdered her husband, also has a sharp twist. All are, in my opinion, much better written and executed than “Verity.”