Attention to all performative reading guys: here’s what your book selection says about you

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Jun 9, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 5 minutes

Like many other Gen Zers, I spend a lot of my time tearing through books and then looking up insightful commentary about them on the literary forums aka BookTok and BookTube. While reading is mostly an isolated experience, it can still be fun, crucial even, to build communities and followings around this shared common interest. Books are like emblems that reveal our affiliations, after all. Based on what someone might read on the tube, others can deduce things about their identity, ideological mindset, taste level and interests.

Thus, a lot of Gen Zers started to pick up books to project certain images of themselves to the outside world, rather than engage with the material in-depth. Of course, this type of reading is controversial because its superficial and inauthentic. However, performative reading can also be seen as the promotion of literature and a means of connecting with others that could potentially spark deeper engagement with books.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by finn harry (@finnharryy)

So I propose that we just let Gen Zers use books as badges to let the people around them know what groups they belong to and what state of mind they are in. So here is a list of some of the most popular tube reads and what they will tell others about you. Let’s dive in, shall we?


Performative reading> (i need gf) #love #nyc

♬ Intervallo II - Ennio Morricone

Which books will make me look smart?

If you want to look smart, the first book on your shopping list should be Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This novel is about an impoverished young man in Saint Petersburg, intent on killing a scrupulous, old girlboss who stores money and valuable objects in her flat.

Planning to use her riches to commit good deeds and liberate himself from poverty, the man commits the murder but finds himself wracked with confusion, guilt, and paranoia afterwards. Crime and Punishment delves into complex moral and psychological themes. Thus, it is best paired with a sexy smirk and intense, soulful eyes. Basically, this is the perfect book if you’re going for the whole moody, broody Timothée Chalamet vibe.

If someone wanted me to tell them I’m a Marxist without telling them I’m a Marxist, I’d start carrying a copy of 1984 by George Orwell with me. This is a dystopian novel that explores themes of surveillance, government control, and individual freedom in the fictional totalitarian state of Oceania. If you are looking for a short, snappy, anti-capitalist read, look no further. This George Orwell classic has got you covered.

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is another piece of prestige literature that will earn you an admiring nod from strangers. The book beautifully dances between the exploration of individual, personal and racial identity as it tells the story of a young Black man who gets thrown out of university for accidentally offending a wealthy patron. Throughout the book, the narrator explains how society refuses to validate his existence because he is Black.

The Invisible Man has been adapted into multiple movies that you can watch if reading is not actually your thing (no judgment here). It’s also one of these books that will never lose its relevance. Consequently, it’s a great title to drop into every conversation about 20th-century literature, social alienation and Black identity.

Up next we have Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This is one of those books you want to have on your bookshelf or in your hands during a long tube ride. It will signal to your fellow commuters that you think deeply about the world and the people in it. Sapiens is a thought-provoking book that offers a broad overview of the history of the human species. Combining natural science with social science, this chunk of pages covers the complete history of humankind, starting with the Stone Age and going up to the 21st century.

Let’s be honest, you’re never going to read this book. At least not in full. But you definitely want others to think that you did…

Last thing, just make sure to hold the book up high so people can read the cover. I mean, what’s the point of reading smart books if no one can clock you doing it, right?

Which books will make me seem like a sexy single?

We have to kick this section off with the one and only Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. We could actually stop the recommendations right here. This is the story of a love affair so vivid, raw and sexy that it will make your heart beat fast. So of course it’s set in Paris. Although the titular figure succumbs to a tragic ending in a tale about internalised homophobia, forbidden love, and modern masculinity, The Guardian described this novel about same-sex romance as the “antidote to shame.” It’s a call to live openly, freely and with awareness and attention to what that freedom means. Carry this book to show the world that you’re ready for that pure, magical, and sometimes tragic love.


I just want a man that reads #books #booktok #men #relationship #dating #fyp #viral

♬ original sound - Kaylee

Coming up next, Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. It is a tender and beautiful historical romance novel about duty and desire. The actual story follows Jean Swinney, a feature writer on a local paper in 1957, who is tasked with investigating the story of a young woman who claims that her daughter was the result of a virgin birth. However, when Swinney begins working on the story, she falls in love with the woman’s husband, Howard. And she falls, like, mega hard. But you’re definitely not going to buy this book for the plot. This will make it into your shopping basket because of the title with the sexy tangerine cover that your next train carriage needs to see.


might be my last bookstore visit 👀 #booktok

♬ original sound - Emurllla

the more you know from booktok #fyp

♬ som original - Vênus

Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller is up next. According to the science of attachment, every person behaves in relationships in one of three distinct ways: anxious, avoidant and secure. Now it’s your time to figure out which attachment type you have because there is nothing, and I really mean nothing, sexier than someone aware of how they behave in relationships and willingly trying to improve it. Just buy a copy of this book, hold it up high, and thank me later for all the dates it’ll get you.

To finish things up, we have Dark Feminine Energy–How To Become A Femme Fatale by Emma Dawn Summers. This book is all about mastering the art of seduction, channelling the feminine mystique, and harnessing “dark feminine energy.” Nuff said. I mean what better way of telling people that you want to be seduced?

What books will help me pick up new friends?

The first book in this section is a recommendation by our very own Digital Editor, Charlie Sawyer: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. The novel tells the story of clever and beautiful Martha Friel, who is forced to move back in with her parents after her life starts to unravel. It’s incredibly funny, nuanced and a realistic portrayal of mental health problems, life changes, and experiencing growing pains as an adult. If you actually end up reading it and like it, pop Charlie a message, yeah?

Another suggestion is An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life by Paul Dalla Rosa. This novel was described as “deftly executed and cringingly funny” by The Guardian. Now, that’s a major compliment cause their critics don’t seem to like anything. As a selection of short stories that detail life in late-stage capitalism, this book will pique the interests of potential friends either for its content or the interesting title that will automatically serve as your first descriptor.

Any Sally Rooney book would be a good pick-up line for all those who appreciate the layers and complexities of friendships. Beautiful World, Where Are You is great in particular because it intersects a life-long friendship with love, jealousy, and economic precarity, as it tells the story of best friends Alice Kelleher and Eileen Lydon.

Exciting Times is what you will have if you read this eponymous novel by Naoise Dolan. It’s about Irish expat Ava, who works as a teacher in Hong Kong and becomes entangled in a love triangle with a male banker and a female lawyer. Next to the saucy plot, you’ll probably also get tons of interesting looks on the tube. Enjoy both. If you’re anything like Ava, one look is all it’ll take.

Is performative reading bad?

This opinion is probably very controversial, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with performative reading. Reading is not the only way to learn and experience life. Some people prefer to immerse themselves in things through action, while others learn through touch, listening, or visuals. This doesn’t mean they should be excluded from the joys of the literary community or miss out on the chance to communicate their mindset and position through some of the greatest book titles out there.

Keep On Reading

By Charlie Sawyer

5 must-read books leading the way to proper representation and diversity in publishing

By Abby Amoakuh

RuPaul’s new online bookstore Allstore removes anti-trans and far-right books following controversy

By Tahmina Begum

Why reading and rereading books can teach you a lot about racism, privilege and more

By Charlie Sawyer

Delulu: The Gen Z slang term for delusional explained

By Abby Amoakuh

Europe still sterilises disabled women despite the practice being a human rights violation

By Charlie Sawyer

Meta faces backlash from Instagram users over new political content limitation feature

By Abby Amoakuh

Who is Nara Pellman? Meet the Mormon tradwife taking TikTok by storm

By Abby Amoakuh

Videos circulate of CEO Sanjay Shah dying in freak accident in front of 700 people at company party

By Charlie Sawyer

AOC held hands with Joe Biden one time, now sexists are calling her a sell-out

By Abby Amoakuh

Sydney Sweeney claps back at TikTok scammer who pretended to be her dietitian

By Fleurine Tideman

When did travel become so… unsexy? Aviation experts and flight attendants spill the tea

By Abby Amoakuh

Who are the California Girls? Inside the women’s gang that stole $8 million in cosmetics and clothing

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Mom breaks into school and brutally assaults daughter’s teacher in front of 25 children

By Charlie Sawyer

Usher Super Bowl 2024 halftime show: Justin Bieber to make comeback as special guest

By Abby Amoakuh

TikTok momfluencer Jacquelyn faces new safety concern allegations for toddler Wren Eleanor

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Selena Gomez accused of plagiarism for the second time by artist

By Charlie Sawyer

Finance bro podcasts are cringe and problematic, so why are they taking over TikTok?

By Abby Amoakuh

Where is Melania Trump? Is the former First Lady hatching an escape plan?

By Abby Amoakuh

Remote Amazonian tribe reports aggressive sexual behaviour in young men after being exposed to internet

By Abby Amoakuh

From techno string quartets to thrifted dresses, Gen Z weddings are on the rise