I was utterly overwhelmed when I first dipped my toes into the bookstagram community. I expected the pretty pictures of books, that’s what I came here for, but then I discovered the immense variety of merchandise available for various fandoms and my brain exploded.
I’d never heard of funkos or book subscription boxes. I had no idea that book inspired scented candles were a thing or that you could get gorgeous bookmarks featuring quotes and characters from a variety of popular books. I use old till slips and advertising pamphlets as bookmarks for Pete’s sake! This was the most wondrous new thing I’d discovered in ages.
Yet there’s this materialist factor that arises at times that scares me a little. I’ll see a photo of somebody’s collection of a hundred bookish candles, or a bookshelf so populated with funkos and mugs and prints and pennants of bookmarks that the books aren’t even visible, and my mind zaps me with this:
I don’t mean this as a criticism. The bookstagram community comprises some of the loveliest people I’ve ever encounter in the vast worlds of social media. If you want ALL THE THINGS! Then have them. There’s nothing wrong with that. Merch is awesome, and who doesn’t want more of the things we love? It’s the latest and greatest version of decorating our lives with the symbols of our tribe identity. People want to belong, we want a sense of community, and common interests provide that.
But a part of me wonders if the people who amass vast hoards of items really just want a hug and some kind of validation. It reminds me of the sudden coolness of wearing branded clothes that seemed to come out of nowhere when I was a teenager. I wondered then whether it was the trappings and wrappings that made a person popular, or whether these things became popular through an effort to imitate the popularity of a particular person. I still believe it is the latter.
Is merchandise collecting a social competition? Is this our modern means of proving loyalty and authority to our fellows by being the person whose devotion is so obvious as to be above doubt? And if that is the case then why does my own mind struggle with the concept of collecting merch but find nothing to query in the habit of collecting different editions of the same book, or signed books?
It must be because I’m biased. I tend towards a more minimalist lifestyle because I’m lazy and it makes it so much easier to keep stuff clean if there isn’t much stuff to start with. I love to admire all the pretty things, but I really don’t want to dust them. Books, on the other hand, are valuable beyond question. They are portals to other worlds and insights, the most accessible form of magic there is.