The strange, online lives of “book husbands.”

James Folta

May 13, 2024, 12:36pm

Screenshots from TikTok

If you spend any time on BookTok or Bookstagram or book-adjacent Reddit (Bookit? Booddit? Boot?), you’ve probably come across the “book husband.” Since encountering the phrase, I haven’t been able to shake it. I’ve been muttering things around my apartment like “I am, as always, your humble book husband” and “What did you say about my book husband?!”

Other than one of those sticky internet phrases that gets stuck in your brain, what is a book husband? What are their lives like? Should I… become one?

Online, a book husband is one of two types: a hot fictional character, or someone married to a book influencer. The former is just good old horny-reading. Having a book husband or boyfriend is an online way of saying you’re fantasizing about a fictional babe—I haven’t bumped into anyone with a “book fiancé” or “book ex” yet, but I’m sure they’re out there.

Having a crush because you’re immersed and having emotional responses to an invented world is, to a certain extent, the entire point of fiction. And reorienting your personality around an imagined relationship has surely been around since someone said “Is there a Mrs. Guy-Painted-On-The-Wall-Of-The-Cave?” in the Lascaux caverns.

But the stranger usage of “book husband” is to describe an influencer by transitive property: someone who is married to a book influencer or enthusiast. The phenomenon strikes me as another flavor of “wife guy,” a subset of internet main character who gets their e-fame from posting about their spouse. Wife guys have enough clout and notoriety to warrant a Wikipedia entry and an article about how there are too many articles about wife guys.

Book husband content piggybacks off of a wife’s book posting, and you get a lot of stuff cataloging the burdens of dating a reader, like this “booktok husbands be like” video with jokes about how the husband carries all the books or doesn’t get attention when the wife’s reading. Or this “I’m a book girl’s husband” video about listening to your wife talk about books or gaming while she reads. “What about me,” the book husbands lament.

Book husbands are also looped in for videos where they’re shown receipts for how many books a wife bought and gawk at the cost, or for trends like the “door lean,” a type of sexy entryway enticement/relaxation inspired by romance novels.

Beyond this one pose, there’s a lot about sex stuff in these videos. Like this “application to be a book boyfriend”—a less committed variant of the book husband—that is mostly about sex. This comes up often, and there are a lot of jokes about how the wives are getting horny from reading, how the books have unrealistic male characters, the fact that sex is being described on the page, and so on.

What sticks out to me after looking at so much book husband stuff is the weird, possibly unintentional misogyny: women read and men roll their eyes at it. This is part of a wider meme on social media to gender everything, creating categories of things appropriate only for girls and boys, husbands and wives. “Book husbands” are like “girl dinner” or “boys thinking about the Roman Empire,” part of a wider, joking trend towards reductive essentialisms.

And that reduction extends to the idea of reading presented in these clips, which shrink a love of books to the performance of reading. As Brittney Allen wrote the other day, these videos are showcasing something counter to the often slow and inward-facing pleasure of reading, which gets subsumed by the conspicuous consumption of books. I’m certainly as guilty as anyone of fetishizing print, but what I’ve always loved about reading is that it opens and expands my world—narrowing my identity to a “book reader” makes that joy seem brittle and friable.

Not everything I found was competition and content, though. Searching for “book husband” turned up a lot of threads of people asking for recommendations: non-bookish husbands looking for a good gift for a reader’s birthday, or partners looking for a book to open their husbands to the world of reading. These were sweet and sincere for the most part, people looking to make a connection.

I’m being too hard on the book husbands, who like many wife guys, seem to really love their wives and are, if anything, too earnestly enamored. And I know a lot of this phenomenon is rooted in the drive to churn out content—BookTok is more Tok than Book—and getting a husband in on the hustle makes sense. I just wish the jokes were better, and that the underlying observations weren’t quite so mired in insecurity and exasperation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go perfect my door lean.

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