What Bookstagram Means to Me
By Mel Rogerson (@thebookfamilyrogerson)
If you'd asked my twenty-something self what I'd be doing in my forties, they definitely wouldn't have imagined that I'd be making whimsical pictures out of books and sharing them with the world. In those days, the internet was still in its infancy - we didn't even have laptops when I was at university (yes - I used to handwrite my essays!) and the Instagram founders were only at primary school, but the literary element would have been less of a surprise as books have always been part of my story.
I've been a bibliophile for as long as I can remember. I was the kid that preferred to stay in and read while everyone else played outside at break time. I studied English for my degree and later spent a decade working in publishing where I met my book-loving husband, Al. Between us we built a sizeable library containing over 2000 titles - but despite having a fairly bookish family, we very rarely discovered anyone who shared our passion for reading.
Al and I originally planned to start a blog but in April 2017 I posted a photo on Instagram as an experiment and very quickly realised that there was an amazing community of readers out there. The experience was positive from the start. Everyone was so friendly and excited to talk about books. And then there was buddy reading! Being able to read the same text with people from all corners of the globe was a total revelation and it's still one of my favourite aspects of Bookstagram. Even though I'm lucky to have a bookish partner, we have different tastes. He likes horror and biography, I like fantasy and YA so it's rare that our choices coincide, but now I'm able to find readalongs for almost anything and being able to discuss theme, character and meaning with others has been a dream.
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Bookstagram has also unleashed my visual creativity after years of pushing paper in an office. I've always written fiction, but gave up art in my late teens. Instagram opened up the paint box again for me. I began with simple shots and then decided to push my ideas a little further earlier this year which resulted in two features on the main Instagram page as part of the Weekend Hashtag Challenge (#WHP). I would never have dared to share my weird concepts if it hadn't been for the brilliant support of the Bookstagram community who not only embraced my experiments, but actively encouraged them. I'm still a novice - I shoot on my phone and only know the basics of photography - yet online I've been made to feel that my efforts count for something. I doubt that would have happened in the real world where the gatekeepers are a lot more rigid in their judgement. To the establishment, I'm a middle-aged woman living in a remote town with no formal art training but here I have time to grow at my own speed and learn from some of the best visual artists on the planet - an opportunity I appreciate every day.
On a family level it's enriched our lives too. We attended the Hay Festival for the first time in May and met fellow bookstagrammers at a special breakfast organised by Anne at Addyman Books - a highlight of our year. We also visited lots of bookshops and literary locations - something that we would've done before, but not as intensively. Most recently Al and I spent our wedding anniversary at Gladstone's Library - a very special experience that we might have delayed longer if it hadn't been for Bookstagram. We now have a whole wishlist of literary travel destinations.
For Little M, being surrounded by books has definitely helped to improve her literacy skills and she's developing a keen creative eye too. We're careful not to involve her too heavily though. Our account is more about books than parenting although we touch on that occasionally, as well as other themes such as our local landscape and travel. I find it impossible to stick with one style which you might be able to tell from my photographs. Yet another reason why Instagram works for me. I like to try new things and that's possible on the platform. There are so many different groups all with their individual quirks so I never get bored. The addiction is real!
With the amount of criticism that Instagram gets I'm sometimes reticent to admit what a big impact it's had on my life, but you know what - it has! The support of my online friends gave me the confidence to leave my traditional job and follow my dreams. It's been hard at times. I've had to struggle with uncertain income and self-doubt, but ultimately it's been worth it to find out what I'm really capable of and I hope that this is just the start.
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About the Author
Mel Rogerson is a writer, bibliophile and creative photographer. A lover of all things weird, her favourite things include exploring hidden dales, finding ruined castles and going on bookish adventures with her family.
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