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BookTubers in Black History Month: Ashley of ‘Bookish Realm’ Shares One of Her Favorite Fictional Universes and More

Meet the unofficial librarian of BookTube, Ashley!

Ashley posing and flanked next to a collage of some of their favorite books. (Image: Ashley and various publishers.)

In February, in celebration of Black History Month, I highlighted some of my favorite Black BookTubers, as they not only greatly enrich my reading but influence my writing here at The Mary Sue. Unfortunately, this entry didn’t quite make it in time. However, because it’s still Women’s History Month, I still want to share her story with you all.

(Black women get two-plus months. I don’t make the rules.)

For those unfamiliar with the space, BookTube is the general circle of book-based content creators on YouTube. This is similar to other social media where book content has flourished, like Bookstagram (Instagram) and BookTok (TikTok). Despite being in a small corner of the platform, publishers and booksellers are wholly aware of the power of reviewers online. I hope you find a person or two whose reading taste, in genre or mood, aligns with yours, and you (like me) get blessed/cursed with a never-ending to-be-read pile.

Bookish Realm

Before I even knew of the concept of “BookTube,” my librarian friend introduced me to Ashley and her channel, Bookish Realm. Thinking of returning to school for a graduate degree herself, she showed me Ashley’s popular running series in which she discusses the process of getting a MLIS (Masters in Library Science) and different aspects of librarianship. Despite my introduction to Ashley’s videos being more career-oriented, I’ve found so much value as a reader, writer, and person through her discussions.

Advocacy is not a buzzword for her, but the way she moves online and offline. Regarding practicing what you preach in serving your community and being honest about mental health, I see how Ashley does this online and get glimpses, through her videos, of how this plays offline. Regarding all the book bans, I sometimes start to feel like no one cares within the reading community because the target demographic is children, but then she’ll make a video from her perspective as a Black mother and public librarian.

I spoke with Ashley over email about her favorite fictional universe, what she would tell her younger self when uploading for the first time, and how her offline identities influence her reading.

Alyssa Shotwell (TMS): What made you go from a YouTube viewer to a creator? Was it originally for bookish content or something else?

Ashley: It definitely was the bookish content. I was watching YouTube for a while before I became a creator, but then I found this random bookshelf tour. Before I knew it I was completely immersed in the world of Booktube. I was surprised to see that so many people were interested in hearing others talk about books.

TMS: What three videos are your most proud of and why? This could be for how they were shot, how they did numbers-wise, your outfit, analysis—anything! 

Ashley: This is a difficult question! I would have to save my Black Mermaid/Siren Reading Vlog,

The 100 Books I Think You Should Read Before You Die, and

Anti-Blackness, Performative Activism, & Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez.

I was extremely proud of this last video because I baked an entire apple pie while reviewing a book. It was a fun and unique combination. The Black mermaid reading vlog was something that I randomly came up with because of all the talk around mermaids and I wanted to explore books that focused on Black mermaids and sirens. It was supposed to be a video that was just a reading vlog, but it ended up being a huge learning experience for me and viewers. It’s a video that I definitely would love to recreate with new titles.

The 100 books list was a video that I created after I reacted to someone else’s 100 books you should read before you die list. It was purely viewer requested and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in terms of recommendations. I was really happy with the way that it turned out. 

TMS: What do you feel is a slept-on book that is very similar to a very popular book always recommended or super hyped? 

Ashley: Honestly, any middle grade or children’s books haha! I know that’s not really specific, but a lot of times I feel like BookTube can be YA & adult-centered and children’s lit often gets left out of the conversation. Some of the best middle-grade/children’s books I’ve read so far this year include A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow, Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, So Dope by Paula Chase, and Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez.

A Comb of Wishes Lisa Stringfellow bookcover. Image: Quill Tree Books.
(Quill Tree Books)

TMS: If you could live in any fictional universe, what would it be and why? 

Ashley:  I would love to go to Camp Half-Blood. Honestly, Riordan made it seem really fun (albeit dangerous at times) and I love the characters in all of those stories.

TMS: What is your favorite trope? Something you always say “yes, please” to. 

Ashley: Enemies to lovers is a must! I love when two characters can’t stand each other, but slowly begin to realize how well they work together and eventually fall in love.

TMS: How do you get yourself out of a reading slump?

Ashley: Comics, graphic novels, and manga! It’s not because they’re short and typically quick to read; it’s the art! The artists who work on comics, graphic novels, and manga put so much love and passion into their craft that I never grow tired of them so whenever I’m in a “slum’ I typically gravitate to more of these.

TMS: I’m sorry I’m going to do this… what are your 5 favorite books of all time? (A series can count as one book or story because I’m not evil.) 

Ashley:

  1. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 
  2. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
  3. Nana by Ai Yazawa (the entire series)
  4. Light for the World to See by Kwame Alexander
  5. Parachutes by Kelly Yang

TMS: If you could ask one of your favorite authors a question about a particular book, what would you ask and why? 

Ashley: Jason Reynolds. What really happens at the end of Long Way Down? I’ve read that book three times and I’m pretty sure there’s more to that ending than what we think as readers.

TMS: What books are you most looking forward to reading in 2022? This can be new releases, a yearly reread, or something else. 

Ashley: I have a lot of these. I actually did a video of my most anticipated releases for 2022. It’s about 60 titles. Here’s the link if you would like to check it out!

TMS: If you could travel back in time to the moment you decided to take a jab at YouTube and give yourself advice, what advice would that be? 

Ashley: Have fun. I think one of the most interesting things about be a content creator is realizing how easy it is to get caught up in the number of views you get per video. This leads you down a rabbit hole of creating videos for views instead of making content you think is fun. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve made this mistake and it has led me to creating content that I didn’t enjoy.

TMS: Every other week we get news of this or that book getting an adaption. What is a story you hope gets adapted and who are some creatives in front of or behind the camera you want involved (besides the author if applicable)? 

Ashley: Okay, I’m going to be difficult with this one! I’m actually not a huge fan of adaptations, especially of books that I love. I’m always so scared that they won’t be able to capture the magic of the story because of time and budget limitations. However, I am excited to see how the Percy Jackson adaption turns out on Disney+!

TMS: It’s not our place to come up with solutions, but if YouTube could do one thing to make the space safer for you and fellow Black creatives what would it be? 

Ashley: Give Black creators the recognition they deserve. I may be wrong in my assumptions, but sometimes it feels as though the algorithm doesn’t work in the favor of Black creators and we aren’t given the space to really show our talents. It’s so hard finding Black booktubers when you search for book-related content on Youtube. You could type in something like “reading wrap up” and it takes ages before you come across a Black face. And the creators are out there, but they aren’t favored as much.  

TMS: When was the first time you felt SEEN in a book? This can be for any reason like identity-based, personality, goals, etc. 

Honestly, it was a picture book that made me feel seen and I think it was because it was one of the first times I saw a little Black girl at the center of the story. It was The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci and it was illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. It’s an adaptation of a Creole folktale. Not only is the story interesting, but the artwork is BEAUTIFUL.

The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. A Black grandmother walking with a small child. (Image: Scholastic.)
(Scholastic)

TMS: As someone who is a mother, a book blogger, and a librarian, how do these different facets of your life affect what types of books you read?

Ashley: I can’t really afford to have a “niche” genre or age category that I like to read. I read all across the board meaning that’s picture books, children’s books, board books, middle grade, YA, and adult. I even read across genres because it helps me make more informed decisions at my job.

You can check out Ashley at “bookishrealm” on YouTube, Instagram & Twitter. Ashley noted, “It’s the same on TikTok as well, but I’m still trying to get the hang of that, haha!”

(featured image: Ashley of Bookish Realm and various publishers.)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.