It would be a struggle to find anyone in 2022 who hasn’t heard of TikTok, the video sharing platform which took the world by storm when it was launched in 2017.
But within TikTok, small communities of people with similar interests started popping up – enter, BookTok.
BookTok is a place where creators share their love of books, give reviews, post fan art, and talk all-things bookish.
It was BookTok that helped Mandurah local Robert Swart amass a whopping 158,300 followers with whom he shares his life and his reading habits.
Now, his life reads much like his favorite quirky novels – full of wonder, community and of course, a love story.
Stepping into the magic
Robert said the first book that changed his life was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixwhich was gifted to him by his aunty when he was a child.
“I’m originally from South Africa, and when I was moving to Australia one of my going away presents was a Harry Potter book – but… not the first one,” he laughed.
“I couldn’t really speak English properly so that book was one of the things that helped me to learn.”
As he grew up, Robert said he continued to really love reading – but that it was JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books that really sucked him into the world of high fantasy.
“Like most kids I played sport, and had friends – most of them didn’t like to read – it was a unique thing about me ‘he’s read 50 books or 100 books this year’.
“No one else really did it at the time, it was just kind of me.”
In 2021, Robert created his TikTok page – where he started sharing videos about his favorite books and authors.
Not one for social media, Robert was surprised when his follower count started growing.
“I’m not that big on social media usually – I have a personal Instagram account and I’ve only got one photo on it.”
Robert said creating his TikTok account was “way out of his comfort zone”, but the community he found there had changed his life.
“At the time I was looking for a job, and I thought while I was waiting I would upload a couple of videos and it just really picked up.
“I think people just want a community where they can go and talk about their interests. I have people who I recommend books to and then it’s only fair I try their recommendations too. We sometimes send books to each other – kind of like a book club – and then we talk about it.”
Robert said one of the biggest takeaways from learning about what others were reading was the importance of reading outside your own experiences.
“I think I have a very open mind – I like to read diversely and outside of my own experiences. Books like normal people by Sally Rooney.
“I also loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – which is not something a lot of men would typically read, but it’s a book I just deeply connected with.”
Robert’s review videos weren’t just noticed by other keen BookTokers, but by some of his favorite authors, with iconic names in the reading world reaching out to him directly as a result.
Rebecca Kuang, who goes by the penname RF Kuang, is one of Robert’s all-time favorite fantasy authors, and one day when he was scrolling through his feed, he received a message.
“Her publisher sent me a message saying ‘Rebecca found your TikTok channel… I started freaking out – I was like, are you kidding?
“She wanted me to have a copy of her new book which isn’t out yet – I am just an absolutely massive fan of hers, so this was amazing.”
When author Brandon Sanderson released special signed copies of The Way of Kings series, Robert was disappointed to have missed out on buying them.
“People were selling them on eBay for $1200 a book when they originally sold for much less, I was really sad I missed out.
“Then someone from his team reached out and they want to send me copies – it’s one of those things you could never have expected coming out of this.”
Love story straight from a book
While Robert enjoys turning the pages of love stories, the most epic love story was his own.
He met his wife Chloe in high school where they dated for the one year Robert attended the school.
When his family had to move, the two parted ways, but stayed in touch over the years.
“I literally remember my maths teacher Ms Franco said to me ‘you know what? It’s a small world, maybe you will meet each other again someday’
“It was year nine and I was worried I’d never see her again – I’ve moved so many times it didn’t seem like it would ever happen.”
But flashforward and it turns out his teacher was right.
Robert and Chloe later reconnected down the line, eventually deciding to go on a two-year trip to Canada together.
“That was the first time we’d lived together – she reads as well, even more than me – and we got to go to the Vancouver Public Library together.
“It was unbelievable how much money went into the architecture and overall funding of the building.”
At the end of the trip, Robert proposed to Chloe – and the pair got married in 2021.
While Chloe herself is not on TikTok, Robert said she always helped him curate his own videos.
“She helps me with everything, she’s often the one filming my videos for me – I’m extremely lucky.”