Reading books is the best new way to spend time on Instagram — Quartz

I have an unfortunate weakness for Instagram. It sucks me in like few other things, whether it’s scrolling through my randomly curated feed or clicking on stories for half an hour. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m just looking at someone else’s vacation or skincare routine; sometimes I find it oddly comforting. Still, I generally feel like it’s a waste of time and I could be doing something else, like reading books.

I’ve always read a lot and I resent Instagram for eating into my reading time, and myself for not being able to put my phone down. I have the Kindle app and have read full books on my phone. But I failed to make it a habit. Instead, I’ve tended to read shorter texts on Pocket, the article-saving app, because it’s easier. But it’s even easier to just look at some pretty pictures. That’s why I was intrigued by the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) new project: Instagram novels.

The library, a social media follower for years, is creating a new way to consume literature, in collaboration with advertising agency Mother. He recently published a version of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on instagram storiesaccompanied by beautiful illustrations by the creator Magoz.


The book is separated into two parts and posted to the “Highlights” section of NYPL’s story on Instagram. Each page is a frame. By default, these frames only stay on your screen for 15 seconds, so NYPL has included a special icon at the bottom right of the page to place your thumb that pauses the story so you have plenty of time to read each page. Alice is the first novel to hit Instagram, and the library is already planning to release two more classics: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s yellow wallpaperand Franz Kafka Metamorphosissaid NYPL.

Insta Novel’s background color is warmer than the white usually found on reading apps, making it easier to read on a screen, according to a NYPL release. The font is Georgia, which was the first serif font designed to do long text that is readable and pleasant to read in digital form.

Playful reading

Although curious, I was also initially skeptical of the idea, which is partly to promote the NYPL and its eBooks app. I use Instagram for other things, things that I considered secondary activities. Long Insta stories are usually a chore to get through. The process seemed cumbersome.

And it takes some getting used to reading a book on Instagram. At first, I flipped through the pages very quickly, remembering little, worried that the page would disappear. I would skip pages by mistake. I would be annoyed to have to constantly press my finger on the placeholder.

It was also pretty easy to get distracted, because this is Instagram. I would grab my phone to read the novel, but forget what I was supposed to do when I opened the app and watched a story on a horrible new fashion gimmick that makes your neck look like it’s sprouted flesh-colored seashells, a stranger’s 7 a.m. workout, and another stranger’s tale of his beach snacks.

It’s far from a perfect reading experience. Once you exit the story, you can’t just return to where you left off – it starts over from the beginning when you return. However, as the novel is short, you can, within seconds, click to the last page you’re reading (although I think the experience would be gained by breaking a book into even smaller pieces and publishing them to the story of the strengths account).

But the Insta romance kept me engaged. The illustrated introduction is fascinating and the book is a collection of fun little surprises. As you “turn” the pages, the thumb placeholder gradually transforms from a keyhole to an eye that opens into a watch (and other icons, which I won’t spoil ), all for real Alice in Wonderland mind. It felt a bit like a game – waiting to see what visual element pops up next, following the poems line by line. Going from chapter to chapter oddly felt like completing levels.


There are animated pages that work well with the strange recitations and songs of Alice and the various creatures she encounters, spitting out verse after verse. The mouse’s tail poem, which in the original printed book is shaped like a real tail, actually glides across the screen. But you need to be focused and have a quick-thinking thumb – if you want to go back and read a line again, the story will play the poem again.

Introducing these “game” elements into reading a novel is likely to make most book lovers cringe. But it could get more people reading: Just days after it was published, nearly 40,000 people opened the novel and clicked through to the end, the NYPL says USA Today.

Another potential positive side effect is changing our Instagram behaviors. This might convince some people to reduce the time they mindlessly browse the app and consume empty content that harms their self-esteem or induces a plethora of unhealthy feelings. Reading Alice was delicious and fun, and with a few hiccups, it kept me from, well, going down the often unnecessary Instagram rabbit hole.

The Insta Novel can also counteract the short attention span that social media has fostered among internet users. Reading generally forces concentration and the game elements help to make it captivating.

“Gamifying” a novel seems almost the opposite of the healthy approach to reading suggested by my colleague Thu Huong-Ha, which is to treat it like a “meandering walk,” rather than a hunt or checklist. And I don’t think it can or should replace more traditional forms of reading. But on the other hand, taking bits and pieces from a smart, sketchy novel (I doubt a plot-driven opus will work well with the format), is another form of casual literary exploration, allowing you to dive your toe in a great piece of art while indulging in the guilty pleasure that is Instagram.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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