For many members of Gen Z, social media platforms like TikTok have become surprising gateways to the world of literature. Enter Hailey Colborn, founder of the Hot Literati, a digital community for “hot, cool, well-read people” that invites curious readers to celebrate literature and practice reading with a reverence for the beauty of words. By sharing short-form content like one-sentence book reviews (“Nick Carraway surrounded by Manic Pixie Dream Girls”; “Beowulf if it was about motherhood in suburban America”), Hailey says just enough to pique our curiosity, leaving us ready to pick up the book and dive in ourselves.
Hailey is a writer, currently working day by day on her debut novel. She is also the host of the Hot Literati podcast and digital book club. With so many ways to engage and guided by rules like “Always carry a book” and “Read everywhere,” the Hot Literati invites us to see literature as a lifestyle through a digital community where all readers can find connection and belonging. With a passion for storytelling and a dedication to fostering a love of reading, Hailey is shaping a new narrative for the digital age, where literature and community intertwine in unexpected and enriching ways.
What does it mean to be in the Hot Literati?
To be in the Hot Literati is simply to nurture a love of literature! I grew up reading as an escape, and it’s something that I find so much joy and comfort in — and I find that that’s typically true for most members of our community. We all share, yes, a deep love of reading but also an appreciation of literature’s ability to capture in an art form what it means to be human in different themes that transcend time, culture, etc.
With over 100,000 followers on TikTok, it’s clear that many people have found a place of belonging and community in the Hot Literati. How do you see it as a tool for connection?
I find that TikTok is more of a discovery tool or an introduction to the community for most people. They’ll find a video that really sticks with them and be intrigued to join the community further, but each social channel has a different function and purpose. For example, Instagram serves as more of a place for updates or, like, a mood board. Discord is where casual discussion occurs in real time. The “podcast” (in quotes because I really just record myself when I have strong thoughts about a book; there’s no schedule or rhyme or reason) allows for lengthier explorations of books or themes. Patreon is where we host book club — where the real, deep discussions happen — and Substack is where I share some of my own writing or just random thoughts I want to remember and/or share. I’d say the real community-building happens with the marriage of all of these channels.
You share your love for literary greats like Faulkner, Nabokov, and Dostoyevsky. What does reading the classics mean to you?
I love the classics because they show how we’re really all the same at the end of the day. That no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, we’re all grappling with these really innate issues of human existence and the absurdity of it all. For example, Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, explores dysfunctional family and the struggle of trying to be good in the world — which could be comparable to a contemporary story, like the show Succession. Or Nabokov, in Pnin, explores how everyone lives so much of their lives in their own heads, afraid and tiptoeing around one another because of our own pride and anxieties. I find that the classics are also stylistically more unapologetic than some contemporary writing — they broke so many literary rules back then. Like Faulkner — his sentences are fluid and melodic and stunning. Or Joyce or even Babitz — the sentences are grammatically wrong in a lot of ways, but they read like music!
I think you read what you do to learn a certain lesson at any point in time. And I like to think that the right book finds you when you need it.
You use your platform on TikTok to share short-form videos about long-form books. How has this balance between the long-form world of novels and the short-form world of social media shaped you as a reader?
I find that I have to really pick apart what I want to say on TikTok because of the nature of short-form content. I have to be as concise as possible, which isn’t easy when discussing books. So for TikTok, I’ll find a salient quote or two from a book, or I’ll find a way to communicate my thoughts in a way that’s short and bite-y, but again, this serves its function as more of a discovery platform to the Hot Literati.
Your page is rich with book recommendations for curious readers who are looking for something different. Are there any books that you’ve read and loved after hearing about them on TikTok?
I’m actually so stubborn with recommendations — I typically go down rabbit holes, where I become obsessed with a handful of authors and work my way through a lot of their stuff. Or I simply go to a used-book store and look for titles and covers that stick out to me and read the first few pages. I also don’t read synopses. I like to go into a book with as little information about it as possible. I will pick up a recommendation occasionally if it comes from a friend. Or my grandma, who’s a huge, huge reader, too. I also get kind of spiritual almost about what books I read when. I think you read what you do to learn a certain lesson at any point in time. And I like to think that the right book finds you when you need it.