review

Olivia Yallop’s Break the Internet ‘offers a nuanced look at the realm of social media influencers’.

Gemma NisbetThe West Australian
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Olivia Yallop.
Camera IconOlivia Yallop. Credit: Supplied

BREAK THE INTERNET

Olivia Yallop (Scribe, $32.99)

As part of her job as a London-based strategist working with brands and influencers on digital advertising campaigns, Olivia Yallop spends “up to 16 hours each day logged on to social media”, keeping up to date with a fast-moving and often opaque industry. She’s thus well placed to deliver on the premise of her fascinating debut book, Break the Internet, which aims to offer a nuanced look at the realm of social media influencers that goes beyond “the stereotypes of selfie-takers and streamers” to probe how “digital influence intersects with economics, identity, politics, and power”.

Break the Internet.
Camera IconBreak the Internet. Credit: supplied

This refreshingly thoughtful approach is one of the book’s particular strengths, and Yallop takes seriously the often-dismissed “creator economy” while maintaining a journalistic scepticism. Her engaging, authoritative account thus considers the broad swathe of internet culture that falls “under the influencer umbrella”, from “hype houses” inhabited by aspiring TikTokers and the outrageous antics of “junklord” YouTube channels, to the psychological toll of sharing your life online and how offline inequalities can play out on digital platforms.

Along the way, Yallop attends influencer parties, interviews “creators” and experts, and documents her own research-driven attempt at finding internet fame and her run-ins with the perverse allure of online anti-fandom communities. She’s particularly adept at capturing the hollow emotional register of the infinite scroll, and as the book progresses, seems to become increasingly disillusioned with the world she depicts — particularly in the wake of the US Capitol attack, which she describes as “the culmination of 10 years of social media and influencer culture”.

“I had been searching for an ending, and this felt like it,” Yallop writes of the events of January 6, 2021. And so, the book finishes not with the prescriptions for future regulation that a reader might expect of other accounts, but with its author logging off — at least temporarily.

A Three Dog Problem.
Camera IconA Three Dog Problem. Credit: Supplied

A THREE DOG PROBLEM

S.J. Bennett (Zaffre, $29.99)

The second instalment in UK author S.J. Bennett’s charming cosy crime series — described as “Miss Marple meets The Crown” — sees her fictionalised version of Queen Elizabeth II once again investigating a case with the assistance of her trusted secretary, ex-soldier Rozie Oshodi. Set against the backdrop of the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, the mystery begins with a minor confusion involving a painting of the Royal Yacht Britannia that Bennett’s Prince Philip considers “ghastly” but which the Queen counts as “a favourite in ways she had never shared with anyone”. Things escalate, however, when a woman’s body is discovered in a gory scene by the palace swimming pool.

If This Gets Out.
Camera IconIf This Gets Out. Credit: Supplied

IF THIS GETS OUT

Sophie Gonzales & Cale Dietrich (Hodder, $17.99)

A secret romance between two members of one of the world’s biggest boy bands is at the heart of this sweet young-adult novel by Adelaide author Sophie Gonzales and Perth-born, Brisbane-based writer Cale Dietrich. The story centres on 18-year-olds Ruben and Zach, who — along with their bandmates Angel and Jon — are required to project their management-assigned image at all times, even if it doesn’t fit with who they are in real life. For Ruben, this means avoiding mentions of his sexuality in interviews (he’s gay) and “definitely no public boyfriends”. However, with pressures increasing as the group embarks on a European tour, Ruben and Zach’s friendship begins to develop into something more.

The Library.
Camera IconThe Library. Credit: Supplied

THE LIBRARY

Arthur der Weduwen & Andrew Pettegree (Profile, $49.99)

“The death of the library has been predicted almost as often as the death of the book,” write historians Arthur der Weduwen and Andrew Pettegree. And yet, they note, when the global pandemic forced libraries around the globe to temporarily close in 2020, “the sense of loss was palpable”. Their new book is a deep dive into the long history of every keen reader’s favourite place, and a story “of many unexpected twists and turns” that stretches across thousands of years, from royal collections housing as many as 35,000 baked clay tablets in the Assyrian Empire of Mesopotamia to the modern-day public libraries adapting to the digital age.

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