Q&A: Did you know Books is on Instagram?

The Last Bookstore
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

The L.A. Times Books section can now be found on Instagram, and it’s more than just #shelfies (gorgeous photos of bookshelves) — it’s a place for us to share images that illuminate the world of books. Times book editor Carolyn Kellogg sent me a few questions about @latimesbooks’ Instagram and what you’ll find when you follow us there.

Books on Instagram — really? Isn't it a visual medium?

It is! And the world of books can be visual too. I don’t mean that the world of books can be visual in the sense of picture or art books (although those are visual for obvious reasons), I mean that books are infinitely more than just words printed on a page. That’s their magic, I think; it’s why we love them.

The world of books contains human beings — writers and readers — and spaces like bookstores, libraries, parks, coffee shops, events. Specifically because it’s a visual medium, Instagram offers an opportunity to see the life of books and book lovers: dusk settling over the L.A. Central Library, a quick snap of a bookstore cat, a portrait of a favorite author, a casual, behind-the-scenes outtake from our latest interview and other scenes from our literary city. Books capture the world and lead us back into it. There’s so much in that experience to photograph and to share.

Instagram posts have captions, too, of course, and I try to keep ’em informative, funny, or both.

What kind of things have you posted on the books Instagram?

It’s an eclectic feed — but always book-centric. We have an embarrassment of riches in the L.A. Times photo archives, so I’ve posted gorgeous, composed and candid pictures of authors like Sandra Cisneros and Margaret Atwood taken by Times photographers over the years, as well as original illustrations of authors Shirley Jackson and critic at large Susan Straight.

I think of Instagram as a kind of scrapbook, too, so I’ll post images related to what we’re thinking about or covering: an image that didn’t make it into print from a story we’ve run recently, a killer book jacket, or photographs I take myself on the day-to-day while exploring the world as a literary citizen.

I posted a photo of Biblioteca Vasconcelos, the most incredible library I’ve ever seen, while in Mexico City; I also posted the “acting” section of Hollywood’s iconic Samuel French Bookshop — #soLA — when I got back to town. The first is this sweeping, architectural phenomenon and the second is just a few shelves, but I was delighted by both images equally. They both say something about how we interact with books and place.

Lastly, I’ve been posting Instagram stories of author events and readings.

Explain how Instagram stories work.

Stories are a string of videos and snapshots that followers can watch like a slideshow. I’ve been creating nano-documentaries of the literary events I attend. For example, I posted highlights from the launch of “Cannabis Cuisine,” a cannabis cookbook, and “Skateboarding LA,” which looks at the intersection of skating and public spaces. I also filmed a demonstration by hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas of how to read their graphic novel with the aid of virtual reality, as well as reactions from the crowd.

Stories allow me to use drawing tools and filters, too, which is fun. In the future I’m dying to film some behind-the-scenes footage from interviews where writers “wear” the filter of their choice. Don’t you want to see your favorite author discussing their work in a digital butterfly tiara or puppy ears? I know I do.

Instagram stories are quick and playful posts because, like Snapchat, the stories disappear after 24 hours.

Do you think Instagram can be a place for literary discovery?

Absolutely. One obvious example: I became fascinated with poet Rupi Kaur after following her on Instagram. Thanks to her Instagram following, she was one of the biggest-selling authors of 2017. But I think there’s room to discover writers and books that aren’t necessarily digital natives too. In the same way that restaurant buffs post what they’re eating on social media, book lovers post what they read. Captions and comments lead to conversations, so recommendations abound.

Which bookish Instagram accounts do you follow?

So many. I follow authors I admire to see what they’re reading, publishers whose catalogs intrigue me, literary magazines I dig and local bookstores, which often post Instagram recommendations by staff members the same way that they do in their bricks-and-mortar stores. My latest scroll-obsession is Teju Cole’s account. It’s just so beautiful. He’s a photographer as well as a writer, so he’s got a real eye. You can’t go wrong with the Paris Review’s account either. It’s the opposite, in a way, of Cole’s — the Paris Review almost exclusively posts bite-sized quotes from past interviews and poetry — but whoever curates that thing really knows how to choose an excerpt. Oh, and my all-time favorite bookish account is @lastnightsreading, which posts drawings and quotes from literary events in New York. It’s this perfect marriage of compelling image and text, which is exactly what I think a bookish Instagram account should do.