BTS and My Reinvigorated Love of Reading
There are countless factors one could point to when explaining why BTS is so popular, but an often-overlooked one is the impact their book recommendations have on the lives of fans like me.
I love to read, but I used to have neither the time nor the patience to get through fiction books. I am an avid nonfiction reader who finds topics much less fascinating when they are just made up. Then I became a BTS fan.
Throughout the years, BTS have incorporated a host of literary and cinematic influences into their music videos and songs. This has not made their music non-accessible to those who haven’t read or watched their sources of inspiration, but those who have are able to grow more invested in the stories. Wanting to immerse myself in the BTS Music Video Universe as much as possible, I decided to give Demian by Herman Hesse a try, as it inspired much of BTS’s Wings era. To my pleasant surprise, I could not put it down, and I went on to devour BTS’s other sources of inspiration from various eras, including the works of Haruki Murakami, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alan Garner. I even own some of their books now and continue to revisit them, returning to the pages where my favorite quotes are earmarked.
There are several reasons why I have uncharacteristically enjoyed this slate of fiction books. First of all, they have provided further clarity and fuel for my BTS Music Video Universe theories and analyses. I constantly find ways to connect the symbols, quotes, and themes I read about to the ones that I find in BTS’s work. Second of all, these fiction books have become very real to me, and BTS’s nonfiction recommendations have helped with that. Take Into the Magic Shop by James R. Doty, for example. This book covers Doty’s time as a young boy learning “magic” from a shop owner. That “magic” transforms his life and is actually a series of therapeutic, anti-anxiety exercises in disguise. The story is autobiographical but is written in the style of fiction. The book inspired BTS’s song “Magic Shop,” which, as Jungkook explained during a press conference, encourages fans to create a mental escape when they need it:
“When ARMY are tired, emotionally exhausted, or having a rough time, they can draw a door within their hearts and come inside, and we are there.”
I find myself using the coping skills, both from Into the Magic Shop and the visualization of a mental “magic shop” provided by BTS, to calm down and handle my own anxiety issues. Something clicked for me when I read that book, and I realized that I could find the joys of reading nonfiction writing in stories that are structured in the style of fiction; I could find ways to take a story that is told in a narrative way and apply it to my life. I could make fiction become nonfiction, in a sense! In the fiction books recommended by BTS, under imagined plots and characters, I started to recognize and relate to the people and situations upon which the fictional elements were based. I learned to appreciate fiction writing for its ways of providing just as much insight, advice, and comfort as any nonfiction book can. Fiction suddenly seems a lot less trivial and silly when one remembers it is all rooted in the ways real humans think and behave.
I have found solace in BTS’s book recommendations for reasons that extend beyond their ability to help me cope with mental illness. A quote that particularly resonated with me from Demian reminds me to think deeper about why some people “just rub me the wrong way”:
“If you hate a person, you hate something in [them] that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.”
Demian has also prompted me to reflect on how I view relationships:
“Love must not entreat… or demand. Love must have the strength to become certain within itself. Then it ceases merely to be attracted and begins to attract.”
This quote from Almond I find especially worth sharing and sitting with:
“Mom would say, a tragedy that’s too distant cannot be ‘your’ tragedy… But what about the people who did nothing as they just stood and watched mom and Granny being attacked that day? They saw it happen in front of their eyes. They were too close to use the excuse that it was ‘a distant tragedy’... People shut their eyes to a distant tragedy saying there’s nothing they could do, yet they didn’t stand up for one happening nearby either because they’re too terrified…”
Then there is this beautiful description in Almond of what books can do for people like me who feel like outsiders:
“Books took me to places I could never go otherwise. They shared the confessions of people I’d never met and lives I’d never witnessed. The emotions I could never feel, and the events I hadn’t experienced could all be found in those volumes… The worlds of movies, soap operas, or cartoons were already so meticulous that there were no blanks left for me to fill in… But books were different. They had lots of blanks… I could squeeze myself in there and sit, or walk, or scribble down my thoughts.”
One of my favorite lines from Kafka on the Shore prompts me to reevaluate what it means to be strong and thus see myself as stronger than I used to see myself as:
“The strength I'm looking for isn't the type where you win or lose. I'm not after a wall that'll repel power coming from outside. What I want is the kind of strength to be able to absorb that kind of power, to stand up to it. The strength to quietly endure things - unfairness, misfortunes, sadness, mistakes, misunderstandings.”
I could go on and on with these examples.
I understand my fellow nonfiction readers’ distaste for fiction. However, I encourage them to give it a try with an open mind, remembering that even if an overall story feels or is made-up, quotes can still be pulled from that story and leave an impact on one’s real life.
From mythology to realistic fiction, fiction books I never would have read if it weren’t for BTS have become some of my all-time favorites. They have challenged me philosophically, prompted introspection with their intriguing questions, and lent a hand when I’ve needed to feel less alone.
The rush of joy and anticipation that comes from first falling down the BTS music video rabbit hole is the same rush that returned to me after reading Demian. I felt this sense of immense wonder and curiosity, like my world had just been expanded and produced a million new doorways through which I could walk. It is no wonder so many ARMY say BTS’s music has been there for them through the toughest of times. BTS have gone beyond what many other artists also do, which is sending comforting messages and advice through music. BTS do not just open those mental doors, but they give ARMY their own sets of keys. They do not just provide a pep talk, but they prepare ARMY to face our lives’ battles head-on next time. They provide a toolkit for coping in a world where it is easy to become cynical and somber. They pull people like me out of a funk by reminding us how wonderful life is and how to see art and beauty all around us.
Discovering a new favorite book is a truly life-changing experience, and BTS have introduced me to countless new favorites. Not only that, but the contemplative and ambiguous nature of both BTS’s music and their literary influences allow for me to re-evaluate my thoughts and theories surrounding each of them again and again. I have a renewed zest for life knowing I have something to look forward to, since rewatching BTS music videos and rereading these books can be done through a new lens each time. I also get this zest for life from knowing that the joy I felt upon discovering Demian is a joy that I will continue to experience time and time again.
BTS’s appeal goes beyond the quantity or even the quality of their work. Both their expansive discography and high-quality work certainly help, but the real lasting power of their impact comes from the ways they change the lives of fans like me. Fans are much less likely to stop being fans if their favorite stars touch their lives in an irreversible way. I personally cannot imagine a day where I stop being a member of the BTS ARMY; it would feel like an act of betrayal, considering all they have given me and the gifts they have given to other fans. They have given gifts both literally, in terms of new music and book recommendations, but also the gift of being able to turn inwards and find the gifts in oneself that have been there all along.