Bear Lee, book reviewer for BookTube.
(Photo courtesy of Bear Lee)
BookTube is a community of readers and book reviewers on YouTube, with a content creator for every reader, every book and every genre. From literary fiction and young adult to fantasy and sci-fi, from romance to horror and more, BookTube has become a digital meeting place for bookworms around the world.
Among the book reviewers is Bear, a young, non-binary, bisexual, Indigenous YouTuber also known as Et Tu Brody? Bear (they/them)—soft spoken, kind and hilarious—grew up in a tiny town in Alabama with “18 churches and no red lights.” This meant a heavy religious presence in their life; even while attending a public school, the students would pray collectively each morning. As Bear got older, the strong religious influence led to confusion and shame regarding their attraction towards boys.
“It was very hard growing up,” says Bear, who describes multiple instances of violence in their childhood. “My first day of kindergarten, I got beat up on the playground. A bunch of kids started calling me a faggot.”
Bear’s school and personal life would remain violent throughout their teenage years, and they faced rejection because of their orientation and gender expression, being told they would burn in hell because God didn’t like gay people. At 21, they moved to Orlando, FL to live with their fiancé.
Bear started their channel in 2018, to review books and occasionally discuss the inherent racism in the publishing industry. They’ve uploaded over 100 videos, with content ranging from book hauls, reviews, recommendations and discussion videos.
Being a BookTuber has drastically changed how they read, says Bear, because they’re more critical of the books they choose to showcase, and have needed to learn how to balance reading for pleasure and reading for content. Moreover, finding space in online communities for their perspective can be complicated.
“The online community [does] well at face-value,” says Bear “It’s a lot of what goes on behind closed doors, where I find out people are misgendering me in private group chats and then laughing about it.”
Bear explains that some people like to think of Indigenous communities as something from the past or, as author Thomas King called it, “the dead Indian,” a stereotype of the Indigenous person living in a teepee with a headdress on, dancing around a flame. However, Bear believes that once viewers see Indigenous people as a modern culture—as the opposite of the dead Indian—they get upset.
“People don’t want to be challenged; people want to be comfortable … I don’t think people want to be anti-Indigenous, it’s just so inherent because everything we’re taught comes from such a colonized perspective.”
In July 2020, Bear uploaded a video— “The Mistreatment of Natives on BookTube”—in which they discussed the racism and microaggressions used against Indigenous creators by the BookTube community and by book publishers. This video’s response was supported by other creators on the platform and, to this day, Bear thinks of it as one of the best videos they’ve ever produced.
Bear feels hopeful about their impact within the community, and that their content sheds light on underrepresented authors, books and content creators.
“I am here to uplift authors that have fought for their voices to be heard. My videos work to decolonize your bookshelf and the publishing industry, one recommendation at a time.”
Other BookTubers Bear recommends
Adri from Perpetual Pages:
“Queer, Trans, and Non-binary Latinx reader. (THEY/THEM/THEIR pronouns only.) B.A. in Creative Writing and aspiring author. Chronic bibliophile. Fierce advocate for queer representation, intersectionality, feminism, and boosting all marginalized voices. Reading tastes: extremely eclectic. On this channel you will find: recommendations, list videos, reviews/discussions, book hauls, monthly wrap-ups, book tags, comic/manga reviews, and more! [CC]s available on every new video.”
Ashley from Bookish Realm:
“Bookish Endeavors! Book Hauls, Reviews, TBR, and so much more!!! I upload videos every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday!”
The Light at the Bottom of the World
by London Shah (2019)
The Only Good Indians
by Stephen Graham Jones (2020)