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Move over Taylor Swift, I’m fangirling over Helen Garner and Sofie Laguna

Has Melbourne ever seen fangirling of the kind we saw last month when Taylor Swift visited Australia for her record-breaking concerts?

At each performance, more than 90,000 people swooned with admiration … and a degree of obsession.

While I love the overt displays of joy at these concerts, it is a quieter but no less adoring fangirl that attends a book festival, snatches up the latest copy of a beloved writer’s book or awaits the airing of an adaptation of their favourite novel.

However, I can’t help but see the similarities between the fanbases of Tay Tay and the bookish community.

I was recently at my sister-in-law’s Hens Day where the volume and pitch of conversation increased markedly when we started talking about Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.

The pitch rose another degree when someone mentioned Trent Dalton’s latest, Lola in the Middle, and then again when we spoke about forming a book club. The bookish conversation was a joy and a bridge between generations, families and friendship groups.

And while the competition for tickets to talks at Clunes Booktown was not quite as intense as that for tickets to Swift’s concerts, I, for one, didn’t waste time when I saw that two of my favourite writers, Helen Garner and Sofie Laguna, were appearing.

The passion and dedication of booklovers is also clear on channels like Tik Tok and Instagram, where ‘booktokers’ and ‘bookstagrammers’ share their recommendations, reveling in the joy of loving a book, then sharing it with others.

How we love to find a bookish kindred spirit who loves – or even better, detests – the same books as we do. Just the comments about Sarah Winman’s bestselling Still Life in this blog attest to the passion with which people assert their opinions of a recent read, and the pleasure of finding someone who feels the same way.

As with Swifties, there is a devoted community of those who want to celebrate the focus of their fandom.

Listening to sociology academic and Taylor Swift fandom expert Dr Georgia Carroll’s speech from last week’s Swiftposium, held in Melbourne, the link between both types of fandom were clear.

Not only do we love the product that Swift, or our favourite author, sends out to the world, but we also love the idea of sharing our fandom with others.

Whether on social media or with our real-life social groups, we gain a shared sense of joy in our fandom.

Dr Carroll says that this feeling of joy is at the heart of the experience of fans.

“It’s about boy bands, but it’s also about Taylor or any other artist or sporting team that makes you feel joy. It’s about the universality of emotion and expression and sharing that moment with the strangers around you … the power of loving something unashamedly.”

There is a – not dissimilar – joy in both listening to Swift’s music at home or in reading a book, but that joy is amplified by the experience of sharing it with others, whether amid the noise and excitement of a concert or the quieter enthusiasm and passion of a book chat … although a new Harry Potter incited enough noise and excitement to compare with any concert.

Perhaps JK Rowling’s boy wizard is the only person (albeit fictional) who can compete with the level of fame and adoration that Swift has attracted.

While in her PhD, Dr Carroll studied television series Supernatural, comparing its fandom to that of Taylor Swift’s; a comparison with the Harry Potter fandom would have been just as illuminating.

Looking solely at the numbers, the fanbase of both is comparable – in 2023, Forbes reported that 53 per cent of adults were Taylor Swift fans, while 44 per cent of Americans consider themselves to be avid fans (and 53 per cent ‘casual’ fans) of the Harry Potter films (I’m not sure what the stats are about the books).

While I might have missed out on tickets to Taylor Swift’s concerts – a fact which still makes me feel a little gloomy – I’m fortunate that my other fandom is far more accessible; a book-signing line is never going to compare with the line of Swift’s merchandise or in the Ticketek lounge waiting for a concert ticket.

Fandom brings people together and can be a source of great joy, whatever the subject. Thank goodness for Taylor Swift, books, Star Wars, Collingwood, or whatever the source of fandom might be.

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