Book fans go online to promote reading among Singaporeans

Book fans go online to promote reading among Singaporeans
Published: 10:15 PM, March 27, 2017
Updated: 11:17 AM, March 28, 2017

SINGAPORE — Two individuals are creating waves online through their social media accounts by enthusing about the literary hobby of reading, following an inaugural study last year which showed that the proportion of residents who read at least one book a year had fallen.

Instagram account MRT Reads documents what commuters read on trains, whereas blogger and Clicknetwork TV host Jemimah Wei holds sway through featuring books on her blog and Instagram account under the handle jemmawei.

In fact, the voracious reader worked with Changi Airport to curate a bookshelf in several Times bookstores at the airport for transiting travellers, and the #JemmaRecommends initiative was launched last November.

Both creators aim to prove that the reading scene here is alive and thriving, and they want to encourage more people to read.

Mr Aaron Ho, who is behind MRT Reads, has been snapping pictures of strangers engrossed in various books on his daily commute, peppering his captions with his musing and witty observations.

The 36-year-old, who is pursuing a PhD in literature, was inspired by the Underground New York Public Library photography site which he chanced across while studying at the City University of New York.

Barely three months into the year, Mr Ho has captured pictures of almost 200 readers, almost half of the 400 he took last year.

Viewing his project — which has about 1,280 followers — as a sociological experiment of sorts, Mr Ho said what people read reflects the kind of city Singapore is.

People here are not “snobbish” about who they read, he said, citing Dan Brown, Mitch Albom, JK Rowling and Agatha Christie as the top-read fiction authors. There also exists a strong German and Japanese 

His most pithy observation, however, was that Singapore is a “capitalist society” that values money, based on the number of people poring over business books. At the same time, the number of people turning to religious books for a meaningful narrative reveals “how spiritually bankrupt we are”, he added.

Ms Wei, on the other hand, engages her 61,300 followers on things such as books she is currently reading or the bookstores she visits.

The 24-year-old, currently pursuing a masters in creative writing at the Nanyang Technological University, said while there are “more things that compete for attention these days”, such as television and social media, people still read, which is why there are lively discussions whenever she posts book-related content on her social media accounts.

The #JemmaRecommends idea was borne out of her personal frustration in getting good book recommendations.

Ms Wei said: “One of the worst things that can happen to a habitual reader is getting stuck in a book that’s just not great ... It feels like a total waste of time. And so when you get a good recommendation, you feel overwhelming gratefulness and totally refreshed, and that’s why I think my followers respond so well to my book-based content and actively take part in the conversations too.”

Her book recommendations have drawn “incredible” reception, with people regularly sending her photos of them with the shelf when they visit the airport and tagging her with their own reviews.

To Ms Wei, it is an exciting sign that “people are still visibly and loudly” committing to reading.

Ultimately, both Mr Ho and Ms Wei feel cultivating a strong reading culture goes beyond the Government’s job.

And even though Singapore’s National Library Board has been running a National Reading Movement, as Ms Wei put it: “It’s different when someone your age is excited about reading and when corporations tell you that you should read.”

Lauding efforts by independent bookstores such as BooksActually in driving support for local writers, 
Mr Ho said: “We must change the way people think about reading … because it enriches our inner life.”