There is a photograph of me reading a picture book on a cherry red potty as a two year old. As compromising as the photograph may be in my working life, I am proud of its existence (thanks, mom).

Long before I became a writer — and even before I was toilet-trained, it seems — I was already in love with the act of reading. I say ‘act’ because, at two years old, reading was really an attempt to imitate my mother, an avid reader herself. And after faking it for a few years (fake it till you make it), I too started to read and, later, write.

Reading and writing are not mutually exclusive. Author Stephen King said it best when he wrote in his 2000 book, On Writing: “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

For writers, reading is the gasoline that keeps the writing going. Every writer I know loves to read, even if we may not necessarily enjoy the same books.

But that’s me, and writers are strange people — how about the rest of the population? Do they also share our enthusiasm for written words?


Readers of Singapore

That is the question I wanted answers to when I was heading home on a late-night train about a year ago. As an experiment, I walked from one end of the train to the other just to see how many people, aside from myself, had a book in hand.

Turned out, I was the only one, and something inside me died a little.

Over the next few days, I started photographing every single reader I came across just to prove a point. I even started a hash tag on social media, #readersofsingapore, just to keep track of this mini project of mine.

Then one reader led to another, and another, and another.


Intimate moments

One year on, my motive to take pictures of fellow readers has changed in more ways than one.

Instead of using photography as a creative outlet or proving a point about Singaporeans’ reading habits, I became interested in capturing those intimate moments between the book and its reader in very public spaces. Entire worlds and characters are created out of nothing every single time a reader cracks open a book on buses and trains! Yet, the only hints of these fantastical and spontaneous creations are the subtle facial expressions you see on the readers’ faces — a smile here, a frown there, or even indifference and boredom. These little moments never cease to fascinate me.

And, based on the number of readers I have captured in the wild, I am happy to report that, as dire as it may seem, books — and, by extension, reading — will not be going the way of CDs and cassette tapes anytime soon.

Maybe some of these #readersofsingapore will turn into #writersofsingapore, like myself — who knows? 

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam by Lesley Hazleton


Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson


The Beautiful and Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald


Life & Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee


The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura


The Girl Who Couldn't Read by John Harding


The Periodic Table by Primo Levi


The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith


The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

A Writer’s Journey to Document the Readers of Singapore

BY Chin Wei Lien

Related Articles

Edible cutlery, night-time shots of Tokyo good enough to eat, and a slightly queasy ...

From clichéd movie posters to pretentious fantasy languages, these habits need to be banned...

Didn’t catch these bestsellers in 2015? Here’s why you should devour them in 2016 says Novus...

Have you danced with the devil? Senior Writer Andy Sim offers his two cents on the finer art of...