Art

We Asked the Woman Reading Giant Books on Trains: Why?

The eye-catching book titles ridicule the madness of daily life.
February 3, 2021, 8:27am
singapore, train, mrt, books, reading, sassy, performance art, weird
Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy of @womanwithbooks

For most people, daily commutes are just another part of routine mundanity. But this Singaporean woman is disrupting ho-hum life with a unique reading selection that’s far from boring. Once in a while, she parades passive-aggressive book titles that warrant a double take — printed on comically large covers no less — on the trains of notoriously uptight Singapore.

“I would say that it's more of a social experiment than a campaign, it's also my way of capturing contemporary culture,” the 28-year-old digital creator, who goes by the Instagram username @womanwithbooks, told VICE.

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“I am seeking to address millennials' daily thoughts and feelings that they don't normally share with others, in a humorous way.”

Her book titles feature sage financial advice — How to Transfer Money From My Mind to My Bank, essential dating tips — How to Spot a F*ckboy, and no-nonsense guides for life — How to Endure Idiots. All light-hearted jabs at the perils of contemporary life.

singapore, train, mrt, books, reading, sassy, performance art, weird, money

Photo: Courtesy of @womanwithbooks

She said that she wanted to “cheer people up” amid trying times in the COVID-19 pandemic, and that her days are always brighter when she notices strangers on the train laughing and whispering to each other about her choice of literature. Though, to be accurate, they’re not so much actual reading material as hilariously well-designed book covers.

“The world fascinates me!” she said about her inspiration behind the peculiar titles.  

For example, one of her books titled How to Hide Your Insanity is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the maddening pressures of modern life. 

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“Everyone [looks] quite normal in daily activities and work, but who knows [what’s] underneath?” she said. “Again, I am throwing the question back to the audience: ‘How to hide your insanity?’”

@womanwithbooks has amassed over 300 followers on Instagram since bringing entertaining titles onto trains in mid-January. She now tries to “take some time every weekend to ride the train” with her giant books. Friends who join her for the ride take the photos posted on social media. 

For most Singaporeans, performance art toes a fine line between the creative and subversive. In 2017, a performance artist who carried a mirror around several prominent locations in Singapore was arrested for unlawful protest; in 2017, a “silent protest” that featured blindfolded activists reading a controversial book on the train ended with the organizer being charged for vandalism.

But @womanwithbooks isn’t too worried about getting into trouble with the authorities. “I’m not starting a movement or against anything. All I care about is making people happy and sending hilarious vibes in this difficult time,” she said.