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“I judge a book by its cover.”
Aqilah Abdul Aziz laughs merrily as she shares that tidbit of information with the Pride.
But instead of being shallow, like the common proverb implies, the 26-year-old bookworm has a large and eclectic taste in books.
“It’s very intuitive. I just grab whatever looks attractive or interesting to me,” Aqilah explains.
That’s why most of the time, you’d find Aqilah with her nose buried in a book, immersed in a story. She prefers owning physical copies of books so her bedroom is filled wall to wall with books!
She reads about one to two books a week, and religiously tracking her number of reads through book cataloging website Goodreads. Since 2018, she has read 783 books, she informs me happily. That’s a lot of books in five years!
Aqilah reads all genres, she says, but is particularly drawn to books that put her in the shoes of the characters in the story, hence creating a intimate and personal reading experience.
Rattling off authors and titles, she lists Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
But her love for books goes beyond reading. Aqilah believes in the power of books to inspire, educate and build communities, and that passion can be seen on her Instagram @aqilahreads.
Since starting the page in 2019, Aqilah has put up almost 800 posts and now has over 8,000 followers.
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It was never her intention to go this big, says Aqilah. Her Instagram was just a personal page for her to keep track of the books she read. But as the page grew, she made it public and watched it blossom.
Aqilah only realised that she was on to something when she found out that some of her close friends started following her – because they heard about it from other sources!
“It gave me chills as I did not expect this to happen,” she laughs.
Today, she doesn’t just do book reviews – Aqilah also reviews bookstores and art galleries, and collaborates with literary organisations such as Sing Lit Station and The Arts House to give away movie tickets and book vouchers in reading challenges and other promotions.
Her posts have caught the eye of quite a few writers, such as children’s author Ames Chen – who gifted her a signed book series after learning that Aqilah enjoyed reading her books.
“As a reader, I look up to all authors and I’m really thankful for how we can easily connect with each other in the community,” shares Aqilah.
Inspiration from dad
It was her dad that sparked her reading habit, says Aqilah.
When she was just two years old, he would take her to the local library. Soon, she grew out of children’s books and started to explore other sections.
Aqilah talks about how some books leaves a mark long after she closes the covers. Often, these books resonate at different stages in her life, which is why she is such a passionate advocate for others to experience the same journey.
For example, one book that impacted Aqilah is Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro, which tells of a young man searching to fill the void in his life.
“It’s not a feel-good read, but it was memorable because I was reading it while at my darkest, and could relate to the story.”
“Whenever I feel sad or discouraged, I take some time with a good book. Reading can be a mood-changer; it allows me to slow down and escape from anxious moments,” she explains.
Uniting people through books
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Aqilah hopes that her page can bring together people who are passionate reading for fresh conversations and new friendships.
“When someone recommends a favourite book to me, it tells me a lot about them. We all long for connection and bonding over books can be very powerful,” she says.
These days, Aqilah often bumps into her followers at bookstores and events – which usually leads to an exchange of book recommendations!
But Aqilah lets in on a secret: she’s an introvert. It takes a lot of courage for her to approach her followers and even authors in person to compliment them on their work, but she still holds such moments very close to her heart.
One of her most memorable encounters was with local children’s author Lianne Ong, whom she bumped into at AFCC (Asian Festival of Children’s Content), a literary festival geared towards young readers.
Despite only chatting to Lianne for a short while, Aqilah was still grateful that she managed to pluck up her courage to approach one of her favourite authors.
She says: “There’s just something extra special about meeting authors that you looked up to for many years. It’s truly a surreal experience!”
For a greater cause
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Besides posting book-related content, Aqilah is also an advocate for inclusivity. Many of her posts revolve around disabilities and mental health.
During occasions like Suicide Prevention Month or World Autism Awareness Day, she would post content on related book recommendations or exhibitions to learn more about such issues.
Aqilah also used to work with special-needs students at Pathlight – a school for those with autism. Although many of her special-needs students were slow with verbalising words, Aqilah said that that it didn’t stop them from enjoying reading.
“After learning more about the students, I started to see things differently. I think it’s important to spread awareness regarding inclustivity, especially when it comes to people with special needs,” says Aqilah.
She also volunteers at TOUCH Silent Club, an organisation that works with deaf persons, albeit not as actively any more.
Another thing that keeps her busy (aside from her 9-to-5 job) is responding to messages from her followers. Aqilah believes in responding to all her followers to encourage them or listen to what they have to share. It’s a small act of kindness that can make anyone’s day, she adds.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course, but Aqilah chooses to embrace and talk about her struggles – she doesn’t filter her social media to be all ups and no downs.
“There are days where I do show my vulnerable and not-so-positive side. It’s my way of saying how it is okay to have bad days and reading slumps because it’s only human. Being myself and not restricting my content makes managing the page much easier, as I could post just whenever and whatever I feel like,” she explains.
Rather than hopping on the TikTok bandwagon like many others, Aqilah is focusing on growing her Instagram page to avoid spending too much time on social media.
She adds that Singapore’s blossoming Singlit community needs more exposure so she will continue to support local authors as much as she can.
Aqilah is grateful for how her Instagram page has led to new opportunities. She often looks back on her journey and the people she met along the way for motivation. After all, she laughs, nothing beats the satisfaction from finding out that someone started reading a book she recommended!
“The joy of reading cannot be forced, but the key to finding happiness is finding the genres that you are interested in. I want everyone to experience that rush of reading a good book!”