Meet Uli Beutter Cohen, the founder of Subway Book Review. We first came across Uli after spending a day immersed in her thoughtful Instagram where she features enlightening and captivating literary reviews with strangers on the New York subway. Her project offers a refreshing perspective on reading and motivates a larger, inviting conversation. Today we had a chance turn the spotlight on to the soulful and wise Uli.
Subway Book Review features candid literature reviews and snapshots of strangers on the subway. Uli, what inspired you to start such a captivating project?
Right before I moved to New York City someone wise told me 'Don't ask what New York can do for you. Find what you can give to New York.' That stuck with me and made me keep my eyes and heart open when I moved here in 2013. I couldn't help but notice how many people read printed books on the subway - and such a variety of titles too. I found that the subway is a literary microcosmos. It made me very curious to find out who these people are, what they are reading and why. To create more intrigue, I pair each review with a portrait and ask the reviewer to share a personal anecdote or insight that relates to the story of the book. I find that it adds a great dimension to the traditional book review. My Mum taught me that talking to strangers is totally okay and that the most interesting things can happen when you invite unexpected conversations into your life. So far this is proving to be absolutely true.
The project has initiated so many engaging conversations. Which reviews do you find the most inspiring and exciting?
I love when I end up speaking with iconic New Yorkers like Darcey Steinke or Maira Kalman. It's such a treat to peek into their minds. Another favorite Subway Book Review moment was with Madge who was a follower on Instagram early on and often left thoughtful comments on my reviews. She recently visited New York from Minneapolis and we met over coffee. I learned that she lost her husband and her son-in-law within 6 weeks of each other to cancer. It was mind-blowing that two people who had only met on Instagram over book reviews could cry into their green teas together and connect on such a personal level. I also had a great moment with Dan the magician who performed a card trick after his book review in rush-hour train traffic and with Josef a math teacher who wanted to foster enthusiasm for reading in one of his students. And of course I love learning about new titles and topics that I previously knew little about, for example 'King Leopold's Ghost', 'The Sixth Extinction', and 'New York Burning'.
If the camera were flipped around, what would be your current subway read?
I hardly ever read on the subway anymore. Too many great reviews could be missed! But I recently finished 'The First Bad Man' by Miranda July which I read over three evenings because I couldn't put it down! The storyline is typical "Miranda July Cray-mazing", but I also felt some strong Palahniuk vibes in her writing. Now I'm on to 'What To Do When It's Your Turn' by Seth Godin. It feels a little like a magazine and is a nice reminder to take chances in life.
Clementine Daily’s mission is to live a simplified, intentional and authentic lifestyle while celebrating the simpler pleasures of our days. How do you relate to this mission?
I relate wholeheartedly to your mission. We have to find our own meaning of success and purpose and how it connects us to the world at large. Simple pleasures really are the best. When we strive for something, it's easy to find the outcome anticlimactic. If it's a simple pleasure or surprise, like someone saying 'speaking with you made my day', that makes me incredibly happy. It often takes way less to feel a happy heart than we think.
Do you have a mantra that gets you through your days?
Be infinitely curious.
What’s next for Uli, and for Subway Book Review?
I am thrilled about the love Subway Book Review is getting. It's incredible to see it grow. I am working on a few collaborations and dream of Subway Book Review becoming a printed column in a paper or magazine. When I'm not reviewing books underground, I work as a
and help people tell their story more successfully. I'm also the co-founder of
which brings people together for what we call "intention workshops for risk-takers". For me it's all about finding and telling stories to show that we're way less alone and way more connected than we think.
p.s. Have you met The Professor?