illuminating soulful stories

A conversation with Uli Beutter Cohen

Uli is the founder of the social media movement, Subway Book Review. As a documentarian she turns underground to illuminate soulful stories behind one’s choice of read. Reinforcing the idea: Don’t judge a person by a book cover.

Hi Uli! You meet so many people on the day to day through Subway Book Review. What’s something we can all keep in mind when introducing ourselves to a total stranger for the first time?

The number one thing to keep in mind is that most of the time any new person enters your life, that person begins as a stranger. Any good friend used to be a complete stranger to you. Your parents were complete strangers to you and you happened to be born to them. The concept of strangers is made up, it is an illusion. To me strangers are simply people I haven’t met yet, looked in the eye yet. We are all on this earth for each other and have a responsibility for each other. The fact is that yes we are incredibly different from each other but that’s a beautiful thing. It’s an amazing thing to learn how someone is different from you. It’s how the human heart and mind is intended to stretch. When I see a person who somehow fascinates me I naturally want to interact with them and I think that’s a good impulse to follow. To me the question is: Why confine curiosity to predetermined spaces? Why not open up and translate that to the public space?

What do you say?

The best thing is to be honest. If I see someone holding a book that says Silencing The Past, who is also wearing a jacket that says Art is Always a Dirty Job, how can I NOT talk to that person?! The book is an icebreaker. I am honest about what caught my eye and say that. And they laugh! And they are delighted like, wow, you noticed me and I am 1 of 8 million New Yorkers!

What has been your biggest personal learning over the past 5 years with Subway Book Review?

I really like that SBR is referred to as a social movement. It’s moving us to be more social with each other. I’ve learned everything through that. I’ve had trauma in my own life that could make me be afraid with strangers but I refuse to give into that fear. I am a person who is very joyful and I want to be. I want to provide a moment of reprieve to someone. I want to have a space where I can be honest. The project has also taught me to practise saying yes to the spontaneous moment. To practise enjoying what’s put in front of me even if it’s very different from what I expected. To practise the art of being less judgemental. To be present. To enjoy the people and the space I find myself in.

Turning to your personal space, what’s your favourite
room at home?

It changes all the time! I wish you could see my home! I’m a crab! I was born in July so my whole home is my shell where I retreat to and need to be max cozy and happy! Full of texture and plants everywhere you look.

Popular themes can reflect a societal mindspace or specific point in culture. What’s a trending theme you’ve seen recently amongst the readers of New York City?

Right now something is happening that’s giving me so much hope! Right now men are reading books that help them understand how to address their masculinity and what it means to be a man in the world today. That is insane to me! It makes me so happy! Men from all backgrounds too. I spoke to a young man who was a teen who was reading an old book called The Lover, The Warrior, The King and I was like, “Who do you want to be?” He said, “Oh definitely the lover.” I was like, “Yes!” We aren’t f*cked! This is going to be a good life! Another time I met a young man from the Dominican Republic who was wondering what being a straight Latin man today means. We are living in a time where men are joining the conversation and saying and asking, “How do I need to show up?” That’s really cool.

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