By Deepika Shetty
Singaporeans from all walks of life ranging from students to writers to a group of taxi-driver bookworms made the pages of history yesterday by completing Singapore's longest reading marathon.
More than 400 people read aloud non-stop for 144 hours from 1pm last Friday to 1pm yesterday at the National Library Board building in Bugis.
Their six-day, six-night record-breaking reading marathon was part of the National Library Board's Read! Singapore 2009 campaign, an annual event launched in 2005 that aims to encourage more Singaporeans to read.
The marathon was made up of 24 teams of six to 24 members. Each team took about six hours each, with no breaks in between, to read aloud a story of their choice, ranging from novels to short stories. The event was free and open to the public.
During the reading, the board collected donations for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.
The page-turning efforts resulted in an official record for the 'Longest Reading Aloud Marathon by Multiple Readers' in the Singapore Book of Records.
The world record for reading aloud is held by a team from Uruguay who in 2007 clocked up 224 hours.
Those taking part in Singapore's marathon included taxi driver Tan Seng Lee, 69, along with eight fellow members of the Taxi Sifu Reading Club.
He says: 'Being part of this made me realise reading silently and reading aloud are two very different things. You need to add expression, you need to change your voice. I practised a lot, even timed myself to make sure I could finish reading in 30 minutes.'
Other marathon readers included poet Alvin Pang, who picked a short story from Singapore author Wena Poon's soon-to-be published book, The Proper Care Of Foxes.
The story is about an Asian woman who decides to become a sex tourist in England but Pang says: 'It's not sordid, it's not pornography. It talks of a young educated woman's last fling before she gets married. It is slightly risque and I hope it woke up the people in the audience. I read it at around 2am.'
There were 10 people in the audience.
Since 2005, the Read! Singapore campaign has reached more than 81,000 people through over 960 book discussions and activities.
Of this year's record reading marathon, the Library Board's chief executive Dr N. Varaprasad told Life!: 'We weren't going for the record. The idea was to see people enjoying reading. What surprised me most was how quickly all the reading slots, including the overnighters, filled up. It shows we have in Singapore an ardent group of readers who aren't afraid to read in public.'
For wheelchair-bound Nanda Kumar, 17, and Yeo Chong Choo, 54, from the Cheshire Home in Serangoon Garden Way, it was the first time they had read in public.
Kumar, who enjoys reading horror and fantasy books, says: 'Reading takes me to a different world. So far I have read only for myself. This was a first for me. I was nervous, but I think I was okay.'
Mr Yeo, who shared the stage with Kumar, says: 'Next time, we should go for the world record. It is a good way of putting Singapore on the map and showing the world that reading and Singapore can go together.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.