Earlier this year, artist Shaheryar Malik was about to post a selfie from the Brooklyn Bridge when he had second thoughts. He wanted to share something different with the world.
Malik thought social media had become impersonal and he wanted to connect with people in a more meaningful way. The Reading Project was born. He began leaving stacks of his books in famous New York City locations with a card containing simple instructions tucked inside each one: take a book, read it and share your thoughts with the artist by email.
The stacks of books themselves can be seen as works of art, but so is the process of sharing. Unlike many of the things we share today, he likes to keep the project off social media. To keep the project “pure”, he doesn’t even turn around as he walks away once he has assembled a pile of books. When he’s left them behind, he prefers email to be the only way that he learns what happens to them. The project has now taken him – and his books – around the world, including London where we recently caught up with him.
“I hope [people] pick them up, I hope they read them and let me know. And even if they don’t let me know, I just hope they read the book.”
He has received messages from people in more than 30 countries around the world. For Malik, books are “meaningless and lifeless” if they gather dust on a shelf and are never read again. He intends to carry on with the project for some time, with a visit to Brazil next on his agenda.
Most of all, he loves the connection the books give him to strangers across the globe, something another Instagram post could never achieve.
The message is clear: share books, not selfies.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.