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WHAT started when two bookworms left a copy of their favourite novel at South Yarra Station has since inspired almost a thousand Australians to share their love of reading with public transport travellers.
Books on the Rail — a movement encouraging people to leave novels on Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses for commuters to find, read and pass on — has gained traction as a nationwide army of “book ninjas” and as a subscription service, and it has spawned commuter book clubs.
It has been a fairytale narrative for founders Ali Berg, a copy writer, and Camberwell Girls Grammar School teacher Michelle Kalus, who recently secured a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster Australia for their debut novel The Book Ninja.
Ms Berg said Leader News was “the first media outlet to pick us up and it has just been a whirlwind since then”.
What followed was widespread news coverage, along with support from the Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls movement and authors such as Margaret Atwood and Graeme Simsion.
MALVERN DUO’S BOOKS ON THE RAIL IDEA IS GOING NATIONAL
Books on the Rail was inspired by the Books on the Underground movement in London and Australian ninjas sharing their favourite reads are now active from Portsea to Port Douglas, Perth to Prahran.
While the pair initially sent Books on the Rail labels to book ninjas for free, demand was now so high they had to start charging to cover the cost of printing the stickers.
“We’ve had almost daily messages from people who have found books — someone sitting on a bus in rural Victoria, people from Perth, Sydney, Adelaide,” Ms Berg said.
“Often people have discovered a new genre that they wouldn’t have considered reading before.”
And nowhere were book ninjas more prolific than on Melbourne’s public transport routes, which has led to the next stage of evolution — book clubs on trains and trams.
Ms Berg and Ms Kalus have hosted five commuter book clubs so far, two of which involved the authors of the books being discussed — Sunni Overend for The Dangers of Truffle-hunting and Simsion for his most recent novel The Best of Adam Sharp.
Simsion, a sometime book ninja himself, discovered the movement by way of acclaimed writer Margaret Atwood.
In March The Handmaid’s Tale author praised Books on the Rail to her one million-plus twitter followers, among them the Melbourne writer, which led to Simsion hosting a Q & A book club on the route 3 tram in June.
Author Graeme Simsion leads a book club and Q&A on the number 3 tram. Picture: Books on the RailMs Berg said The Rosie Projectauthor also did a reading of his aptly titled short story Intervention on the No. 3 Tram.
“We had about 30 people on board and as we got closer to the city we had people who weren’t part of the book club listening to him,” she said.
Books on the Rail hoped to expand commuter book clubs to Sydney and will host a Q & A event with authors including Danielle Binks, Ellie Marney, Lili Wilkinson, Melissa Keil and Amie Kaufman on the Glen Waverley line for the Australian Reading Hour on September 14.
Yarra Trams ensured any novels that had a Books on the Rail sticker that were found on trams at depots were left on the tram, while Transdev Melbourne and Metro Trains have praised the idea.
“We just love how Books on the Rail has resonated with so many people who want to share the books that are really special to them with others,” Ms Berg said.
You can buy Books on the Rail stickers and join the book ninja movement at booksontherail.com
Books on the Rail started in April 2016 when Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus left a copy of Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman at South Yarra Station
THE pair recently signed a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster Australia to publish their debut novel The Book Ninja, due for release in July 2018
THERE are almost a thousand “book ninjas” across Australia and the group has more than 10,500 Instagram followers
MORE than 100 people have signed up for the subscription service, which delivers a book to participants every month
THE group has hosted commuter book clubs on the Frankston and Glen Waverley train lines, and tram routes 3 and 86
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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