These 'book ninjas' give commuters free books to read while they ride.

Reading is an empowering way to spread joy and wonder. Combine that with the reach and traffic of public transit, and you’ve got a mobile library that can bring the printed word to thousands of people.

That’s exactly what Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus thought when they started Books on the Rail, a mobile lending library that has been sweeping through the Melbourne Metro in Australia.

Berg and Kalus are best friends and self-proclaimed bookaholics. They have styled themselves as "book ninjas" with this project in which they secretly stash books on public trains with stickers on them instructing passersby: "Take this book, read it, then return it for someone else to enjoy!"


Berg (left) and Kalus. Photo by Books on the Rail.

"When we launched in April of this year," Berg and Kalus said in an email, "we never could have anticipated how much support we’d receive from authors, publishers and commuters and we are so humbled."

They promote their book-sharing efforts and connect with their transitory community through social media.

People have taken to posting photos of books they’ve found, and there has even been a burgeoning online community of people who've found the books who now participate in a book club.

The initiative was inspired by Hollie Fraser, the founder of New York's Books on the Subway as well as London's Books on the Underground.

So far, they have received over 160 emails from people eager to become book ninjas too.

They've also heard from people interested in getting their schools or book clubs involved as well as from authors and publishers looking to get their books in circulation.

Books on the Rail recently introduced a library-slip type of program in which readers leave behind reviews on cards in the books for future readers to see.

Books on the Rail has already received books and support from many publishers and authors ranging from Pan Macmillan to Harper Collins and from Alain De Botton to Liane Moriarty. Now, they are looking to work with Melbourne Metro and other organizations to help grow their program, which is currently self-funded and operated.

The Melbourne Rail has about 415,000 daily riders every day. That's a lot of books for people to read and share.

With interest in Books on the Rail spreading far beyond Melbourne, the duo hopes to spread the program far and wide in Australia.

"We hope to create a movement where the community drives the initiative, rather than just us," wrote Berg and Kalus. "We’re already starting to see this happen on social media, which is very exciting! Hopefully in the future, every time you travel on public transport you’ll spot a Books on the Rail book!"

Cheers to these amazing women who are helping to spread amazing books and create an amazing community of avid readers in a city of millions. Amazing.

In the autumn of 1939, Chiune Sugihara was sent to Lithuania to open the first Japanese consulate there. His job was to keep tabs on and gather information about Japan's ally, Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Poland, Nazi tanks had already begun to roll in, causing Jewish refugees to flee into the small country.

When the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in June of 1940, scores of Jews flooded the Japanese consulate, seeking transit visas to be able to escape to a safety through Japan. Overwhelmed by the requests, Sugihara reached out to the foreign ministry in Tokyo for guidance and was told that no one without proper paperwork should be issued a visa—a limitation that would have ruled out nearly all of the refugees seeking his help.

Sugihara faced a life-changing choice. He could obey the government and leave the Jews in Lithuania to their fate, or he could disobey orders and face disgrace and the loss of his job, if not more severe punishments from his superiors.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sugihara was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't, I would be disobeying God." Sugihara decided it was worth it to risk his livelihood and good standing with the Japanese government to give the Jews at his doorstep a fighting chance, so he started issuing Japanese transit visas to any refugee who needed one, regardless of their eligibility.

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