Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus are the Melbourne-based cofounders of Books on the Rail, an initiative that encourages Aussies to put down the iPhone and pick up a book. Together, Ali and Michelle wrote The Book Ninja, published in 2018 by Simon & Schuster Australia, which has been sold to nine different territories around the world. Ali is also Creative Director and Co-founder of Hedgehog Agency, Melbourne, and Michelle is a primary school teacher. Ali and Michelle’s second book, While You Were Reading, is published in 2019. See more at www.aliandmichelle.com and www.booksontherail.com.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Books on the Rail, how you created it, and what your plans are for it?
In 2016, Ali moved back to Melbourne after living in London for two years. Over in the UK she met Hollie, the Books on the Underground founder. Reading and sharing stories have always been a huge part of our lives and friendship. So, determined to infect Melbournians with our love of reading, it made sense for us to come together to launch Australia’s own roving library and launch Books on the Rail.
We started by leaving our own books and those purchased from second-hand bookstores on Melbourne trains and trams. The first book we let loose on the rails was The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons – an absolute favourite of ours. Since then, we have developed a thriving following and now collaborate with publishers and authors, distributing their notable and up-and-coming books.
Thanks to our crafty crew of Book Ninjas (we have over 1000 and counting!), Books on the Rail is now Australia wide, with over 7000 books in circulation. What started as a passion project (and an excuse for the two of us to spend more time together) has grown into a book sharing movement driven by passionate book worms and random act of kindness ninjas. We have been so overwhelmed by the response to this movement – it is clear that a love of reading is alive and well in Australia!
Humbled and inspired by the way in which the public embraced Australia’s traveling library and celebrated literature, an idea was born! Observing the generosity of our Book Ninjas and the delight of those stumbling across books, we began to see how people connect and find common ground through sharing stories.
Our first novel, The Book Ninja, stemmed from this and evolved into a quirky, funny and wryly-observed love letter to Melbourne, friendship, soulmates and, of course, books. It is about a young woman who is on the hunt for the perfect romantic partner and concocts the ultimate love experiment – unleashing some of her favourite books on public transport, with her contact details tucked inside, in the hopes of finding the literary soulmate of her dreams. The Book Ninja has been published around the world and is one that we would love to revisit and write a sequel to.