Millions will get free books on World Book Night tonight

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It's always something. We've barely recovered from Earth Day and now it's World Book Night tonight.

It hasn't had as much publicity as Earth Day, since this is the first year for World Book Night in the US. It crossed the Atlantic from the UK, where it began last year.

It's an amazing thing. Two and a half million books will be given away today by tens of thousands of people who have signed up, all across the country. The books are free, and intended to be given to people who might need some encouragement to read, who don't have easy access to books, or perhaps can't afford them.

People who signed up could choose from a list of 30 titlesand receive 20 copies to distribute.

Milwaukee, we're told by the folks at Boswell Book Co., had the fourth highest per capita participation rate of any city in the country. Boswell's is one of the pickup points for volunteers to get their books, and hosted a reception the other night with five local authors reading excerpts from some of the 30 books on the list.

The Associated Press reports on some of the unusual ways the books will find owners:

Stores from Oswego, NY, to Hilo, Hawaii, will be helping out, but World Book Night will reach well beyond traditional channels, into military bases, prisons, ballparks and ferries. A church in Denver will give copies of Ann Patchett's "Bel Canto" to a nearby school for refugees and immigrants.

Vernon Legakis, a surfer in Santa Cruz, CA, will seal copies of Patti Smith's "Just Kids" inside Ziploc plastic bags and hand them out at Monterey Bay. Attendees of a "Hunger Games" screening at the Windsor Theatre in Hampton, IA, will receive editions of Collins' million-selling novel.

A librarian, Megan Goins, will travel around New York City to distribute Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," from the Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem to Brooklyn's Weekville Heritage Center, where an early free black community lived.

I chose Tim O'Brien's book, "The Things They Carried," one of the best books written about the Vietnam war. I'm a Vietnam vet and hadn't read it recently, but author Valerie Laken,one of Boswell's readers, reminded me of its power when she read a short piece of the title story.

I'll be giving them away Tuesday morning at a food pantry operated by Milwaukee Veterans for Peace to serve homeless, low income and at-risk veterans.

To learn more about it, and find out how to get involved next year, try this website.