World Book Night 2013

Books await theatergoers at a production of Annie in New York City during World Book Night, in April 2013. (U.S. World Book Night / April 18, 2014)

You'd think giving away books would be an easy thing to do, but Melissa Eggerling tries to put a lot of creativity and a bit of theater into the act.

On Wednesday, Eggerling will be one of 800 Southern Californians participating as "givers" in World Book Night, a program designed to distribute free books to people who might not read them otherwise.

Last year Eggerling and her two young sons took boxes filled with the novel "Fahrenheit 451" and distributed them from a Los Angeles city fire truck in Eagle Rock. "The boys and the chief got in the truck and drove around," said Eggerling, a 44-year-old event planner from Huntington Beach. The chief would stop the fire truck and Eggerling and her boys would pass out books to random pedestrians.

"People look at you and say, 'There has to be a catch,'" she recalls. "And we say, 'No, it's a book. It's free. You get to have it.'"

There is no catch on World Book Night. Just lots of giving as part of a nationwide campaign, now in its third year in the United States. Across the U.S., 27,500 volunteers will distribute slightly more than half a million books, specially printed by publishers, with the authors waiving royalties. The books will be distributed in cities and towns across the U.S. Or, as U.S. World Book Night Chief Executive Carl Lennertz likes to put it, "From Kodiak to Key West."

World Book Night began in Britain in 2011 and in the U.S. in 2012. This year about one-third of the books in the U.S. will be given to youths in middle schools and high schools, Lennertz said. But most will be handed out at community gathering spots. Often in creative ways. "We're trying to be grass roots across the country," Lennertz said.

In 2012 the vice mayor of Santa Cruz paddled out on a surfboard and distributed books (inside plastic bags) to surfers. This year volunteers will distribute books at Little League games, parks, bars and outside Broadway theaters in Manhattan, among other places.

In West Hollywood, the flamboyant West Hollywood Cheerleaders, along with other givers, will distribute copies of "Tales of the City" by Armistead Maupin and "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain on a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard bars colloquially known as "Boys Town."

"People smile, they're really joyful to get the books," said Michael Che, cultural affairs coordinator for West Hollywood and a World Book Night volunteer in years past.

World Book Night givers can choose any books from a list of 35 titles that includes "The Zookeeper's Wife" by Diane Ackerman, "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller, and "Waiting to Exhale" by Terry McMillan. "When I was Puerto Rican" by Esmeralda Santiago is available in Spanish and English.

Several authors, including Michael Connelly, have agreed to appear at events thanking World Book Night givers. McMillan kicked off with an appearance at Eso Won Books last week. On Tuesday graphic novelist Derek Kirk Kim will appear at Skylight Books (his "Same Difference" is a WBN pick), and Ransom Riggs (author of the WBN pick "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children") will appear at the Last Bookstore downtown.

In Van Nuys, volunteers from Operation Gratitude will slip 1,000 books in care packages for troops.

"There's something thrilling about knowing that you're doing something as an individual while other people are doing the same thing around the U.S.," said Eggerling. This year Eggerling and her sons will be passing out copies of "Kitchen Confidential" at an Anaheim restaurant. She'll also be passing out copies of Carl Hiaasen's young adult novel "Hoot" at an event with the Orange County Bird of Prey Center in Newport Beach.

"We'll have our boys and some of their friends," Eggerling said. If all goes well, they'll be giving away books about birds of prey — the novel features a colony of endangered owls — to people admiring birds of prey.

hector.tobar@latimes.com