Jan. 12, 2008
By Ben Beagle
Read any good books lately?
Librarians in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties have a suggestion: The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen.
The author’s debut novel is the timely and entertaining selection for this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.
The beginning of the novel – a prologue and first chapter – are published in a special section in today’s editions of The Daily News.
“A Tale for Three Counties,” organized the past six years by a committee representing libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, encourages readers to pick up the same book, discuss it and then meet the author in a series of spring visits.
“We hope that readers will trust our judgment and try the selected book each year. We intentionally choose books that are unlike what we have read in the past and also choose ones that may ‘stretch’ a reader’s horizon,” said Leslie DeLooze, the reference and community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, who has spearheaded the project since its inception.
“One of the best parts of the program,” she says, “is finding ‘the’ book and then hearing that readers liked the selection.”
The Last Town on Earth is set in 1918 in Commonwealth, Wash., a fictional mill town conceived as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For 16-year-old Philip Worthy, the adopted son of the town’s founder, it is also the first place in his life he’s had a loving family to call his own.
But the mist-shrouded forests are not as tranquil as they seem. The surprising political repression and tense emotions regarding the U.S. role in World War I and the fear of rampant spies has put the loyalty of all Americans under scrutiny and threaten the town’s ideals.
And still another shadow lurks: a strikingly virulent and often fatal flu epidemic.
Mullen, in an interview after the “Tale” selection was revealed in October, said his novel was inspired by an article he read a decade ago. The article mentioned how some uninfected towns were so terrified of what they heard about the flu that they tried to prevent outbreaks by blocking roads leading to town and posting armed guards to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the town.
That’s what happens in Commonwealth. Then, a lost, starving traveler begs two guards – one of them Philip, the other his friend Graham, who is nine years older – for food and shelter. They find themselves unprepared. Should they put themselves and the town at risk by helping him, or turn him away to die in the woods?
Shots are fired, and the reverberations are deafening. Every human value – love, patriotism, community, family, friendship – and the town’s very survival is imperiled.
“It raises so many questions that actually could be faced again today,” DeLooze said.
For a story set some 90 years ago, it is surprisingly contemporary.
“One of the things that has struck me this year is the ‘timeliness’ of the book,” says Mary Zangerle, director of Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina.
Zangerle noted recent concerns about MRSA, a tough-to-treat staph infection that is resistent to many commonly-used antibiotics, and bird flu.
“With the MRSA scare this year and the cloud of an inevitable pandemic looming it seems we’ve struck on a book that will generate a lot of needed discussion,” Zangerle said.
Readers will be able to share their thoughts at any of 18 book discussions, which begin Feb. 16 at Wyoming Free Library and continue through a March 12 session at Genesee Community College.
Mullen is scheduled to visit for three talks and book signings: March 13 at Genesee Community College and Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia; March 14 at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina; and 2 p.m. at the Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, a program hosted by Wyoming County’s public libraries.
“Most people love to read and then talk with others who have read the same book,” Zangerle said. “Books and discussion is a winning combination.”
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation