Time ripe for another ‘Tale for 3 Counties’

Jan. 12, 2008

This is usually the time of year that the long, dark winter has settled upon us.
While you may have hit a few golf balls this week, maybe even thought about turning the air conditioning on during your afternoon commute, don’t be fooled. This is Western New York, we’ll get our winter.
And when it does we’ll turn to comforting staples: for some it’ll be a thick, warm stew; for others a book. Whatever your choice, consider escaping into Thomas Mullen’s debut novel The Last Town on Earth.
The action-filled story is this year’s selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project. The program, which has brought five other authors to Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties since 2003, encourages people to read the same book, talk about it and then meet the author.
To get you started, the beginning of The Last Town on Earth is published as a special section inside today’s editions of The Daily News. Inside the section, you’ll find a schedule of book discussions and an update on past Tale authors (three of whom have new books coming out between now and June).
The Last Town on Earth is set in 1918 at the height of the strikingly virulent and often fatal flu epidemic. At the same time, World War I rages in Europe and communities are divided over the U.S. role.
Mr. Mullen told The Daily News in October that his novel was inspired by an article he read about a decade ago that mentioned some uninfected towns were so terrified of what they heard about the flu that they decided the only way they could protect themselves was if they blocked roads leading to town and posted armed guards to prevent anyone from entering.
That’s what Mr. Mullen’s fictional Pacific Northwest town of Commonwealth does. But when a lost, starving, cold traveler begs two guards for food and shelter, they found themselves unprepared. Should they put themselves and the town at risk by helping him, or turn him away to die in the woods?
>From that opening incident, Mr. Mullen introduces readers to not only the characters but the time period. It was one of surprising political repression and tense emotions regarding the U.S. role in the war, and also of violent labor activity.
People worried about a pandemic? A nation divided by war? Sound familiar? While Mr. Mullen’s story is based on history, his story could also teach us something about our selves today.
In today’s Lifestyles/Extra section, staff writer Scott DeSmit provides some local perspective on the 1918 influenza. You may be surprised to see a number of parallels with the people of Mullen’s fictional Commonwealth. Even in Western New York towns ordered quarantines, and some even sought to create special police forces to ensure that orders from the local health department were carried out. Schools were closed for a month. Hundreds were afflicted by the flu; many died.
As part of this year’s “Tale” program libraries are planning additional historical programs and exhibitions about the flu outbreak and World War I. Details on several of those projects are still being finalized. Richmond Memorial Library will have a “History Sandwiched In” program on Feb. 27. Modeled after the library’s lunch-time book review series, the program will bring Genesee County Historian Susan Conklin to the library to talk about the Spanish flu in Genesee County in 1918.
By March, when Mr. Mullen visits Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, many will have read The Last Town on Earth. And many readers will also have participated in one of the 18 book discussions planned at local libraries (the first is Feb. 16 at Wyoming Free Library).
Thousands of readers have participated in the Tale project. Many keep coming back year after year. If you’re only just discovering Tale, consider clicking on the project’s Web site at http://www.taleforthreecounties.org. A number of recent updates have added information and photographs from previous programs, including an extensive collection of stories from The Daily News. You’ll also download this year’s brochure, which includes a schedule of discussions, author visits and questions to consider while reading The Last Town on Earth.
Tale organizers pick a book they hope will pique the interest of local readers – a new author, or one not familiar to area readers. The goal of the “Tale” project is to get readers to discover a good book and introduce people to their library.
“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,” says Leslie DeLooze, the Richmond Memorial Library reference librarian who has spearheaded the project since its 2003 beginning. “One of the best parts of the program is finding ‘the’ book and then hearing that readers liked the selection.”
Copies of The Last Town on Earth are available for loan and purchase at local libraries and bookstores. So cozy up, and find comfort as snow returns to the forecast.
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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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