Monday, November 26, 2007

The Last Town on Earth: A Book Review

I read The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen for the BGSU Common Reading Experience Book Selection Committee. Well, actually I read it twice: first, a very quick skim and hated, then again very closely and realized it actually could be a pretty good CRE choice. As for a "fun" read, if you like historical fiction, it's worth it. If you don't, you could skip this one and not really miss out on anything. Based on how it's written, I bet there will be a movie soon.

In terms of exploring values, which is one of the criterion for the CRE, this book is perfect. Virtually all the main characters and some of the secondary characters are confronted by values choices at some point in this book, and the author writes the book in a clear enough way that even reader who weren't experienced at picking up on undertones could see how the characters' values were being challenged. From Philip to Graham to Mr. Worthy to Frank to Rebecca, each character struggles between what is right and what is wrong in terms of war time choices and choices regarding an epidemic. I've read many possible CRE books, but this one is by far the most direct about clearly exploring values.

Also, The Last Town on Earth is extremely interdisciplinary. Not only could I see academic in the humanities being able to connect to this book but also the hard sciences (there is a lot of medical references, which also explore the different values decisions people in the medical field face in times of need), the social sciences (based on how character interact with one another and themselves), historians (the 1918 setting makes this a perfect lead into discussions on World War 1), folks in business and business administration (there is a lot of discussion about running a mill, which could lead to discussion on entrepreneurship and doing "what's right" for a company), and many more. This book is a strong choice in order to satisfy almost all disciplines.

I wonder, too, if it would be easy to get the author to visit and if he wouldn't cost too much because this book was published in 2006 and it's the author's first book...Does anyone know how this writer is with students?

The one main drawback for me was the last part of this four-part book. I found Part 4 to be over-dramatic in way novels that are written intentionally for the purpose of striking a movie deal are. The author doesn't tie up the loose threads neatly, but some of the action is a little over the top and feels a bit "untrue" to the characters, especially Philip, the main character.

Generally, I'm really skeptical of endings to novels anyways, but this one really fuels my skepticism's fire, which was one reason why I hated the book so much on my first read.

After a closer read, though, I really feel that this book merits the CRE's serious consideration. It is a easy read--few "big" words and really strong images and scenes that most readers can easily visual and understand--in addition to it being values-based, interdisciplinary, and contemporary.

Based on this criteria, I think someone looking for something to read would find this book a quick read. Honestly, it's not really my cup of tea, but I feel like I'm a better person for reading it because it got me thinking about our current war on terror, our troops, and how history does repeat itself.

3 out of 5 fearful-of-epidemics Hello Kittys.

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