A thumpin’ good read…

I read this book as a freshman in high school (8 years ago…). At first, I thought it was another one of those sappy stories that freshman English teachers tend to make their students read for positive “feel good” morals and other such non-sense, however, I realized it was far from the truth. When we read part of the first chapter aloud in class, I thought ho-hum. I took it home, got bored that night, and decided to keep reading…

…until 11:30 p.m. when Dad found out I wasn’t asleep, just reading under the covers with a book light. I read half the book the first night I had it. When I got to English class, I was stunned to find everyone else had only read maybe a page or two ahead. The teacher didn’t believe that I had gotten that far ahead and asked me questions about stuff that had happened. I answered every question correctly and even corrected a question she had asked wrong. Instead of following along in class, I jumped to the part where I was forced to stop and kept reading from there. When I got home from school, I flopped down on the couch and kept reading until I finished it. More importantly, I started over from the beginning again, and started to read it again! By the time we as a class had finished the book, I’d read it a good 4 or 5 times. I aced the test easy. However, I still had the bug, and wanted to buy it to add to my collection. Alas, I couldn’t find it. Over the course of my summer vacation, I called and called and even book stores like Barnes and Noble, Hastings, and Borders didn’t have it in stock, they couldn’t order it! Finally, I gave up and said I’d buy it from my freshman English teacher. Unfortunately, she had resigned during the summer.

Flash forward a couple of years, freshman year in college, and I happen to stumble upon it at the college’s library. This particular copy had been printed in 1975, and man, it showed its age badly. Nonetheless, I checked it out, and read it twice again before I had to turn it in. Unfortunately, I turned it in, and about a week later one of the library’s cleaning people spilled a full bottle of cleaning solution on a pile of books. Yes, fate would have it, this book was one of the ones destroyed.

It seemed I was not destined to have this book. So, I gave up looking for it, and went about my business. However, last year, while at Half Price Books in San Marcos, I thought to check to see if they had it. My luck being what it is, I couldn’t remember the author’s name. Thankfully, I whipped out my cell phone, hit up the Wikipedia app, and found the author. I looked, found the only copy they had, paid the $7.95 for a 2005 soft cover printing in excellent condition, and proceeded to do a victory lap around the store. The clerk who rang up my sale, said that was the only copy of this book that they’d had in stock for ages. They’d have people always ask about it, but never had it. I told her my story, and she said that she’d heard a lot of similar stories in regards to this book. She said finally, about a week or two before, a broke college student showed up with it in a stack of books and they bought it from him.

I took it home that afternoon, and what do you know, I read it cover to cover in an entire sitting. It’s one of those books that, once you start, you can’t stop. You have to know what happens next. Even though I could tell you the entire story, I still have to read as much as I can in a sitting. When I lent it to Mom to read, she said she’d read a couple of chapters, look up, saw several hours had passed, knew she had stuff to do, but just couldn’t stop reading it.

Anyway, the book is Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. It was published in 1959, which explains why it’s so hard to find copies of it.

I won’t post spoilers, so if you do pick up a copy, I won’t ruin it for you. The general story for this book is simple, and was a very real one when you consider it was written in the mid to late 50s. The Cold War goes hot, and the Russians nuke most of American. The story follows one small town in the middle of Florida, and how they cope as best as they can with the disaster, being cut off from the rest of the country by nuclear fallout.

Why do I recommend it? Well, the story is really good and very well written, even by today’s standards. It’s an eye-opening experience of what can happen if the S really Hits The proverbial Fan. No electricity, lack of water, lack of food, roving gangs of highwaymen (a.k.a. looters/robbers), relying on guns for protection of self and property, so forth and so on. Besides, this book is one of the primary reasons the whole “post-apocalyptic” genre was started.

However, there are some things that need to be said first before you decide if you want to read it or not. They aren’t big things by any means, but just a heads up. Do remember this book was written in the 1950s, which means society was a lot different from today. For instance, there is racism against black folk and use of the word “nigger”.  Also, some things happen that will seem rather convenient both for and against the characters. They aren’t plot breaking, however, you may say to yourself when you read it “Oh isn’t that a tad convenient”.  Lastly, expect some change in the way you prepare to deal with the SHTF. I know after I read it, I recommended and implemented changes in the plan my family and I have for the SHTF. The same thing happened after Mom read it.

Overall, I think it is an excellent read, even with the few minor foibles. I’d certainly say it’s worth buying and adding to collection!

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