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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 111/100: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
[Still catching up on reviewing the books I read in 2014]
I hope that someday we will have a world in which no one must go to war. Now, we are fortunate not to have an active draft in the United States -- but we are still unfortunate to live in a country that relies upon military action and the sacrifice of other people's children's for sometimes questionable goals.

I hope most people never experience war. But to that end, I think it's incredibly important that everyone who is able to remain safe at home understands what war does, what it really means beyond the three-minute segments of tanks and airplanes we see on the news, if even that.

The Things They Carried is one of the best war stories I've ever read; it is described as something that is "part novel, part short story, part memoir." It is all these things, but most importantly, it is real. Thinking this was a novel, I was pleased to learn that many of the stories came from O'Brien's real experiences in Vietnam. All of them have the ring of authenticity -- they are not overtly political, nor do they romanticize war or the people who fought it. Still, I feel amazed at the way these men, most barely out of high school, managed to laugh and complain and soldier on, often bored and yet also likely to confront war at any moment.

The subject matter is harrowing, but the writing is beautiful. My favorite story was "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," and although it seems the least likely to be "accurate," it says something about how no one comes through war unchanged -- not even the ones you dream of in your yearning to go back to the way things are.

The truth is that I struggle to find much intelligent to say about this book, which is itself very intelligent and strong-voiced. I read dozens of papers about this book when I worked in a college writing center. I'm glad to have read the book at last -- and I'm glad students are reading it, too.