Thursday, December 29, 2011

Read this book.

Well. Wait a minute.

Has everyone else in the whole wide world already read it? I'm sorta embarrassed to come out and say OMG you have to read this book I just finished when it's over 20 years old.  The fear, here, is that everyone else on the planet already knows about it and read it back in 1990 when it came out and you all got together in your secret We're Grownups Club and discussed it over a couple of Zimas while I was still pegging my pants and stuffing my scrunch socks into penny loafers in 6th grade and I didn't know crap about anything.

I feel like I've spent the last ten years or so doing catch-up in the category of Things I Missed in the 1990s.  Okay, and '80s.  And '70's.  And all those decades before I was born, too.  You get it.


So excuse my extreme praise for this thing I just discovered, but the cool thing about a book is that it gets to be new to you whenever you find it.  If you read it in 1990, or since, then I'm glad you did.  And if you didn't read it yet, well... you might just try giving it a little look-see.  I really think you should read this one.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

If there is one book that's been discussed more than any other in my short stint as a UCRPDMFA student, it is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.  The book is fiction.  And it's nonfiction.  And it's a novel.  But it's kind of also a collection of stories.  So maybe it's a linked collection.  It's not really linear.  But it is.  It came up multiple times during my residency, in different contexts, but always with the agreement that it is such an amazing example of writing.  That it defines the very nature of storytelling, which is really something undefinable.  And everyone seems to agree that everyone should read it.  And honestly, I hadn't read it so I read it because I wanted to know what people were talking about.

The Things They Carried is about a character named Tim O'Brien and his experiences surrounding the Vietnam War.  Some of it is true.  Some of it is dramatized in order to portray a true emotion.  All of it is captivating.  Sometimes the author addresses the reader directly.  Other times he tells stories in a traditional narrative form.  He plays around with truth, but the novel itself feels more true than many things I've read.  It's not a direct telling of any one thing from the war--not necessarily a historical novel that tells one informational story.  But in its way it manages to tell the reader more about what the people felt than I imagine a straight telling could do.

I'm not doing this book justice.  There are so many different things going on in it that I happily let the academic side of my brain shut off because I just wanted to follow each story.  But at the same time, I can say that I am only able to do that if something is written well and I know I can trust the author not to lead me astray.  It was about so much, including writing itself.  Stories.  War.  Loss.  Fear.  Parts of this were really hard to read, but it was so moving.  I can't think of a better book, really.

My recommendation: Everyone should read this book.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

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