Each year the Bud Werner Memorial Library presents a community read in Steamboat Springs. We call it ONE BOOK STEAMBOAT. This fall, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, join your friends and neighbors in reading Tim O'Brien's unparalleled Vietnam testament and classic work of American literature, The Things They Carried.
One Book Steamboat
About THE THINGS THEY CARRIED
Since its first publication in 1990, Tim O'Brien's powerful and enduring work of fiction The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament. The book is a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul. Far from a combat story of pride and glory, it is a compassionate tale of the American soldier, brimming with raw honesty and thoughtful reflection.
The book's narrator follows a platoon of infantrymen through the jungles of Vietnam. We see them trudge through the muck of a constant downpour, get hit by sniper fire, pull body parts out of a tree, laugh while they tell their stories to each other, and fall silent when faced with making sense of it all—both in the moment and twenty years later.
The book is split into a lush mosaic of vignettes drawn from O'Brien's own experiences. The title story describes what the soldiers must lug with them—both literally and figuratively—as they march: food, canteens, flak jackets, and weapons, as well as grief, terror, secrets, and memories. In another story, O'Brien tells of a young medic who brings his high-school sweetheart to his aid station in the mountains of Vietnam, chronicling her transformation from an innocent girl in a pink sweater to a cold night stalker who dons a necklace of human tongues. Yet another story tells of a soldier back from the war who drives his Chevy around his Iowa hometown, struggling to find meaning in his new life.
Central to the book is O'Brien's unique style, which blurs the lines between fact and fiction, then examines how and why he does just that. O'Brien challenges readers to ponder larger philosophical questions about truth and memory, and brings the reader closer to the emotional core of the men's experiences. "For the common soldier," O'Brien writes in "How to Tell a True War Story," "war has the feel—the spiritual texture—of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old truths no longer true."
The Things They Carried is not just a tale of war, and the book's themes are no less relevant today than they were decades ago. This award-winning work is a brutal, sometimes funny, often profound narrative about the human heart—how it fares under pressure and what it can endure.
About Tim O'Brien
As a fiction writer, I do not write just about the world we live in, but I also write about the world we ought to live in, and could, which is a world of imagination. —Tim O'Brien
Before Tim O'Brien was drafted into the army, he had what some would consider an all-American childhood. He was born on October 1, 1946, in Austin, Minnesota, and raised in Worthington, a small prairie town in the southern part of the state. His mother was an elementary school teacher, his father an insurance salesman and sailor in World War II. O'Brien played Little League, dabbled in magic tricks, and spent much of his youth in the county library daydreaming about such characters as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
At Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he received good grades and became student body president. Occasionally, he'd attend peace vigils and protests against the burgeoning war in Vietnam. He graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in political science and thought of becoming a writer, inspired in part by his father's personal accounts of two World War II battles, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, published in The New York Times. Then O'Brien got his draft notice. He once recalled in an interview that "even getting on the plane for boot camp, I couldn't believe any of it was happening to me, someone who hated Boy Scouts and bugs and rifles."
O'Brien spent his tour of duty from 1969 to 1970 as a foot soldier with the 46th Infantry in Quang Ngai province. For some of that time he was stationed in My Lai, just one year after the infamous My Lai Massacre. He was sent home with a Purple Heart when he got hit with shrapnel in a grenade attack.
His first writing about his war experiences came in the form of a memoir called If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, published in 1973 during his graduate studies in government at Harvard University. Soon after, he took a position for a year as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post, then turned full-time to writing books.
O'Brien published The Things They Carried in 1990. His many accolades include a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Book Award, an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He nearly stopped writing after his sixth book, In the Lake of the Woods (1994), due to a battle with depression. But following a nine-month hiatus, he began work on a new novel, Tomcat in Love, published in 1998. He currently teaches creative writing at Texas State University.
Visit Tim O'Brien's web page.
Further reading by Tim O'Brien:
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, 1973
Northern Lights, 1975
Going After Cacciato, 1978
The Nuclear Age, 1985
In the Lake of the Woods, 1994
Tomcat in Love, 1998
July, July, 2002
One Book Steamboat Events
2012 Community Read
Join your friends and neighbors in reading Tim O'Brien's novel The Things They Carried. Then join us for some very special events celebrating the book with guest artists from The American Place Theatre, including a Literature to Life Community Workshop and a Stage Presentation of The Things They Carried at Strings.