Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

Here it is, the last story of this edition. I wonder if Beattie had a reason for the placement of her stories. I’ll have to re-read her intro. It’s been months since I’ve read it and perhaps she mentioned a reason.

The Things They Carried. Was it as good as “they” all say?

Yes it was.

Three years ago, a co-worker was shuffling through stacks of books that publishing houses sent to be reviewed. She created yet another stack of teetering bound pages and muttered something under her breath about a profile and having to read “it” again to reacquaint herself with “it”.

I decided to bite and engage her in conversation – “What?!” she exclaimed – “You’ve never read The Things They Carried?”


Admittedly, I had heard of it…but c’mon, another Vietnam novel?

Back in2009 I was chomping at the bit for novels coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vietnam was just so – 1975.

In Feb. of 2010, I made a mass purchase of BASS volumes.

Here’s a shot of the group along with their contents. The volumes fall outside of my reading list for this project (1978 – current year) but I figured that since I had started the collection and reached an endpoint in one direction…I might as well go in the opposite direction.

The 1977 edition contained Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien from Ploughshares Spr ’76 and since I was still feeling the guilty sting of not having read The Things They Carried, I thought I’d dip my toe in.

As I remember, I enjoyed the story. I didn’t dwell on it nor did I consider it as I do these stories.

When I came to Carried the other evening, I felt the memory of Cacciato tapping at my brain. The writing style was familiar and I fell into the rhythm rather easily.

I can understand the draw of this story for so many from my parent’s generation, and I can see why so many courses may have taught with this story, and traffic to this post over time will bear out if it’s still being taught (I mentioned the tile and author enough to have the Google-bot index it).

But what does this story do for me?

We all carry things through our days. Some of us are in Iraq, Afghanistan…Vietnam or maybe we are in New York, Des Moines or Oakland.

We carry our friends, family and memories on smart phones, in notebooks and in the deep pockets of our minds.

We read a story or email, hear a song or a smell is carried in on a breeze and a memory of a person or a time long past comes flooding back.

O’Brien wrote his story and educated me as to what a grunt carried on his person while humping through ‘Nam.

Now, in 2012, I can see what “Anna-Bee” from San-Fran carries in her messenger bag to campus each day.

In this time we live in of over sharing, there is a Flickr group pool with over 22,000 members and over 14,000 photos of what people allegedly carry with them on a regular basis.


and then, to make a little link to this story, there’s even the below Flickr pool with over 3,000 members and just as many photos.

The Items We Carry - and according to the group administrator, these photos will be of “the essentials we need to function daily at a basic level.”


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