Last night, I went with my friend Pam to hear author Tim O’Brien speak at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t read the book that he was talking about, The Things They Carried, but after his talk I’m dying to go out and get it! The Things They Carried was inspired by his service in Vietnam, a war that he was opposed to, and has been named by the New York Times as one of the 20 best books of the last quarter century and was a finalist for the Pulitzer. He’s a great speaker—his talk didn’t focus on the blood and the bullets, but the other, seemingly smaller atrocities of war. For example, he told a story about how his company was marching through some small Vietnamese village and, at the center, there was a well where an elderly, blind Vietnamese man was pulling out buckets to give showers to the GIs. He’d been helping bath the troops for about two hours when, at the same time, a delivery came in, filled with cold beers and sodas and milks. For no reason at all, one of the men, a kid named Tom, took his milk carton and threw it at the old man, hitting him right in the face. The villagers all went quiet, and stared, and after a minute or two, the old man resumed giving showers. Tim O’Brien stressed that that had stuck with him for four decades because of his own compliance, by not saying “hey, that’s wrong.” And he continued that, while war is often about killing the enemy, acts like that also serve to do nothing more than make enemies.
It was a very powerful talk and, as I gather from the reviews, an amazingly powerful book. The title, by the way, refers to the things GIs brought with them from home—a cross, a book, a photo of a girlfriend. I’m very excited to pick up my copy of The Things They Carried, and kudos to Sierra Nevada College and the Writers in the Woods series for bringing in such a renowned author.