The Big Read Blog (Archive)


July 23, 2009
Washington, DC

The title of  Tim O'Brien's novel The Things They Carried comes from the book's opening section in which we are introduced to First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Dave Jensen, Ted Lavender, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Kiowa, and the narrator Tim. "The things they carried"  is a refrain throughout the section, so we feel the literal and, ultimately, symbolic weight of what each man carries---or humps---as he makes his way through the Vietnam jungle.  As O'Brien writes, "They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried."

I recently posed the same question to some of my colleagues: "Marching into battle?literally or metaphorically?what things might you carry? It's your choice to tell or not to tell why you select what you do." I'll share their answers over a few posts starting with these from two of our lit staffers --Dan Brady and Amy Stolls (who by the way wrote The Big Read Reader's Guide for O'Brien's novel).

 From Dan Brady:

I?m trying to think of something my wife gave me, some memento of home that might make me feel safe, but what actually comes to mind is an action figure of the Macho Man Randy Savage. For whatever reason, I?ve held onto this thing since I was a kid. It currently is tucked away somewhere in the back of my nightstand along with some failed poems and old notebooks. I don?t know if I could call it a talisman, but it?s something I can?t get rid of and maybe there?s a reason for that. If I wanted to invest it with some power, I could say it?s kept me safe this long, but ultimately I think it?s just nostalgia. Then again, nostalgia might be just what I need when soaked to the bone, pinned down in a Vietnamese jungle with the world setting itself on fire all around me. PS ? Attached is a picture I took of [the action figure] last night after I saw your email. 



From Amy Stolls:

I?d carry a copy of the reader?s guide for everyone in my platoon, because it?s the best piece of writing currently in existence.

I?d carry tweezers and a tiny mirror that says ?you?re pretty.?  I have a fear of being out in a jungle and not being able to pluck my eyebrows.

My lap top, new Iphone, and probably a Kindle.  (In fact, I?m pretty sure the Kindle was developed for just this purpose.  It fits nicely slipped in behind a round of ammo.)

Literally (the obvious) -- a journal and pens, a few paperbacks, photos of loved ones, an audio of my seven-month-old giggling, an Ipod (with songs ranging from The Decemberists to Arvo Part to my dad?s banjo arrangements).

Literally (the not-so-obvious) -- a plastic coin showing Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet holding hands, which I?ve had since I was 3 or 4 years old and have kept ever since as my own personal good luck charm.  I sent it to my mom the day she was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago.  She?s currently in remission and thriving. 

Metaphorically (the obvious) -- my imagination and memory of every book, film, play, poem, painting, song, mountain, forest, café, meal, conversation, and personal encounter I?ve had that has made me feel human and lucky to be alive.

Metaphorically (the not-so-obvious) ? my invisible friend.  She?s been hibernating for about 40 years, but I bet I could convince her to go away with me.

This all, of course, on Day One.  What heavy burdens I?d end up carrying all the days after I can only imagine (in part thanks to O'Brien)    

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