The Vietnam War still has the power to divide Americans between those for it and those against. Today it also divides us, just as surely, between those who remember its era firsthand and those not yet born when the troops came home. There may be no better bridge across these twin divides than Tim O'Brien's novel in stories The Things They Carried. The details of warfare may have changed since Vietnam, but O'Brien's semi-autobiographical account of a young platoon on a battlefield without a front, dodging sniper fire and their own misgivings, continues to win legions of dedicated readers, both in uniform and out.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you're a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Tim O'Brien (Copyright Marion Ettlinger, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin)
Iconic photo from the Vietnam War (Associated Press)
Tim O'Brien in Vietnam (Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin)