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Heraclitus said you can never step in the same river twice, and that applies to books, too. I’m re-reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien since I’ll be teaching it in January to my juniors, only this time I’m reading it with a different lens. Since I last read this ten years ago, I’ve become friends with a number of veterans who fought in Afghanistan. Talking to them about their experiences has colored the way I read this story of the Vietnam Conflict. I am moved by this book far more than I was on my first reading.
Essentially, this book recounts the feeling of being in the war, being out of the war, and trying to come home after the war. There is truth and there is story truth, and O’Brien explains to us multiple times there are ways to tell stories and there are different types of truths. What seems to matter most to him is having the reader really feel the emotional truth via stories.
“Stories are for joining the past to the future.”
“A true war story is never moral.”
“It wasn’t a war story, it was a love story.”
“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience.”
“Stories can save us.”
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