Just finished reading Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried, a coherent collection of short stories about Tim’s time as a soldier in Vietnam. I call it a ‘coherent collection’ because the stories, any one of which could stand its own, flow in either chronological or narrative order.
It’s a book I picked up by chance off a shelf at Third Place, a shared work space in Stamford, CT. Written in 1990, it had only just recently been brought to my attention: my wife, Jane had finished reading it a few months before and told me about it without a lot going into much detail (something like ‘you’d like this. It’s about Vietnam and it’s very moving at times’), but I dismissed it as something that had been written either after the fact by someone who hadn’t been there or by an embedded reporter. But I came across it at Third Place and the coincidence made me pick it up, read the first few pages and become hooked.
I read the last few pages of the book today in the same place where I found it – not by design, it just worked out that way.
The book resonated with me in so many ways (it was real; it recalled the military for me in ways that I hadn’t thought about since I left; it was philosophical; it was instructive) , and I found it moving more than just at times.
In the last story, ‘The Lives of the Dead,’ a childhood girlfriend, Linda, who died from a brain tumor around the age of nine, answer’s his question, ‘What’s it like to be dead?’, in a dream saying, ‘Well, right now [in the dream] I’m not dead. But when I am, it’s like… I don’t know, I guess it’s like being instead a book that nobody’s reading… All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.’ I loved that analogy.
It’s one of those books I’m sorry I finished: it made good company and I’d like to have kept on reading it.