The Things They Carried is one of those books in my life by which I define time. There is the time before I read it, and then the time after. I read it the summer after I graduated from college, that time when we think we know everything, but somehow know, deep down, that we really don't know anything at all. I read it with many of friends, and reading it somehow empowered us as young, aspiring writers, while it chastened us for our incredible luck at being born when we were and having grown up, as we had, in circumstances that sheltered us from any fear that we would ever be engaged in military service. That same summer I heard Tim O'Brien read from the book at the Breadloaf Writer's Conference in VT, and he challenged my notions of fiction and storytelling and what is "true." I read his novel Going After Cacciato in that ensuing year when I was struggling to find my place and decide "what I would do with my life." O'Brien's stories of war and his craft in telling those stories brought an incredible and very necessary perspective to that particularly self-absorbed time in a young 20-something-year-old's life. For a time, I made every man I was serious about dating read The Things They Carried. When I met the man I would eventually marry, I was further humbled to realize that in the years that I was blissfully studying English literature in a liberal arts college in NE, he was living on the other side of the world, working as a member of the US Navy.
This year is the 20th anniversary of The Things They Carried and today Tim O'Brien was interviewed on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Below is that interview. If you have not read The Things They Carried - I cannot recommend it highly enough - if you read it for your book group, you will not lack for discussion. Here is the reading group guide. Listen in now.