July Meetup: "The Things They Carried"

Meet us at 8 to discuss Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and come early at 7 to hang out, have some food and drinks, and discuss other things! Hope to see you there!


A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three.

Taught everywhere—from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing—it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing.

(Amazon Editorial Review)

This sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. Vietnam is still O'Brien's theme, but in this book he seems less interested in the war itself than in the myriad different perspectives from which he depicts it. Whereas Going After Cacciato played with reality, The Things They Carried plays with truth.

The narrator of most of these stories is "Tim"; yet O'Brien freely admits that many of the events he chronicles in this collection never really happened. He never killed a man as "Tim" does in "The Man I Killed," and unlike Tim in "Ambush," he has no daughter named Kathleen. But just because a thing never happened doesn't make it any less true.

(Alix Wilber)

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  • Mark L.

    JR: I was profoundly moved by the story "On the Rainy River," not only by the character of Tim, but also the old man, Elroy. He seemed as real to me as the man sitting next to me on the train this morning.

    TO: That's an example of what imagination can do. He's an imagined character—more so, even, than the Tim O'Brien character, who is also, I must say, imagined. But the old guy is made up out of the whole cloth. And yet, he represents something real that you couldn't put your finger on, which has to do with conscience, or being watched by, say, a dead father—that feeling of someone there with you who's not offering advice but is simply present as a kind of moral witness. Old Elroy is meant to stand for a whole bunch of things: my dad, my mom, my country, God, and conscience, all together.

    July 2, 2013

  • Mark L.

    JR: I'd also like to talk about your story "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong." It reminded me very much of Heart of Darkness.

    TO: Yes, it was intentionally structured to be the other hemisphere of Heart of Darkness. Because Kurtz is a man, because Marlow's a man, and because virtually every character in the story is a man, the whole structure of my story is meant to be a female flip of it. In a way, I was trying to put a woman in a man's boots and see if she behaves much differently or feels other things than a man might feel. In a way the point of the story (if stories ever have "points"—and of course they don't, or maybe they have a trillion angles on a point) has to do with the image of the woman as nurturer and peaceful and incapable of the conspicuously violent behaviors of men—which, of course, when you look at history, is totally ridiculous. So the story is meant to be inclusive of women in almost all war stories.

    July 2, 2013

  • Andrew

    Enjoyed this very much. Smart and interesting group of people.

    July 2, 2013

  • Aileen

    Hi all, enjoyed the meeting as usual---I wanted to let you know that you can see one of my artists books in an exhibition at Columbia U. opening 7/16, Butler Library 535 West 114th St. reception 6-8 pm. I'm one of 260 artists from all over the world participating in the Al-Mutannabi Street Project, a traveling show reaching across countries and borders. This work is being displayed in 5 venues in New York City. The Center for Book Arts is coordinating this and you can get info
    on all these wonderful shows at:

    Columbia University Libraries
    Butler Library 535 West 114th St.
    New York, NY 10027 Telephone: (212)[masked]http://library.columbia.edu/ July 16-September 21, 2013

    1 · July 2, 2013

  • Mark L.

    One of the best books we read and discussions that we've had. I think I've said that about other meetups too, but it's always great when I can say it again!

    1 · July 2, 2013

  • Anthony O.

    Great discussion. Powerful book. Exceptional writing.

    July 1, 2013

  • Kent

    Very nice group, excellent discussion.

    July 1, 2013

  • Kent

    Very nice group, great discussion.

    July 1, 2013

  • Giuliana L.

    Sorry to miss book club discussion this evening—I'm feeling under the weather. Am starting "Where I'm calling from" for next time & will look forward to that.

    July 1, 2013

  • Yardena

    HI, I am eager to rejoin this group. Sorry I've been away for soooo long

    1 · June 25, 2013

    • Mark L.

      Yardena! I was just thinking about you recently! We're now at Amelia's, not The Merchant...

      June 29, 2013

  • Mona F.

    Did you see in the Times today - that O'Brien just won a lifetime achievement award for his books about war?

    1 · June 26, 2013

    • Lynn

      I did. Great news.

      June 27, 2013

  • Juen

    For some random reasons, this is the third Tim O'Brien book I've read, and the second this year. I've considered teaching a reading/writing class for vets, and this just adds more fuel to my fire. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...

    2 · June 26, 2013

  • Giuliana L.

    Just watched this wonderful TED video with Susan Cain, who talks about introverts but also encourages people to share with others "what's in your suitcase"—the things we carry: http://on.ted.com/Cain

    1 · June 23, 2013

  • Susan A.

    So glad THE THINGS THEY CARRIED got selected at the book-voting Meetup I missed last month because of my bad back. It's such a powerful read, especially if you had a friend or, like me, a parent in Vietnam. The author, Tim O'Brien, doesn't mince words. He gives it to you straight--or, as he experienced it.

    2 · April 26, 2013

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