Friday, June 4, 2010

Moved by a war story; looking for more

Before I share my thoughts about "The Things They Carried," I have to respond to Jason's most recent post.

I again (shockingly!) agree more than I disagree.

What is it about books that makes me feel guilty for putting them down when they're just not doing it for me?

I have no problem switching the channel after a few minutes if I'm not into a television show and have been known to stop watching a movie (usually by falling asleep) that doesn't hold my interest. But books are different.

Maybe it's what I perceive as the different role of reader versus viewer. When I'm watching something, I'm more passive, taking in someone else's vision of things. When I'm reading, I'm more active. The voices I hear in my head are of my own creation (that makes me sound a bit less sane than I think I am!).

I somehow feel if I'm not enjoying the work - especially if it's one recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value - that there's something wrong with me. And so I slog on.

I don't have a list, but I wholeheartedly agree with Jason that there are some works that are tough to get into but deliver in the end.

Now on to "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, a book my mom put on my list.

When it comes to books, my mom usually knows best.

I've said before I'm not much of a war book reader, though I think that may be changing. Until "Matterhorn" earlier this year, the only war books I thought were must-reads were "Johnny Tremain" and "Across Five Aprils." And I'd read those in grade school!

It's not a book to fly through. And I see why some have suggested it as required reading for high schoolers studying the Vietnam War.

Carried unfolds as a series of essays. O'Brien's prose is not the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat; it's the kind that gives you pause.

"It's hard to tell you what happened next.
They were just goofing. There was a noise, I suppose, which must've been the detonator, so I glanced behind me and watched Lemon step from the shade into bright sunlight. His face was brown and shining. A handsome kid, really. Sharp gray eyes, lean and narrow-waisted, and when he died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and vines and white blossoms."

Have you ever read such an understated, moving, beautiful description of something so horrifying?

Carried is a novel that will leave you reflecting.

And now it's left me in search of other novels of war. Any suggestions?

- Tricia Ambrose

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