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review 2017-12-15 13:05
'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien

Nearly 40 pages into my used copy of The Things They Carried I found a large post-it note with the words "Start here" scribbled in small print at the very top. It's the point where the novel, which till then seems to stick to the premise of viewing the Vietnam War by examining the things U.S. soldiers carried. The writing comes back to these items again and again, grounding the story in pictures and mementos, weapons, ammo, clothing, and small comforts like a bible, a knife, pantyhose, what have you. Some are practical, some are remembrances, but they provide some insight into the men of Alpha Company, but going into the fourth chapter it starts to lose its ground.

 

Except, after page 38, the story drifts away from these items, and from the perspective Lieutenant Jimmy Cross who was central through these early pages, and from the kind of straight war story that we know well. The story gets messy. Tim O'Brien then writes in snapshots and in framed stories that, even when the subject is usual, have a touch of the surreal. Whole chapters veer off as in "The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong" in which one character tells the impossible-seeming story of a man bringing his girlfriend to visit him at his station in Vietnam and her getting lost in the world of special forces -- first asking questions, then tagging along, then participating in missions, and eventually dropping off the grid altogether. But as the subject matter gets more outlandish, the narrator "Tim O'Brien" won't give us neat answers on what is true. Some very believable scenes he reveals to be fiction, others he insists are true, others are true but didn't happen to that person, or the person had a different name.

 

"A true war story is never moral," we are told on page 68. Then on the next page, "You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you." Then on page 71, "In any war story, but especially a true one, it's difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen," then "In many cases a true war story cannot be believed," and still later down the page, "In other cases a true war story cannot be believed." Reality becomes a non-Newtonian fluid, appearing clear before us, but slipping away whenever we try to hold it too tightly.

 

From a literary studies angle, it may be interesting to model what is supposed to have actually happened to "Tim" and what has not, but following that post-modern rabbit-hole down to try to tell what happened to O'Brien is a fools errand and lead you far astray from the important lessons of the novel [and that realization may lead you to one of the important take-aways from this story]. 

 

I often thought back to Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut while reading The Things They Carried. Something in the tone and the way reality seems to shift under your feet while reading it. But where Vonnegut let that distortion play out in fantastical ways, with aliens, time travel and other science fiction elements, Tim O'Brien keeps our eyes on the war the whole time. Truth, time, beauty, and reality are distorted but in a way that is much more familiar in the way we understand memory and especially traumatic memories. "Tim" isn't taken away to a far away planet with a beautiful movie star. He is Vietnam, even when there is a discordant, impossible, beautiful image like that of Curt Lemon stepping back so that the sun catches his face and flying into the vines and white blossoms, blown by the explosion of the landmine he stepped on.

 

The Things They Carried is a meditation on war, on youth [and youth lost] and on storytelling, whether through novel, gossip, or your own memories. O'Brien's war stories, to whatever degree they are factual, feel truer than most, and closer to home. He never tries to educate on the 60s, the war, or the government, though it's hard not to walk away with some thoughts on these matters. The war for him and us readers is what the dozen men [give or take] of Alpha Company see, hear, and feel. It's death and loss and a connection unlike just about any other on Earth. 

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text 2017-08-19 02:04
The Reading Quest
The Underground Railroad: A Novel - Colson Whitehead
In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan,Carolyn Nowak
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
Nature Abhors a Vacuum (The Aielund Saga) - Stephen L. Nowland

I totally missed the official signup for this, but I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway.

 

The Reading Quest

 

I found it on Habitica, actually (apparently I am weak and will do anything for XP, including actual adulting), and it seemed very neat. Currently I am three and a half books in, working on the Rogue path, and quite enjoying the fact that I am working off a vague plan for my reading. We will see how long that lasts, since I am weak and easily distracted by random books, but the quest for experience points may keep me on my chosen path.

 

I'm going to need to do some major cleaning around here, since I may have gotten distracted from Booklikes for a bit.

 

Has anyone else seen this? Anyone manage to sign up in a timely manner and thus be eligible for prizes? Anyone else just going to do it anyway?

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review 2017-04-19 00:00
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut I'm not sure how Vonnegut pulled this off. It was all over the fucking place. And it all worked. The whole time I was reading it, I had the feeling that I was reading something extraordinary. And I was.
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review 2017-04-01 23:40
Confusing Book
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut

2 1/2 stars.

 

Kurt Vonnegut is undoubtedly a good writer. The trouble is, that I enjoyed the introduction where he was describing his own experiences much more than the bulk of the book where he told us Billy Pilgrim's story. Kurt himself is a more interesting person than Billy. Or maybe I just didn't like the fact that we had to decide whether Billy was crazy or really was kidnapped by Tralfamadorians. Typically, in a book where we're left to decide if something is imagined or real I will imagine that it's real, but I just couldn't this time. The Tralfamadorians are too bizarre and their concept of time is too unbelievable. I didn't like the descriptions of Billy's time on Tralfamadore, or the fact that in an earlier part of the book we were told that 'Billy was cheating on his wife for the first and only time,' but if Tralfamadore was real, than he cheated on his wife multiple times with the movie star who the Tralfamadorians had also kidnapped. Kilgore Trout's ideas about re-writing the Gospels say to me that he (so possibly Vonnegut) didn't truly understand who Jesus is and what he did. Though the rewrite came with the question "why are so many Christians so Cruel?" so I suppose that it may be that it isn't intended to be taken seriously, but simply ask the question, "if this was the way the Gospels were written, would less Christians commit evil acts?" I doubt it. If a Christian is willing to commit atrocities with the Bible the way it is, why the heck would the care if Jesus hadn't been the Son of God until after His death?

 

There was too much sex in this book for my liking. The members of the Beaumont township in Footloose may have been wrong for judging this book only from of its' name, but they likely would have decided to burn it even if they had read it.

 

Oddly enough, I had never heard of the bombing of Dresden. I knew that Berlin and some other German cities had been bombed toward the end of the war, and I focused on WWII in my final year of high school, but if the bombing of Dresden was mentioned in any of the books I read or any of the documentaries I watched, they must have skimmed over the horror of it, or made the claim that it had to happen. I don't know if there were places in Dresden that were helping the German war effort. I don't know if there were places whose destruction helped the Allies, but I believe that the firebombing of Dresden without consideration for the refugees and other innocent civilians, or even the slightest attempt to avoid residential areas was wrong.

 

I was surprised that Billy Pilgrim was based of a real person, Edward Crone, who the author named in his interview at the end of the audiobook version I listened to. Even though the man gave up, didn't eat and died, his family was likely still alive and even though the majority of Billy's actions were not dishonorable, his bizarre belief that he had been kidnapped by aliens might bother the family of the very real Edward Crone.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. The writing was excellent, but there was a great deal of profanity, and I couldn't quite follow the story of Billy Pilgrim, who I had difficulty caring about as his narration jumped all over the place. I've seen Christian criticism of the book for the profanity and for the rewritten fake Gospel, but I hadn't seen that at the time I picked it up. I really don't know how I feel about this book.

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review 2016-08-24 04:05
Slaughterhouse 90210 - Maris Kreizman

So I went into this book without realizing that it started out as a blog. But after figuring that out, I still don't really understand the point of making a book out of it. The format itself was a bit annoying, because you flip back and forth from the picture/quote page to the background/connection page in the back, which made actually reading the book kind of a pain.

 

Also, while the quotes fit the context of the media reference, some of the connections seemed pretty shallow and there wasn't really any analysis included. It was a good starting point to get people thinking, but I think you'd have to be pretty obtuse to not think about some of these things in the first place. Taylor Swift is paired with, "Above all, she was the girl who 'feels' things." Enough jokes have already been made about that on the Internet, I don't think this one really added anything to the discussion.

 

So while it was a unique idea, I think the execution was a little dull. If you subscribe to Thomas C. Foster's idea that "there's only one story", these connections are really not that big of a leap. Teenagers from Pretty in Pink (1986) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) feel the same? What are the odds?

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