Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Things They Carried (copy)

Disappointing news from the world of book awards this week. The Pulitzer Prize for fiction was not announced. The panel of three judges decided that the three books they were given did not meet the standards of the award.

Apparently, to be considered for the prize, books are stacked high for a three-person jury who then read all the selections. Those three people cull down the entrants to three books that are then sent to the Pulitzer board consisting of three different jurors with outstanding credentials. Current juror, Michael Cunningham, won the Pulitzer in 1999 for his novel The Hours.

I happened to finish a book this week that was a finalist for the same fiction Pulitzer in 1991. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien blew me away.

This book is very popular among our students although it is not assigned reading. It is one of those word-of-mouth books that is checked out and then checked right back out when it comes in. No one ever asks us behind the counter where to find the title, rather we see a student guide a fellow student to its home on the shelf. I even had a student donate her copy because she felt we did not have enough to go around.

Okay, so I am noisy. I had to know what all the fuss was about, but I did not want to stop the current underground movement. I went to the Sardis Public Library and checked out a large-type knowing the students would never be the wiser. In three nights, I read the book straight through then went back and reread certain parts.

Wow, it is the opposite of non-fiction that reads like fiction. It is fiction that sounds so real that readers will swear it is a memoir. His main character is named Tim O’Brien and is a writer such as himself. He talks about a book he has already written and mentions the name within the story. He reports back about a trip he took with his daughter to revisit the battlegrounds of his youth.

All during the vignettes of life in Vietnam during the war, O’Brien tries to explain the truth of a story. But then the reader finds the story not about his war buddy, but about himself instead. He mentions stories like the two Vietcong soldiers whom once cornered in a cave disappeared like ghost while telling the story of how he plays a joke on the new medic involving a sandbag ghost.

Most of the stories are so heart-breaking it is better to believe they are make-believe.

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