Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursentary: The Things I Carry

Even though I dislike a lot of literature, my teachers always surprise me and pick really good books to read in for English.

At the end of 10th grade, it was The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. Now, I loved this book to begin with. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a perspective on the Vietnam War from the eyes of a veteran, and the stories of the people he knew and saw while overseas.

via Goodreads

The thing about O’Brien is that he writes like a writer. Not because he writes well (not that he doesn’t do that, too) but because he writes like he loves writing.

“Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a life-time ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” (38)

He’s his own character in the story, and the character is a writer and a soldier. And yes, I love the perspective on the war. The brutality, the grief, the end. He compares it to a girl he knew named Linda, who died when he was a kid. He kept her alive with his story.

“Lying in bed at night, I made up elaborate stories to bring Linda alive in my sleep. I invented my own dreams. It sounds impossible, I know, but I did it. I’d picture somebody’s birthday party—a crowded room, I’d think, and a big chocolate cake with pink candles—and then soon I’d be dreaming it, and after a while Linda would show up, as I knew she would, and in the dream we’d look at each other and not talk much, because we were shy, but then later I’d walk her home and we’d sit on her front steps and stare at the dark and just be together.” (243–244)

I could honestly type out the rest of this last chapter, but I won’t. This is the paragraph that got me. I can remember reading this for the first time and stopping, because he was describing a boy named Timmy who was in love with a girl named Linda, but what he didn’t know was that he was also describing a girl named Heather who was in love with a dinosaur named Barney.

He didn’t know that she too had lain awake at night when she was little and made up her own stories about the purple, plushy T-Rex. He didn’t know that BJ and Baby Bop were her nighttime companions, and who brightened her days with their own little cakes and parties and songs. And sometimes, it was enough to simply sit in the dark with that dinosaur and be together. Because Barney loved her, too.

I was six, and I was living for the stories I could craft at the end of the day. It’s one of the things that tells me that I really can write.

He writes like a writer. And it’s not impossible, whatever he says, because I know this story. I hadn’t read it before and I haven’t read it since but I know this story. That’s me! That’s my story. It is me, just as surely remembering the days before now and doing everything to hold onto those memories.

I love this book.

I love this book, because it is about us.

Okay, purple dinosaurs aside, what about you? What books and stories do you carry? Have you ever found a book that has resonated with you so deeply that you could not help but hold it tight? What book? Why did it remind you of you? Did you ever write one, or think of one? Tell me your stories about stories!


  1. I'm sorry, Heather, but I am disappointed. Barney? Truly? That is the best comparison you could find to that lovely work of prose? I feel obliged to share a less-lovely work of poetry, written by a friend:

    I hate you / You hate me / Let us go and kill Barney / With a great big gun and a bullet in his head / Let us say Barney is dead!

    Jokes aside, this sounds like a fabulous book. Adding it to my Goodreads TBR!


      And that was not a song your friend wrote because that was my favorite song in fourth grade, along with the On top of old smokey all covered in red version of killing Barney. I do know my elementary literature.

      It is a fab book, though. Read it, let me know what you think! :)

  2. Ugh, you always write such pretty posts. I always want to write these ginormous comments but I'm not very eloquent xD
    That writing is gorgeous...woah. *adds book to goodreads list a mile long*

    Anyway. One of the books that has really stuck with me is Red Rising by Pierce's a very brutal, bloody, rough book, but it's written SO. WELL. It just makes me want to cry because how. xD And that main character. I've found I don't identify well with most characters in books I read, especially YA, because a lot of them are touchy-feely-emotional and I'm...not. But Darrow in Red Rising is, in a weird way, SO ME. Not in the specifics by any means, but listening to his POV, hearing his thoughts, I could identify with him on a really, really deep level. It kind of floored me the first time I read the book, because I hadn't ever had that experience before, but I'd had thoughts like that a thousand times and I just...I understood him. And now it's getting cheesy. xD I was surprised later to read reviews and find that a lot of people found Darrow shallow or cold or insensitive or heartless, because he was SO deep and so me...but it also helped to know that, because I have the opposite problem with some of the characters those people liked.
    Another one, for whatever reason, is The Great Gatsby - I don't know what kind of magic was in that book when I read it the first time, but I keep coming back to it and I just want to take it everywhere and shove it in people's faces. Because I'm good at that.

    In writing...oh, yes, my current WIP. It's dystopia about Norway and a good half of it takes place in a mental hospital, so I really don't have anything in common there...but I swear it's like I gave all those characters a piece of my soul, and doesn't it hurt to write. My MC has very severe anxiety, which is something I've always struggled with and especially lately, and it kind of colors the whole's been kind of a blessing to write, because it's helping me figure things out and I so rarely find a book that portrays this correctly. So it's kind of therapy. xD But it's really connected with me, and I think that's making it better.

    *coughs because huge comment*

    1. Oh, gosh, that comment was almost as long as your post xD

    2. Wow... This comment looked a lot smaller in my email... BUT I WILL READ IT ALL, because I am brave.

      XD Thank you for reading and commenting, because even if it isn't eloquent, it's still awesome.

      This sounds like a book you should post about. XD I completely understand being unable to relate to book characters, and I can imagine how crazy it would be to realize, perhaps for the first time, that THIS IS ME. Kind of like with what you mentioned when you were reading reviews, I think there there are more popular "kinds" of people than others—for example, you'll find more extroverts in the world than introverts. It's not bad, it's just that because of that difference people may have a little more trouble understanding one another. Also, sometimes people have trouble forgiving other people for being an introvert or an extrovert. It is good that you have Darrow, though—CARRY HIS MEMORY. Because the amount of meaning you place in him makes him meaningful.

      I liked The Great Gatsby the second time I read it, for school. It made a lot more sense, then. XD But, yes, it's fascinating and book-shoving is always acceptable here. I commend you.

      That's really cool that it's happening within your own WIP, too! I think, I may say, that even if we don't all suffer from a clinical mental illness, something about mental hospitals and examining characters who do have mental illness goes a long way to tell us about the human condition as well. Absolutely, your anxiety is a big part of that, but I think part of the fact that you're a human being makes it relatable, and would make it relatable for others, as well. It's awesome that you're able to use your writing to understand yourself, and making it so personal. As they say, no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader—so I'm sure you're brewing an excellent batch of feels for us all. :)

    3. Phew, my comment is almost a hundred words shorter than yours—I was worried it was going to be longer! XD

    4. You deserve an award for actually reading and replying to that xD I think I was really tired this morning and it all came out in one big burst of THING I'M EXCITED ABOUT HEATHER IS INVITING ME TO TALK ABOUT AN EXCITING THING.
      But anyway. I loved this post. xD


      I am so sorry. And now I'm commenting again. xD


      And don't worry about it. Comments like this make my day. :)

  3. For me, it's not really books that stick, it's parts of books. It's what they say to me, that make me go 'I'm not the only one?' I still remember the first time it happened, and it made me more eager to read.

    Great post! I will be adding The Things I Carry to my TBR :)

    1. That's really cool, and I understand, because sometimes I remember the parts of books that made me feel not-alone as well. It always gives me a bigger respect for the writer!

      Let me know what you think when you read it!

  4. There are so, so many books that have resonated with me. Basically all the classics have resonated with me because the way they are often written makes them so memorable. To name a few, I particularly enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, Watership Down, and two more recent ones, Unbroken and The Hiding Place. They are all fabulously deep and resonant books.

    1. It's great that you have a lot of books to pick from and carry with you! I know that To Kill a Mockingbird is on my favorites shelf, and Watership Down is one of my best friend's favorite books! :) I've heard good things about The Hiding Place as well, so you're in good company!

  5. I love finding a book that resonates with me so much, just like 'Things I Carry' did for you. Some books grab me because of very personal connections. Like 'The Blue Castle' by L.M. Montgomery. I read that one when I was younger and very insecure about myself around other people. And to read the story and see someone overcoming the sort of things I was afraid of, as well as providing an amazing story, it grabbed hold of me and has been one of my favourite books for many years now. If I owned a copy, it would be battered from all the readings.

    1. They're unforgettable, right? I haven't read Blue Castle, but being able to identify with a character in that way is awesome, and cool to see the people who inspire us, even fictional, take a part in our lives. :) I'm surprised you don't own a copy, though... I mean, when it's me, I can't not own my favorite books. XD


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