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Review: The Things They Carried

March 12, 2010

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of loosely related short stories.  I’m not a big fan of short stories, because they often feel disjointed to me, but it works really well in this instance.   The disjointedness is what I imagine soldiers feel when they’re facing battle so far from home, so it made me feel closer to the characters.

As always in a collection like this, some stories affected me more than others.  My favorites were:

  • The Things They Carried – This is the first story in the book and it details what the soldiers carried in the field; from the equipment necessary to survive to the small, personal items that they can’t live without.
  • Field Trip –  In this story a soldier who survived the Vietnam War returns with his ten year old daughter and attempts to explain the war and his part in it to her.
  • Speaking of Courage – When a soldier returns to his hometown, he has trouble adjusting, in spite of the support of his family.
  • The Lives of the Dead – 30 years after the war, a soldier tries to come to term with deaths from his childhood and from the war.

The Things They Carried is a very moving book and as I read it, I wondered why the world can’t find a way to end wars.  This is the kind of book that it’s almost hard to say that I enjoyed – I think maybe saying it affected me is probably more accurate.  This is a powerful book that moved me immensely.  I want to leave you with one passage that really struck me:

He wished he could’ve explained some of this.  How he had been braver than he ever thought possible, but how he had not been so brave as he wanted to be.  The distinction was important.

Challenges: War Through the Generations Challenge: The Vietnam War

Review copy provided by Amazon Vine.  I am an Amazon Associate.
50 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2010 5:35 am

    This is definitely a very difficult subject to read about, especially with all that is going on at the moment. I think that is why I tend to avoid war stories,as I find them upsetting.

  2. March 12, 2010 6:54 am

    I am actually a fan of short stories, but not totally sure the subject appeals to me that much.
    not sure….

  3. March 12, 2010 7:08 am

    I have heard more than once that this is the book that defines the Vietnam War, and will go down in history as a classic. For that reason, I did buy this on my Kindle and intend to read it for the Vietnam War Challenge. Nice review!

  4. March 12, 2010 7:22 am

    I read THE THINGS THEY CARRIED in college and it is definitely a must-read. It portrays war in a way that no other book has, at least no book I have read. While it’s not a “light” subject it certainly isn’t one that should be avoided. It’s a part of our nation’s history.

  5. March 12, 2010 7:35 am

    I have had this book on my shelves for years. I really want to get to it. Great review. I wasn’t aware that it was a collection of short stories.

  6. March 12, 2010 7:42 am

    This sounds really good, even though I too am not a big fan of short stories.

  7. March 12, 2010 8:14 am

    I read this in high school and absolutely loved it. If you like Tim O’Brien and Vietnam literature, read Going After Cacciatto. It’s a full novel that’s somewhat Saving Private Ryan in nature.

  8. March 12, 2010 8:30 am

    Excellent, excellent book! I’m so glad you liked it!!


  9. March 12, 2010 8:55 am

    I thought this was a very powerful book. I listened to the audio version and was very moved by the stories. Glad u had the opportunity to read it as well.

  10. March 12, 2010 9:12 am

    This is the first war book I enjoyed reading and the only one I can say I’ve loved. O’Brien’s writing and imagery are unforgettable. And he totally made me cry at the National Book Festival this year. I’m so glad to see the book getting new readers as it approaches the 20th anniversary!

  11. March 12, 2010 9:13 am

    This is on my list for the War Through the Generations Challenge – glad to hear it is worth reading!

  12. March 12, 2010 9:20 am

    This is new to me, but I do love the sound of this. I enjoy short stories.


  13. March 12, 2010 9:41 am

    This is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve been singing its praises ever since I began blogging! So glad to see more people reading and enjoying it 😀

  14. March 12, 2010 10:12 am

    I checked this one out but ran out of time before I could read it. It certainly is one that I feel I must read! Thanks for a great review!

  15. March 12, 2010 11:49 am

    I have been interested in reading this book, but I didn’t know before it was a group of short stories (not my favorite format). I’m still encouraged to try it, though.

  16. March 12, 2010 12:11 pm

    Short stories are a new love of mine. The Things They Carried appeals to me so I’m going to see if I can find it. Great review of a genre you’re not crazy about.

  17. March 12, 2010 12:15 pm

    This one so intrigues me. I’ve got another book about the Vietnam war to read soon; maybe I need to read this one with it.

  18. March 12, 2010 1:15 pm

    This one sounds good! Short stories aren’t my faves either. I feel they are too short for me to get invested in any characters. I’ll probably check this one out though.

  19. March 12, 2010 1:15 pm

    So glad you liked it, I can’t wait to get to my copy. I love the quote you typed, it’s so powerful.

  20. March 12, 2010 2:15 pm

    Note to self: I REALLY need to read this book!

  21. March 12, 2010 2:42 pm

    Am glad you enjoyed this one. Am not too keen about short stories either but sometimes its a bit easier/shorter to read. Thus far i have reviewed 2 of them. Hope you have a great weekend.

  22. stacybuckeye permalink
    March 12, 2010 2:44 pm

    I found this book when I was doing some searching for one of my quizzes last year, but I hadn’t seen a review of it. I need to read this. Maybe it would help me understand my father better 🙂

  23. March 12, 2010 4:50 pm

    This book touched me. I to wonder why there has to be war………

  24. March 12, 2010 4:53 pm

    This one does sound interesting. Thanks for reviewing.

  25. March 12, 2010 5:15 pm

    I have this one in my TBR pile – I think I will really enjoy it when I get to it! Great review.

  26. March 12, 2010 6:13 pm

    I enjoy reading short stories, so I’ll keep this one in mind.

  27. March 12, 2010 7:37 pm

    I do like to read short stories (sometimes that’s all I have time for!). This collection sounds quite interesting. On a different note, I ‘ll also be reading about the Vietnam War soon.

  28. March 12, 2010 7:42 pm

    I read this one several weeks ago and I’m still struggling with my review. I was surprised to find that the book is a string of short stories. Since they contain the same characters in each, I thought it had the feel of a novel. Definitely a powerful book and not easy reading.

  29. March 13, 2010 2:12 am

    I read The Things They Carried for the first time in high school. I wanted to understand my dad’s experience in Vietnam, and he never spoke of it, except to tell funny stories. It made a huge impact on me. I re-read it a couple of years ago; I was curious to see how it held up. Of course, it was just as powerful the second time.

  30. March 13, 2010 2:51 am

    I honestly have never read this book in its entirety but I have read many of the short stories in various classes and they are extremely moving. I’m not a huge fan of war narratives, but I feel like this one is definitely a worthwhile read because it makes us question war. Even more, it makes us examine the effect of war on soldiers and those they love.

  31. March 13, 2010 9:16 am

    This book has been recommended so many times. I really just need to get to it already. Thanks for the moving review. I might see if I can find it on my library trip this morning.

  32. March 13, 2010 11:36 am

    I’m not normally a big fan of short stories either, but I do read them from time to time. These do sound like they would be powerful, and as war stories, would probably hold my attention more than a regular collection of short stories.

  33. March 13, 2010 11:37 am

    I feel the same way about this book; it’s hard to say you love it, but it stays with you. I haven’t read it since high school, but I want to again.

  34. March 13, 2010 11:52 am

    This book is totally affecting. I read it in high school and it moved everyone in my entire class.

  35. March 13, 2010 12:51 pm

    I’ve read one of his for a book club a couple of years ago, the title alludes me know, but it deeply affected me too and was great for a group discussion. Loved your review!

  36. March 14, 2010 12:34 am

    This is one I definitely plan to read!

  37. March 14, 2010 6:27 pm

    I too plan to read this one for the War Through the Generations Challenge. Glad to see the positive review!

  38. March 15, 2010 10:21 am

    I could see how a series of short stories on this theme could work really well and be quite powerful.

  39. March 15, 2010 2:07 pm

    My book club read this for discussion a couple of years ago. It is a fantastic book – very powerful. As you say, “it’s almost hard to say that I enjoyed – I think maybe saying it affected me is probably more accurate.” And I’m very glad I read it.

  40. March 15, 2010 3:23 pm

    I just ordered this book and am waiting for it to arrive, so I am happy to hear that it was such a moving read for you. I had been hearing a lot of good things about it and am also anxious to see what I think of it. I have always been a big fan of war stories, but I haven’t read much short fiction about war. I will keep my eye out for those stories that you really liked in this collection. Thanks!

  41. March 15, 2010 4:41 pm

    This is one of those books that I can’t believe I haven’t read yet. I think I would love it. Thanks for the good review.

  42. March 16, 2010 12:53 am

    I read this book in high school and there are sections that I remember to this day. Like the part with the lemon tree. I liked it so much I gave it to my brother as a Christmas present last year.

  43. March 16, 2010 8:38 am

    I loved this collection, and I’m so glad that the collection impacted you in ways that I’m sure you didn’t think it would. Thanks for a great review and we will be sure to get a link to it up on the War blog soon.

  44. March 16, 2010 9:13 am

    I’ll be reading this one for the challenge, too. It sounds very powerful, honest, and raw, and that’s something I’ve always loved about O’Brien’s writing. Thanks for the review!


  45. March 16, 2010 2:35 pm

    I did not realize that this was a book of short stories. I’m planning on reading this one for the War Challenge as well.

  46. March 16, 2010 9:56 pm

    I just picked this one up recently and I plan on reading it for the War Through the Generations Challenge.

  47. March 17, 2010 8:46 pm

    From the title alone I knew this had to be a moving book. The things that soldiers go through during a war are just selfless. They deserve our thanks and support everyday.
    Good review.

  48. March 20, 2010 9:22 am

    This is one of my all-time favorite books. It gives me goosebumps to even think of it.

  49. March 22, 2010 2:15 pm

    This one I have to look into.Thanks!

  50. April 2, 2010 4:13 am

    You know how a university dept tends to gravitate toward teaching the same books? I think I read this one three times for grad school–and several times on my own. It’s amazing. We even downloaded the audiobook from iTunes. (I mostly like the voice in my head better, though, for this one.)

    And if you ever get the chance to go see Tim O’Brien talk, I recommend it. It’s as unforgettable as the book.

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