The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is the Featured Book for May. This book from our Hagan Collection is a collection of related stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. While apparently based on some of O’Brien’s own experiences, the title page refers to the book as “a work of fiction.”
Before publication in 1990, five of the stories, including “The Things They Carried,” “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” “The Ghost Soldiers,” and “The Lives of the Dead,” had been published in Esquire. “Speaking of Courage” was originally published (in heavily modified form) as a chapter of O’Brien’s earlier novel Going After Cacciato.
In the short story “Good Form”, the narrator makes a distinction between “story truth” and “happening truth.” O’Brien feels that the idea of creating a story that is technically false yet truthfully portrays war, as opposed to just stating the facts and creating no emotion in the reader, is the correct way to clear his conscience and tell the story of thousands of soldiers. Critics often cite this distinction when commenting on O’Brien’s artistic aims in The Things They Carried and, in general, all of his fiction about Vietnam, claiming that O’Brien feels that the realities of the Vietnam War are best explored in fictional form rather than the presentation of precise facts. O’Brien’s fluid and elliptical negotiation of truth in this context finds echoes in works labeled as ‘non-fiction novels.’
The Things They Carried was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger.
2010 is the twentieth anniversary of The Things They Carried. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin acquired the archive of Tim O’Brien in 2007. To read more about the O’Brien Archive at the Ransom Center, go to http://www.utexas.edu/opa/blogs/culturalcompass/2010/04/27/celebrating-the-twentieth-anniversary-of-the-things-they-carried/.
The Things They Carried in Binghamton University Libraries’ Special Collections is from the Professor John H. Hagen Collection and is a limited signed first edition from the Franklin Library. If you would like to look at this award winning book, come to Special Collections on the Second Floor of the Bartle Library and ask for Special Collections Hagan Collection — PS3565.B75 T48 1990b — ASK SPEC-COLL.