Every year WCSU, Danbury Library and the Danbury Public Schools try to get as many people as possible to read the same book at once. The program, called One Book, One Community, is intended to create a common reading experience and make us all feel good — a book club writ large. At the university, our first-year students are required to read the book, and we always bring in the author to meet face-to-face with some students and to give a public lecture.
This year, Tim O’Brien will be the featured author with his book “The Things They Carried.”
The novel, published in 1990, is a look at the lives of a handful of soldiers as they fight in Vietnam. Each of them carries mementos from home, along with the burdens of war and of American society.
I like this year’s choice for a couple of reasons. First, I really admire an author who can hump a book for 20 years. It’s every writer’s dream! Most books sell 100 copies and the authors never even get the chance to spot their work for sale in the low-cost bin at Costco. O’Brien has sold 2 million copies of “The Things They Carried.” It’s not “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but I’d take it.
I did not serve in the military but if I were a couple of years older, I would have been in the same situation as the protagonist, who was drafted when the government stopped giving college deferments. He didn’t want to go to war but couldn’t quite convince himself to run to Canada, so he ended up in Vietnam on the front line. O’Brien’s stories of fear, revenge, sadness and courage sound true, even though he swears he made up many of the details.
It’s a book of emotions and actions that seem like they could happen in any war, including Iraq and Afghanistan. A friend of mine recently told me that she was at a writing conference in the 1980s where O’Brien spoke. He had not yet published “The Things They Carried” but he was engaging, supportive and smart yet humble. Another reason I relate to the guy.
In addition to O’Brien’s lecture, other One Book activities include a luncheon of Vietnamese food to which everyone is invited here on the university’s midtown campus, book discussions at many venues, showings of three war films, and an essay contest.
I’ve always thought I would like to join a book club, but didn’t want to commit to monthly meetings and having to discuss it out loud in a group, for fear of sounding stupid. With One Book, One Community, you get the benefits of a book club — a good read, intellectual stimulation, a figurative group hug — and you will never have to give your opinion if you choose not to. It’s a perfect way to spend the fall. And if you don’t have “The Things They Carried” on a shelf in your basement, Danbury Library has 100 copies to loan.
For more information about One Book, One Community and all the events, go to www.onebookdanbury.org.
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