Fortunately, most people agree that banning (or relocation) of books is an extreme and unnecessary measure for anyone or any institution to take. Given the Mat-Su School District's (now-shelved) book ban, and since one of its subjects, Tim O'Brien's, "The Things They Carried," was unfamiliar to me, I decided to keep the Amazon staff in those massive warehouses occupied: I ordered a copy.
I first recognized O'Brien's photo on the back of the book. He's featured prominently in Ken Burns' 2017 multi-episode series on Vietnam, which I watched religiously as someone occasionally consumed by the topic. The fact that Burns would feature O'Brien automatically increased the likelihood that "The Things They Carried" would be good. Burns is an American icon, after all. He wouldn't waste his time with anything but quality.
Let's be clear: this book is mostly about O'Brien's war experiences. Or, his life before and soon after the war. But, again, the book is about war. It's not Disneyland, folks. Topics include sex, war violence, treatment of enemy KIA, drugs, and animal cruelty. Other topics include love, friendship, human decency, and compassion. But O'Brien leaves the reader unclear about what he really saw and did, and what is imagined. The book is a page-turner. Why? Because it's superior writing, genuine (even if fiction) and honest.
If young readers leave feeling that avoiding war would be wise, that alone is a good result. If they leave confused about their country and why we were in Vietnam, that's fine, also.
At bottom, I felt this: those who fought in Vietnam have fully earned the right to come home and write whatever they wish to, however they wish to. We would be wise to read it, even decades after their experiences.
No child will need psychological counseling if they read this book. Teenagers are mere years from the big stuff: military enlistment, marriage, parenting, working, and leading this great country out of its current morass. This book may just help them do those things. And, no one —no one — wants an epitaph that reads, "Herein lies a banner of books."
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