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Finished Reading: The Things They Carried

February 21, 2017

I read The Things They Carried for the first time 10 years ago. This is what I remember: I was a freshman in college taking school way too seriously to belie a fear I had that I couldn’t cut it academically. Consequently, I remember feeling relieved that I could understand this story of American soldiers in Vietnam on an immediate level–no linguistic decoding or daunting footnotes involved.

The book itself has a lot to say about remembering, like how it isn’t necessarily the same as occurrence (described by the author as “story truth” vs. “happening truth”). We use the senses anchored to our recollection of things as proof of its universality. We smelled it, tasted it, heard it, saw it–so it must be so. It’s almost disorienting to think, then, that our memories are just as true as they are untrue. They’re merely stories, and this book is filled with lots of little ones: some sad, some provocative, some even incredulous. The last one depicts an innocence I did not know could exist in a book set during the Vietnam War.

Even writing this now, I’m unsure if I’ve captured the book’s perspective on documentation correctly. I think that’s the point though–that right or wrong is not always the goal of retelling, and that the truth isn’t just about what happened. The book explains this concept with an insightfulness and eloquence I can’t relay and is absolutely worth a read–or in my case, two.