The Things They Carried is written as a collection of short stories that combine to make a mostly unified novel. It is a look on the Vietnam war from the perspective of a soldier and his unit.
From a literary perspective, this book is amazing. The writing is well played out. The chapters could mostly read exclusively on their own, yet they combine together to create a picture of a unit in the Vietnam war. Yet it is a fuzzy picture purposely left to make the reader wonder how much of this novel is fiction and how much was based on "facts." It is impossible to understand a war unless you were there, yet O'Brien utilizes this writing style to help the reader to understand. Even then I know it only helps to a small degree. Even with his vivid writing, the various perspective of the members of the unit, and showing Vietnam from multiple perspectives I am left knowing that I will never understand what it was like to be in Vietnam.
This novel is a work of art. I understand why it is taught in schools as both an amazing novel as well as a way to help students understand Vietnam.
One of the reasons I really love reading through lists of books is to reach outside of my normal reading patterns and pick up a book that I would have completely overlooked. This year I have been fortunate to discover a lot of amazing books and read from a variety of perspectives. There is nothing about Unbroken that would have compelled me to read it. I am not a huge fan of war stories or even history stories. I would have completely passed by this book, but I am so glad that I didn't. Unbroken is a complete biography of Louis Zamperini starting at his youth, his brief Olympic career, his time in World War II, and his transition back from the War. While the majority of the book focuses on WWII the part that I enjoyed most about the book is that it was more than a war story. It was a story about people, mostly Louis Zamperini, but also his family, his war buddies, the Japanese soldiers and civilians, and his wife. Reading this book I felt like I was transported to a whole different world. Most of the time the world was extremely unpleasant, yet despite that you persevered right along with Louis and the other prisoners of war.
Louis Zamperini was the trouble maker kid, the town juvenile delinquent. With the help of his older brother, he tamed that spirit to become an Olympic runner. If his life had led down a different path he would probably be known as an Olympic gold medalist. Instead, he is known as the man who's Olympic story ended in war. Yet he used his spirit to survive what was unsurvivable to so many. Then, after the war when he could have been broken again, he started to thrive and to make a better world for all the other juvenile delinquent boys who have the capacity to accomplish so much.
Laura Hillenbrand wrote in such a way that you were brought into the world. The story would continually branch off of Louis and the reader would learn about his brother, his war buddies, his captors, the friendly guard. If it was done with less skill this could have been a distraction while reading, yet the story continued to flow and the reader is left feeling more complete for having known about not just Louis, but the wide assortment of people that came into his time.
Sacks is a neuropsychologist who through his career has seen a number of interesting cases. Sacks started in his field when there was so much unknown about the brain. While there is still so much for us to learn, case studies, like those found in this book, have increased our understanding. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales is a classic of psychology literature. It is a collection of case studies that have inspired research and even featured films. Nearly every introductory psychology textbook will include information on the man who actually did mistake his wife for a hat. Although, I found most of that reading more interesting than the actual story in this book. The case studies themselves are pretty succinct. They do not give you a whole sense of the person behind them. Each patient could have an entire book written about them. Many times I was left wishing that I knew more about the individuals.
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