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Library column: Community Read

There have been a few books that I've read in my life that have sent me to the copy machine or a note pad to record passages that really spoke to me - passages that I don't want to forget.

One of the first was from John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. This was required reading followed by a long paper in my sophomore college humanities class.

"In the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."

The Color Purple by Alice Walker gave me a similar experience. Now I can add another title to that list - The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

This book by Minnesota native, Tim O'Brien, was chosen for the second Alexandria Area Community Read. The book was published in 1990 and is a collection of related stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. The title page states that it is a work of fiction, but for me, the story blurred from fiction to non-fiction.

O'Brien was drafted into the Army in 1968 and served for 13 months as a foot soldier in Vietnam. He was wounded twice and spent the last few months of his tour assigned to jobs in the rear.

The time he spent in Vietnam was during the time I graduated from high school and began college. While reading the book I was flooded with memories of protests, fierce discussions with my dad about the war, seeing fellow classmates off to basic training, and hearing the news that an acquaintance was killed in action.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

"Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever."

"Once a month we'd get hit with mortar fire - but you could also die in the bleachers at Met Stadium in Minneapolis, bases loaded, Harmon Killebrew coming to the plate."

"Being dead is like being inside a book that nobody's reading...An old one. It's up on a library shelf, so you're safe and everything, but the book hasn't been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody'll pick it up and start reading."

If you're as anxious to discuss this book with other readers as I am, plan on attending the book discussions that will be held on February 16 at 6:30 a.m. at the Douglas County Library or February 22 at 2:45 p.m. at the Jefferson High School Media Center.

Copies of The Things They Carried are available for free at the Friends of the Library Bookstore.