Summer of Tim O’Brien

by Kim on May 1, 2010 · 36 comments

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There are, I think, two schools of thought about summer reading. The first is that summer is a time for light, fluffy, beachy reads. Sunshine means pulling out your Patterson novels or Picoult melodramas, then laying back in the sun with a floppy hat and a margarita.

Other people think of summer as a time for reading projects — using time and vacation to really delve into something intense. That’s what I did last summer when I read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I didn’t always love it, but I got done and felt proud of what I’d accomplished.

I went back and forth about whether to do another summer project, and if so, what to make that project. I contemplated reading something huge again — a Long Russian Novel, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, or Atlas Shrugged, perhaps?

Someone also suggested instead of one long book, I should read all the books by a particular author. I contemplated the complete Jane Austen, or maybe all of the Brontes, but nothing really got me excited.

But then it hit me — Tim O’Brien!

I read Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried when I was in high school and loved it so much. It was part of the class that helped drastically change the way I thought about literature. I read one of his more recent novels, Tomcat in Love, a few years ago, and found his style in that comic novel just as awesome. I’ve always wanted to read more, but never made the leap to do it. The canon of Tim O’Brien is a perfect summer project, and the first idea of a summer project that I actually got excited about.

If you don’t know much about him, here’s some good stuff: Tim O’Brien is a Minnesota-born author who’s written pretty extensively about his experiences as an infantry foot soldier between 1969 and 1970. When he came home he attended grad school at Harvard, then joined the Washington Post and has worked as a journalist and fiction writer ever since.

Over the course of his career, O’Brien has written eight books, starting with his memoir. My plan is to read the books in chronological order. I calculated out the total pages, then divided it by the number of days I’ll be reading — Monday, May 17 through Monday, September 6. Here’s the approximate reading schedule for when I’ll try to finish each book:

  • Monday, May 31 – If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973)
  • Monday, June 14 – Northern Lights (1975)
  • Monday, June 28 – Going After Cacciato (1978)
  • Monday, July 12 – The Nuclear Age (1985)
  • Monday, July 26 – The Things They Carried (1990)
  • Monday, August 9 – In the Lake of the Woods (1994)
  • Monday, August 23 – Tomcat in Love (1998)
  • Monday, September 6 – July, July (2002)

If anyone is interested in joining me on this Tim O’Brien quest (for one book, two books, or the entire thing), you’re more than welcome, but I’m not planning anything huge. I just want the chance to immerse myself in something for awhile, really get to see how an author develops over time and enjoy some beautiful musings on the nature of storytelling.

Photo Credit: Cari Pontes via Flickr

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

bermudaonion (Kathy) May 1, 2010 at 9:08 am

I hope you have a great summer and good luck with your plans! My son has 3 days of classes still and then exams. He won’t have much of a break, though, because he has to go to summer school to graduate.

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm

bermudaonion: Thanks! I won’t have much of a break this summer either, other than finally being done with school. I can’t wait to see if that’s a good thing for my reading stats.

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Julia Smith May 1, 2010 at 10:57 am

I like the title of If I Die in a Combat Zone. I definitely think summer reading is a perfect time to head into the deep end.

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Julia Smith: I like that one too. It’s O’Brien’s memoir, while the others are billed as fiction, so I’ll be interested to see if there are differences.

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Lisa May 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I just loaned by dad my copy of The Things They Carried he wrote a great guest review for me (http://litandlife.blogspot.com/2010/04/things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien-guest.html) but I have yet to get to it. Maybe by the end of July I’ll finally have time. My dad liked that one so much that if he were a blogger, I think he’d love to join you!

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Lisa: Thanks for leaving that link, I haven’t looked for reviews of any of the books yet. I hope you find time though, I loved that book a lot!

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Heather May 1, 2010 at 5:49 pm

very organized approach. I haven’t even thought about summer.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Heather: I like making lists and deadlines (and buying books). That’s really how all of this started :)

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Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog May 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Oh, what a fun plan! I live on the “reading projects” side of the summer reading divide and always get excited when high school students get to meet Tim O’Brien and THE THINGS THEY CARRIED for the first time. I think I’ll join you for that one, and maybe GOING AFTER CACCIATO. And then who knows?

Awesome idea, Kim!

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Rebecca: The Things They Carried is SUCH A GOOD BOOK. I remember reading it the first time as a high schooler and just being so amazed by what literature can do and the way literature changes the way you think about the world. I’ve had Going After Cacciato on my shelf forever, I just needed this little personal push to make me read it.

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Angie (By Book or By Crook) May 2, 2010 at 4:02 am

Being from Minnesota myself I am ashamed to say I have never read this author before. He is now on my list to try.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Angie: Awesome. I’d recommend The Things They Carried as a starting point. I think that’s what he’s best known for, and it’s really a stellar(if very emotional) book.

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Jenny May 2, 2010 at 9:19 am

I read The Things We Carried in high school, and it upset me so much, I don’t think I’ll ever read Tim O’Brien again. I’m squeamish – that story about the guy called Lemon dying, and them cleaning up while singing “Lemon Tree” was too awful.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Jenny: He’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. Vietnam is a hard war to read about in any context though, just because it’s so awful. The story I remember most vividly from the first time I read it was the one with the water buffalo.

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Jenny (lil sis) May 2, 2010 at 10:47 am

I would totally read some Tim O’Brien with you. I loved The Things They Carried when I was in High school. I own it and everything :)
Plus if I get my job I will have free time to read… maybe

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Hey Little Sis! Yes, read with me!

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Vasilly May 2, 2010 at 3:55 pm

This is a great idea. I’ll join you for The Things They Carried. I’ve been wanting to read that for years now.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Vasilly: Awesome. Maybe I’ll try to turn The Things The Carried into a more formalish read along. I still want to do it in a couple of weeks, but that might be quick for some people.

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Jason May 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm

This is a great idea. I’m definitely in for ‘The Things They Carried.’ I bought a copy a while back, started reading it this year, but I never finished it. Now I have a good reason to!

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Jason: That’s great, glad you’ll be joining everyone who seems to want to read the book!

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Ozzy May 3, 2010 at 9:08 am

Hi Kim, Good to meet you last week at the J-School ethics conf. Nice blog. Lots of well-considered content. Like the Pulitzer review and FTC discussion.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Ozzy: Hi, it was nice to meet you too. If you get this comment via e-mail, stop back and leave your blog URL so I can find it. I’m always excited to meet more Madison-area bloggers.

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Todd May 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Good luck on the O’Brien reading project. I think you’ll love it. I recently read The Things They Carried and July, July. Both great works.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Todd: Thanks! I’m really looking forward to it. I think there will be a lot to think about by reading an author all at the same time. Sort of like English class in college, but on my terms :)

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Serena May 5, 2010 at 8:28 am

I really hope that you enjoy those books. I’ll be reading Tim O’Brien this summer because I’m reading books for the 2010 Vietnam War reading challenge. I hope you’ll consider joining us since you’ll be reading O’Brien anyway!

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Serena: Thanks for reminding me about your challenge. I should add a few more Vietnam books to my list and join up with it.

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Clover May 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

It sounds like a great idea! I recently picked up The Things They Carried. I read the first few stories but then had to put it down because it was all a bit much, but I’ll definitely carry on with it, and more than likely this summer. After that, we’ll see. But I’m becoming more and more interested in reading about the Vietnam war. I don’t know why it took me so long to reach that conclusion, seeing as how I’ve heard about it so often from my dad. Anyway.

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Kim May 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Clover: They are difficult to read; that’s one thing I didn’t really consider when deciding to do this. By the end it might all be a bit much. I hope not though.

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Lu May 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I’m going to need this in my life right now. You know how I feel about Tim O’Brien (if not! I LOOOOOOVE HIM). I might not make it in time for the first read, but I will join in at some point.

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Kim May 9, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Lu: Yes, I do know. I <3 Tim O’Brien (major all caps love!). I’m excited you’ll be reading a little bit too!

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Sarah Vig May 10, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Good author pick! I recently finished “July, July” over a few days of heavy bus-riding and renewed my appreciation for O’Brien’s skill as an author. I unfortunately gave my copy of “The Things They Carried” to a skeezy ex, but it definitely changed my perspectives on the role of literature in processing cultural experience and the line between history and fiction and their respective roles in common narratives as well. I’ll join this reading party if I can!

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Kim May 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Hey Sarah! So many smart comments :) I hope my analytical brain gets working again for this because Tim O’Brien is the kind of author I want to spend time thinking about. I hope you’ll join!

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Jenny (aka. sister) May 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Are you on track? I am going to try and read first on but for sure will read second with you. Just checkd it out at library!

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