In the 7th grade, I won an award for reading the most of all the middle schoolers in Los Angeles county. It was a contest run by the Los Angeles Clippers where you would log something like the pages, the titles and the amount time you've read for an allotted period of time. Maybe it was a month. The point is, I won. The sad part is that I didn't have to try very hard.
Back then, I probably read something like 4 hours a day, minimum. Everyone in my life knew this. It wasn't a surprise to anyone that I won because I was that crazy about absorbing words into my brain. The Clippers came to my school and I shook some of their hands, but even then I couldn't care less about basketball.
All that to say: It shouldn't have taken me 3 months to read a 233 page book. It should've taken me a day, if not a few hours. Well, I'm still not done with the book, so maybe it'll end up being four or five months. Maybe I'll never finish it.
The book was recommended to me in high school by my AP Literature teacher. "It's a great book," he said. "You'd love it." So I bought the book in high school, but I never read it. It never interested me. I only started reading it because when it came time to pick up something new, I saw it and remembered my teacher's words. But I should have let it continue to collect dust on my shelf.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a wonderfully written collection of short stories based on the author's time in the Vietnam War. Sounds like something I would inhale and then move on to the next book, but this is one of those rare reads that grabs my heart and crushes it until I put the book back down and then it just messes with my mind until I'm ready for it to hurt me again.
It really does hurt me to read this book.
O'Brien is so honest about the way he and his friends felt during the war. He tells stories about the terrible things they did or saw and then convinces you that they only seem terrible because you weren't there. If you were there, they would have been normal. You would have kept walking because what else were you supposed to do. As a human being who is obsessed with the human condition, this book is hard to swallow because it's a side of humanity that I will probably never have to face.
He talks about death and how it loomed over their heads and how his friends died and there was nothing that could have been done. He talks about mourning, but not mourning. Moving on, but not moving on. They lived in a paradox that I can't understand and it hurts to read because I know it's true.
If there is one thing about everything that affects me to no end, it's death. I can't think about it for too long because my mind sinks into a blackness that I never had the courage to explore. Death is so final and I've never been too good at endings. When I read this book, I cry and I feel angry and I want to dive in and save them.
I don't think this book wouldn't have affected me this way if I had read it in high school, or even a year ago, but now my tier-one friend is going to war. She's going to go serve her country because it's what she's always wanted to do and this book, while it may not reflect the way war is done today, it reminds me that I can't do anything to save her when shit hits the fan. All I can do is watch from a distance and pray I see her again for another round of drinks.
All of this can be wrapped up into a nice little bow that just goes to show that I should have never picked up any book in the first place because it hurts too much when they tell me the truth. Maybe I should've played basketball instead.
Part of the truth I find in these God forsaken books is that it feels so good to hurt because at least I know that there are other people that feel this way about life and at least I learned a little bit more about humanity in the process.