Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ten books that defined the 1990s

At LitHub Emily Temple tagged the ten books that defined the 1990s, including:
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (1990)

The Things They Carried was O’Brien’s third book about Vietnam, but it’s frequently heralded as one of the best books ever written about the war. It sold “well over two million copies worldwide” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Things They Carried has lived in the bellies of American readers for more than two decades,” A. O. Scott wrote in 2013. “It sits on the narrow shelf of indispensable works by witnesses to and participants in the fighting, alongside Michael Herr’s Dispatches, Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army, and James Webb’s Fields of Fire.” As far as its enduring legacy, Scott goes on:
In 1990, when Houghton Mifflin published the book, Vietnam was still recent history, its individual and collective wounds far from healed. Just as the years between combat and publication affected O’Brien’s perception of events, so has an almost exactly equal span changed the character of the writing. The Things They Carried is now, like the war it depicts, an object of classroom study, kept relevant more by its craft than by the urgency of its subject matter. The raw, restless, anguished reckoning inscribed in its pages—the “gut hate” and comradely love that motivated the soldiers—has come to reflect conventional historical wisdom. Over time, America’s wars are written in shorthand: World War II is noble sacrifice; the Civil War, tragic fratricide; Vietnam, black humor and moral ambiguity.
I’d argue that The Things They Carried is now itself a one-volume shorthand for the Vietnam War—or the closest thing to it.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Things They Carried is among Emily Fridlund's six top books about self-deception, Janine di Giovanni's top ten books of war reportage, The American Scholar editors' eleven best sentences in literature, Simon Mawer's five top war novels, Olen Steinhauer's six favorite books, and is one of Roger “R.J.” Ellory's five favorite human dramas. Melinda L. Pash, author of In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War, says The Things They Carried changed her life.

--Marshal Zeringue