February 16, 2011
Beginning March 11, Tim O’Brien, a famous creative writer and novelist, will start a tour sponsored by the Pioneer Library System.
This tour involves O’Brien traveling to various locations throughout the state of Oklahoma where he will be reading from his novel “The Things They Carried,” sign copies of the novel and discuss his novel.
O’Brien will make his stop at Oklahoma Baptist University April 27th.
While here, O’Brien will speak in the Geiger Center at 7 p.m. followed by a question-and-answer session; he will also sign copies of his book.
“He’ll read from the novel and then there will be a question and answer,” Dr. William Hagen, professor of English said.
“In fact, we’ve managed to have it [O’Brien’s novel] scheduled for the day that we’re going to actually teach it. It is a good tie in.”
Hagen is the person responsible for bringing O’Brien to campus.
Hagen has written several articles on O’Brien including his personal career, the novel “The Things They Carried” and many of the discussion questions that will be used for this program.
“[The] whole reason I was able to get the library system to have him come to campus,” Hagen said, “was because we read it in Civ. and I was able to say over 200 students at a given point are actually reading this novel. So there would be a lot of interest on campus and we can guarantee a good sized audience. It will be open to the community, but I expect most of the people there will probably be students.”
This tour put on by Pioneer Library Systems is called “Big Read” and has been done nationally for many years.
The tour began in Chicago and was designed to engage the entire community in reading and discussing one particular piece of literature.
The National Humanities Council sponsors the “Big Read.”
Hagen said that this program has done other books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Bless Me Ultima” and “Maltese Falcon.” “Maltese Falcon” was done last year and Hagen was one of the academics that led discussions in various places across the state.
During the time of the program, the libraries in the various communities will make whichever novel is chosen readily available to be checked out and read by the community.
“And then the libraries are urged to have reading group discussions of the focal novel,” Hagen said.
No specific target audience exists for this program, but the libraries of the Pioneer Library System encourage it for all ages.
“The whole point of the “Big Read” is to get a whole community reading one book,” Hagen said.
“And the notion was that you help bind communities together by making a very available book to check out and so forth, and then reading it and having discussions. That’s the whole point of the “Big Read” is to spread reading out there.”
OBU’s Civ program has been used for the past two years.
“We do tend to change books around for the last part of the spring Civ more or less in response to what books emerge or are important,” Hagen said.
Hagen said this particular work of O’Brien’s, “The Things They Carry” has special significance because it is more than a war memoir; it is a fictional story that engages the reader in what happens in the soldier’s mind during the Vietnam War.
“It embodies a lot of the techniques and perspectives that you associate with post modern literature,” he said,” particularly when he works in dreams and imaginary sequences that are built upon the Vietnam experiences. We chose it as a representative of a certain kind of fiction as well as a book focused on Vietnam.”
Hagen said that two major attributes of O’Brien’s writing make it special and worthy of study.
The first is attention to detail and imagery.
“I think the power of his writing comes first of all,” Hagen said, “the very careful attention to realistic description so that you can actually see scenes and see details. But he’s also about the impact, particularly in war, of what happens on the individual.”
The second is O’Brien’s ability to use real-life events and fiction to create a captivating story.
“I think there’s real power because it is grounded in reality, some of these things really happen,” Hagen said “but at the same time, you understand why he moves into fantasy at different times. And in some ways, that’s the only way you can comprehend what is going on.”
Dr. Carolyn Cole, professor of literature said “The Things They Carried” is O’Brien’s most famous work and her favorite.
“The character “Tim” in the stories is both the “real” O’Brien and a character he created,” Cole said. “Civ. students are drawn into the horrific events of the Vietnam War through Tim’s eyes, but they also get a broader perspective on the war through the eyes of other characters.”
This novel also goes beyond just the history of the Vietnam War and delves into the other areas of study that make this novel very profound, said Cole.
“Students are moved by reading about the literal “things” the soldiers carried and the psychological and spiritual baggage as well,” she said, “both during and after the war. Our nation continues to carry the cultural wounds caused by the Vietnam War. Civ students who read the stories and take them seriously learn that fiction can teach a more profound truth than reporting only facts about wars or other historical events.”
Ultimately, Hagen said he hopes his students are engaged by what O’Brien has to say and they become more excited about what he has to offer.
“I hope they ask questions of him and learn something about Vietnam or something about his life, or learn something about the excitement of writing itself and how that can really be a fulfilling activity,” he said.