Archive for February 17, 2008

Literature 110- week 4- assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 17, 2008 by muerta

This was a difficult assignment for me, for I have read Tim O’Brien and John Updike in the past. I remember in high school, Mr. Colville- my junior level English instructor, reading the story of “A&P.” Tim O’Brien arrived to me under several titles, but mostly I remember “Tomcat in Love.” My ex-husband recommended it to me, and I found it a most satisfying read.


But O’Brien’s story “The Things that They Carry” settled in my heart. His use of precise wording deep within a jungle setting made me feel the sweat of each load that the soldier’s carried. The rule in Alaska (when I lived there) was that every person should be able to carry on their back half their weight; here in Connecticut, parents complain if students are asked to carry their homework, and backpacks are designed to relieve back and shoulder stresses. My ex-husband carried up to 200 pounds on his back as he rescued unprepared mountain climbers from the high altitude peaks of the Brooks, Alaska, Delta, and Wrangell mountain ranges. Back problems were never the issue.


Tim O’Brien allows us to experience the Vietnam War on several different levels: the psychological, the spiritual, and the physical. These soldiers carrying their backpacks loaded with guns and rations, carrying their support systems of dope or a New Testament, or their minds wandering into places that they would rather be than tromping through the disease-infested, bug-bitten, humid terrain of the jungles of Vietnam. “War is Hell” as the expression goes, but O’Brien ensures us that the reader will not only experience the foxholes and the jokes, but also of death. Everyone reacts to death differently, and we are allowed to experience as these men traipse through the jungle, the thoughts and feelings of each one of them.


In particular, Kiowa was important to the story. He not only represented the division of the spiritual world vs. the physical, but he brought with him several elements of his past that made him the soldier he was for the story. Curdled up with his New Testament yet carrying a hunting hatchet and his moccasins, Kiowa was drafted into a war across an ocean into a country of a people fighting a war similar to his own ancestry. His understated comments of “boom-down” lead to a joke of “zapped while zipping,” only proving that in times of stress, it is humor that helps survival. However, Kiowa was faced with more than just survival. Stuck between the past and the present, and the immediate present, he had to somehow reconcile the death of his comrade into his scheme of the cosmos. “Boom-down” was his solution, while the leader of the troop, Jimmy Cross chose to destroy everything intimate to me and become anesthetized to the pain of losing someone under his command.


Today, we face a war with similar controversy, and yet, as Tim O’Brien writes, I am sure that the soldiers of today carry similar burdens that the soldiers of Vietnam. Loaded with equipment and necessities, there are still ghosts and memories that follow us wherever we travel, and when faced with death, we can either rise up as a zombie like Lee Strunk, or we can give up and burn our past/future like Lt. Jimmy Cross and merely live in the present.


Judy Blume and Sex.

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on February 17, 2008 by Lisa

In the past week I’ve finished two books that are similar enough that I’m going to review them together. Both of books of essays, written by women, about being women. Both are about growing up, although different aspects of growing up.

The first one I finished (but the second one I started) was Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume. 24 essays by various authors on what they learned from Judy Blume’s book and how those lessons helped them to feel normal during adolescence.  Authors include Meg Cabot, Megan Crane, Julie Kenner, Beth Kendrick, Cara Lockwood and Alison Pace. It seems every young girl read Judy Blume at some point and I know I did too. I was really looking forward to discovering that my favorite authors had the same junior high experiences that I did, but quickly discovered that I don’t really remember Judy Blume all that well. My clearest memory is from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret– “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”  Nevertheless, this was a fun little book about junior high and high school- if such a thing exists.

The second book of essays was Sex and Sensibility: 28 True Romances from the Lives of Single Women.  I’ve never really been single so this seemed like it would be a fun look at how the other half lived. The single half, that is. I started this one months and months ago, but because of it’s location in my home, I only read it a few pages at a time. Most of the essays were pretty entertaining, if completely different from anything in my experience.  Authors on this one included Jennifer Weiner, Laurie Notaro (this one nearly killed the whole thing for me, Notaro really annoys me), Pam Houston, and Lily Burana. I was a bit surprised at the amount of honesty some well-know authors were willing to put out there- the essays are about sex, after all.

I have a lot more books of essays in my TBR pile.  Essays are great for the pregnant-mother-of-a-toddler attention span.  I have Perfectly Plum, Toddler, Cracks in my Foundation, and quite a few of those annual Best Of essay books.  Of course, I also have a ton of everything else in there as well. I better get reading!