The community-wide conversation will be shifting to the Vietnam War this fall, as the group organizing The Big Read has chosen Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."
“The Big Read” will be returning to Holland this fall — and it’s bringing an author with it.
The community-wide conversation will be shifting to the Vietnam War this fall, as the group organizing The Big Read has chosen Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”
Hope College has received a $16,200 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest to continue the community-wide book club after its Holland debut last year. The organizations sponsor Big Read events across the country.
O’Brien himself will be the keynote speaker Nov. 19 during the Big Read. O’Brien’s book is a collection of stories narrated by the author that follows a platoon of soldiers in Vietnam. O’Brien served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.
“The Things They Carried,” a work of fiction originally published in 1990, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and won France’s Best Foreign Book Prize as well as the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize.
Last fall, the Holland and Hope communities read and discussed Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Discussions throughout the month of November brought up themes of race and equality, punctuated by talks given by some of Lee’s own childhood friends.
For the second Big Read, a core committee of people from Hope College and Herrick District Library sought out to find the right book.
Finding a book with an author that could speak as a part of the Big Read events was a request after last year, said Hope College assistant professor of education and Towsley Research Scholar Deb Van Duinen. With that in the back of the selection committee’s minds, they found “The Things They Carried.”
“I think I really liked some of the intergenerational aspect of it,” Van Duinen said. “We have people in our community who have lived through it and participated in it. And all these high school kids — for some of them the Vietnam War is only in history books.”
All of the area high schools will be participating in The Big Read this year — which Van Duinen is excited about — and organizers are hoping to connect with area Vietnam veterans to pair them with each high school.
“We’re hoping we can use this opportunity to support veterans in our community,” Van Duinen said.
Last year, The Big Read handed out 800 copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and engaged about 3,000 people. This year, Van Duinen is hoping to hand out even more books.
The subject matter and tone of “The Things They Carried” is more appropriate for high school students than those in younger grades — and at some schools, is already a part of their curriculum. O’Brien gives a wrenching look inside the physical and emotional baggage that young soldiers carried with them through the often bewildering war scenes of Vietnam. Sharp writing pulls readers into poignant war stories that tug at O’Brien’s memory.
“It does not shy away from tough subjects,” Van Duinen said.
Even so, organizers are looking to engage younger generations as well. There will be a children’s event with age-appropriate books that relate to the Vietnam War, Van Duinen said.
Local artist Joel Schoon-Tanis will again be working with students in local schools to create a collaborative artwork. For “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Schoon-Tanis helped students paint scenes from the book and created their own mockingbirds.
The Big Read will include 30 public and private book discussions, speakers, film screenings, a veterans panel, musical performances and high school student art during three weeks of November. The $16,200 grant pays for guest speakers, books and hiring Schoon-Tanis to work with students in schools.
Hope College and Herrick Library have donated money as well. Thanks to the grant funding, hundreds of free copies of “The Things They Carried” will again be available for the public to read. The Big Read is still working to privately raise funds to be able to include more high schools in the art project and to distribute more free books to the community.