Book notes | The Things They Carried

UMRA Book Club I met via Zoom on April 15 to discuss The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, published in 1990. Our discussion moderator chose this book because it is listed in 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by bookseller, editor, author, and podcaster James Mustich. O’Brien’s book has received much critical acclaim and is recognized as an outstanding piece of Vietnam War literature. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was included in’s list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” in 2014.

The Things They Carried is a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War. It is based on the Minnesota-born author’s experiences as a soldier. Many of the characters are semi-autobiographical. O’Brien’s use of real place names and inclusion of himself as a character blurs fiction and non-fiction. As part of this effect, he dedicated the book to the fictional men of Alpha Company, contributing to the novel appearing to be a war memoir. 

Exquisite, and painful
UMRA Book Club members described the writing as “beautiful,” “amazing,” exquisite,” and “gorgeous.” Some did not realize the book was fiction, despite the title page stating, “a work of fiction.” A few participants found it too painful to read certain stories that described a lot of violence. A favorite story of several members was “On the Rainy River,” which takes place in Minnesota. O’Brien considers fleeing the draft and is given the opportunity to escape. He goes to war ashamed by his inability to face the consequences of leaving.

The book brought back memories of the Vietnam War era. Members who had been at the University of Minnesota at the time remember protests and the National Guard and tear gas. Several participants knew young men who were killed in Vietnam. Others knew men who returned from Vietnam alive but were damaged in some way.

In summary, there was a lively discussion of The Things They Carried at the meeting and the consensus was that it is an excellent book.

—Diane Madlon-Kay, UMRA Book Club I member

Publication date: 
April 22, 2022
At A Glance
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

2022 Annual Meeting and Forum

Welcome back!

Campus Club, Fourth Floor
West Wing Dining Room
Coffman Memorial Union


10:45 a.m.

Check in


11:15 a.m.

Buffet lunch


Annual Meeting and Forum

Featured speaker
John Coleman, dean
College of Liberal Arts

Chicken in heirloom tomato sauce with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and seasonal vegetables. GF.
For vegetarian/vegan option, please request when making your reservation.

RSVP by May 13

Prepayment of $25 per person.

Reserve and pay online or contact Diane Young at

Cancellations and refunds will be honored until May 13. We are not able to accommodate registrations on the day of the event.

For a discount of $1 per hour in University parking facilities, use the QR code on the back of your UMRA membership card when exiting. Credit cards only.

UMRA policy requires all participants to be vaccinated. Masks are optional.

Make your reservation today!

Unable to attend in person? Please register and join UMRA’s 2022 Annual Meeting and Forum via Zoom.