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“The sense of uncertainty must be very similar — the soldiers’ hearts in Iraq must be similar to the soldiers’ hearts in Vietnam.”

~ Tim O'Brien, 2005 to an audience in Valparaiso, Indiana

  Literary Events Featuring O'Brien

Please with where to call for information if Tim O'Brien will be doing a reading, workshop, or book signing in your area. Details of upcoming events will be posted here and sent to the OVER 1,000 mailing list subscribers.

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Periodic information on appearances
and publication
Short descriptions of each book.
Miscellaneous Works and Audio Treats

All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, 
and all the people who forgot it should remember it. 
~Michael Herr, 1989

Note to students:  Page down to see information on specific books by O'Brien, such as The Things They Carried.  I have included short excerpts from articles to help you judge how advanced they are - so if you don't understand something you see, just keep paging down until you see something for your grade level.  Some sources here may be too complex for a high school student reading O'Brien for the first time, but there are papers here that will help all levels.  

When researching O'Brien, the most important source, other than his books, are the interviews.  Some really important interviews are available on-line, such as the Artful Dodge Interview.  Here is an explanation of magical realism, and here is a first paragraph that will help you understand metafiction.  These terms often come up in reference to O'Brien's writing.  Here is a good guide to using library and Internet resources.

Trust your own instincts.  O'Brien is just telling stories and if you listen, you will understand.

Plagiarists Beware!

Be sure to cite your sources, your teachers may be familiar with these papers too.  Every year I hear from educators who have had to give failing grades to students who copied from the sources listed here without giving proper credit to the source.  

If you can find the term paper online, your teacher has probably read it too!  And lots of profs now use www.TurnItIn.com to check on work that is not in your voice.  The way you write is personal.  You put some of yourself in how you style your sentences.  So if it is not your work, it raises suspicions because it does not sound like you, not because your teacher thinks it is better than you can do.  Invest the extra hours and do the work yourself rather than risk the shame of being caught stealing someone else's work.

BulletTim O'Brien & Vietnam Timeline by Michelle Battaglia


I am looking for someone to do a proper bibliography for this website.  In another words I need a grad student who wants to do an O'Brien project to put a more comprehensive, MLA citation style bibliography online.  You do the legwork and I will post it here and give you credit.  The bibliography will be available in pdf and HTML.  Please if you have any interest.

Bulletin of Bibliography: "Tim O'Brien: A Checklist," 48 (March l991): 6-ll

BulletBulletin of Bibliography: "Tim O'Brien (l946- ): A Primary and Secondary Bibliography," 50 (September l993): 223-29.

Bullet36 pages of O'Brien's work by Koki Nomura (in pdf my friends)

BulletHere is my short supplementary bibliography primarily of articles in various databases. 

BulletTim O'Brien and Annotated Vietnam War Bibliography by Michelle Battaglia

BulletSelected Bibliography by Dana Cairns Watson

BulletSelected Bibliography by Paul Reuben

BulletBibliography with links to databases which college students may have access to.

BulletAnonymous Student

Interviews (Audio)

Bullet Interview from The New York Times.  (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.    It is short and well worth the effort.), 1990

''Well, yes, I dedicated the book to my characters,'' Mr. O'Brien said. ''After all, I lived with them for five years while I was writing. In Vietnam people were being rotated constantly, so men you served with you would know six or eight months. These characters are the people I know best.''

BulletArtful Dodge Interview with Tim O'Brien by Debra Shostak, 1991

"I think it soaked in the way my father's alcoholism soaked into my life. I'd never written much about it directly. But it soaked in and was distilled, transmuted. I could say the same things about the other writers."

Bullet Brian McNerney's excellent 1994 interview with Tim O'Brien:
"Responsibly Inventing History" order for $5.00 from:

War, Literature, & the Arts,
Vol. 6, #2, Fall/Winter 1994.
Donald Anderson, Editor
Department of English
2354 Fairchild Drive, Suite 6D45
U.S. Air Force Academy, CO 80840-6242

BulletTim O'Brien on Love, Murder and Vietnam by Dave Edelman, 1994

"It makes me angry that only one person was convicted for My Lai, and that was Lieutenant Calley," says O'Brien. "Soldiers who testified that they killed twenty people were never prosecuted. What really bugs me is that of the 150 or so people who were there, the American public only remembers Calley's name. But what about the rest of them? Those people are still all around us. What are they telling their wives and children? Are they guarding their secrets, too?"

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Profile for Ploughshares by Don Lee

"Today, O’Brien has no regrets about publishing the article [The Vietnam in Me]. He considers it one of the best things he has ever written. “I reread it maybe once every two months,” he says, “just to remind myself what writing’s for. I don’t mean catharsis. I mean communication. It was a hard thing to do. It saved my life .  .  . "

BulletIn the Name of Love An Interview with Tim O'Brien by Scott Sawyer for Mars Hill, 1996

"In a way, I think, good stories have to be direct. A fairy tale is always direct. There's the wolf sleeping in the bed in "Little Red Riding Hood." Hansel and Gretel get dumped in the forest and have to find their way out."

BulletJohn LaVelle's "Tim O'Brien: Pain, Love, & Growth", 1996

Saturday morning the super author was at the Davenport Public Library to speak to a group that was gathered to hear about the role of fiction in story telling. He was becoming hoarse from all of his presentations, but he was game and willing to entertain and enlighten the people that were there.

Bullet Interview from The New York Times.  (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.    It is short and well worth the effort.), 1998

"I'm a happy person now," he said, sounding a little surprised himself, then backtracking a bit. "Getting there. Maybe the world isn't the horrid place it seemed to me four years ago."

BulletInterview With Tim O'Brien--From Life to Fiction by Karen Rosica, 1998 (?)

"I think novels, by and large—I mean not one hundred percent, but by and large—come out of a sense of outrage at something. A good novel is not made out of complacency and out of everything being happy and snug and all the children are home in their beds and all of the daddies are well-behaved and all of the mommies are dusting the furniture. Books aren’t made out of that kind of stuff."

Bullet Bold Type talks to O'Brien about his "Tomcat." 1998 

My real fans will love the book. There are so-called fans who are basically Vietnam junkies, but the people who appreciate the writing will like this. I think this is my best book and I hope they feel that way, too.

BulletBook Reporter Interview, 1998

"But I must confess that I am super-duper proud of the imperious, sexist, oblivious, pompous, charming, disgusting, politically incorrect voice that drives Tomcat In Love."

BulletIn Person Tim O'Brien at Book People by Tom Grimes, 1998

"I asked Tim O'Brien how the novel marks a new direction in his life and his work, as well as how his potential new digs five feet from the golf course might get his game down into the low 70s: "I've always wanted to really spend some time and get serious about golf, to see how good I could get. Before I start to creak."

BulletGadfly Interview by James Lindbloom

[on truth and memory] "One could argue, as Plato does, that truth is something abstract, just floating out there. Whether we remember a thing, imagine it, or know anything about it, is irrelevant; it's just out there. There are others who would argue — as I guess I do; I'm not much of a Platonist in that sense — that the human being shapes and determines what we call truth. Truth is ultimately a statement. It's an issue of language."

Bullet"Writing Vietnam" Address at Brown University (transcript & audio), 1999

"Number one: writing never gets easier, it gets harder. You can't repeat yourself."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Author Tim O'Brien both reads from and discusses his writing at Cornell by Franklin Crawford, 1999

"What I do for a living is try to make decent sentences, caring about commas and caring about the difference between a proper and a regular noun," he said. "What I think about on a daily basis is language, trying to put sentences down that I can live with. As writers, all we have [is] language and nothing else. We've got these 26 letters of the alphabet and some punctuation marks -- that's it. And out of those 26 letters you can make Ulysses or you can make 'Cosmo.' "

BulletAuthor Tim O’Brien on Things by Leslie Flint, 2000

"I work like a dog. So many successful writers don’t. They rely solely on linguistic gift."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Old Dominion Student Newspaper by Brenda Carroll, 2000

"I subsequently wrote a novel," he said, "and I told you half the first chapter tonight ["Tomcat in Love"]. What inspired [that story] was [everyone's] integral dictionary and the power of writing. It's not just childhood, it's not just events that make a writer, it's also the power of language."

BulletTim O'Brien Shares Writings and Experiences at Davidson by Bill Giduz, 2001

"As a story teller and as a person who trusts story, I think a good story addresses not just the head, but the whole human body: the tear ducts, the scalp, the back of your neck and spine, even the stomach."  [Photos too!]

BulletO'Brien about September 11 by Dinitia Smith, 2001

'Before last week's attack, he said, God appeared in his novel as a minor character, as "an angel, as a voice." After last week he decided to give God a whole chapter.

"God only knows if it will appear in the book," he added.'

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)O'Brien ruminates on war, writing by DAVID W. McKENNA for Macalaster, 2002

(not an interview, an article on a lecture/reading) "He received a letter from a woman addressed to the "real" Tim O'Brien. She wrote to O'Brien saying that she had met and fallen in love with a man who had attempted to pass off O'Brien's works as his own. O'Brien used this as the basis for one of July, July's main characters."

BulletInterview for ReadersRead, 2002

"I got a call one day from the fiction editor at Esquire, Rust Hills, who asked if I'd like to write a very short story, one that would fit on a single printed page. I took him up on the offer and produced a piece that now stands as one of the important reunion chapters in July, July."

Bullet"The 'What If' Game" in Atlantic, 2002

"Well, I had a desire to write from the time I was a little kid and then something collided with that desire—namely Vietnam—and I had to write about it. It moved from desire to imperative. I couldn't not write."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Tim O'Brien Explains Why He Is Not A "Vietnam War Novelist" to Marc Leepson, 2002

"I don't have great expectations," O'Brien said, "but I live with the hope that things will be a little bit better today, and that tomorrow may be a little bit better than today. We can't live without [that hope]. Without the belief that tomorrow can be better than today, we might as well not go on living."

The Class of 1969: Tim O'Brien's Baby-Boomer Novel Will Appeal to All Generations by Trudy Wyss for Borders, 2002

[speaking of the revolution of the sixties] "But as time goes on, I realize that none of us were aware of the incredible forces that are underneath the politics of our country. Politically it seems the country has reverted back to the conservative era of my boyhood."

BulletO'Brien, where art thou? by Hillary Schroeder for the Stanford Daily Cardinal, 2002

"The way I look at it is that anything is fair game. I mean, if you're an artist you can't not write about a subject for fear of exploiting it. There's a danger, I suppose, of exploitation, but you've got to take the risk and say I'm going to write a book that means something to me and might mean something to other people."

BulletO'Brien Reveals All for Robert Birnbaum & IdentityTheory, 2002

"That’s how I spend my days for four years in a row. I’m just sitting here in my underwear trying to write a book."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)After Macalester - an interview for the alumni page of the Macalester website, 2002

"My dream from the time I was a little boy was to be a writer. It was a secret dream. I don't know if anybody knew . . . But I kept it secret. It seemed like such an impossible dream, for a smalltown Minnesota kid to be a writer. Writers only come from New York or Philadelphia or L.A. So I didn't pursue it. I took a lot of English classes but I didn't major in English. I kept my real heart secret, because it felt embarrassing, like dreaming an impossible dream kind of feeling. You don't want to be looked at as an idiot."

BulletThe Things He Carries by Julia Hanna for The Kennedy School Bulletin of Harvard, 2003

“I revise and revise until I think a page is clean and good, then after 30 or 40 pages I’ll go back and re-revise, because things change as you go forward. Revision is 99 percent of what I do during the day,” he says.' [Editor's note: O'Brien gets personal]

BulletTen Questions with Tim O’Brien by Patrick Hunt for the University of Dayton, 2003

[on comparing the Vietnam War to the Iraq War]  "The Iraq thing has the feel of a potential quagmire where we just get deeper and deeper and deeper involved, and when that happens it’s harder and harder and harder to get out. There’s also the similarity with the difficulty in finding the enemy. In Vietnam, we couldn’t find the V.C., they were blended in with the population, and we’re having the same problem in Iraq . . ."

Tim O'Brien discusses "The Things They Carried" in Richmond for GO READ, 2003

"So they aren't so damned ignorant, that's one reason (laughs). To make them better human beings, to experience things outside themselves, just for the beauty of language. There's a lot more reasons to read than not to read."

Kasey Kowars Interviews Tim, July 2004 (audio)

 " . . . so far it is an interesting interview because you are asking questions that no one has ever asked me before . . ."

In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there’s nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe “Oh.”

True war stories do not generalize. They do not indulge in abstraction or analysis.

For example: War is hell. As a moral declaration the old truism seems perfectly true, and yet because it abstracts, because it generalizes, I can’t believe it with my stomach. Nothing turns inside.

It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.

— “How to Tell a True War Story,”
from The Things They Carried


Critical Discussions of his Work
(Articles relating to specific works are listed under the book title.)

Bullet My paper on "O'Brien's Use of Repetition for Effect."

In "Going After Cacciato," the book begins with a list of the dead soldiers in the platoon, (1) and the protagonist Paul Berlin works on the order of this list throughout the novel,

"He tried again to order the known facts. Billy boy was first. And then . . . then who?" (185)

The order may change but Paul Berlin never forgets that Billy Boy was killed first.

Bullet Plausibility of Denial: Tim O'Brien, My Lai, and America by H. Bruce Franklin

When the men in the White House and the Pentagon decided to send Americans to fight in Vietnam, they probably never gave a thought to the literature that veterans might write.

"Trap-doors and Tunnels in the novels of Tim O'Brien, all roads lead back to the Vietnam War" by Richard von Busack

"When writing a novel, I usually just use my imagination. In this case, I did a substantial amount of reading, on the lives of politicians and their wives, and on My Lai itself."

Bullet "Tim O'Brien: An Introduction to His Writing" by Ken Lopez

"Tim O'Brien is of the generation of writers who came of age during the Vietnam War era and his writing has focused on that turbulent period in American history with compassion and insight."

BulletTim O'Brien & Anti-War Writing by Mike Kelley and others

"I doubt Tim or any other author who draws upon their Vietnam experience really writes in the hope of stopping wars."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Critical analysis of Tim O'Brien's works by Willis

"O’Brien uses much of Hemmingway’s style in his work- despair, rhythmic repetition of key words and phrases; the hard, discipline control of idea and emotion in sentences and paragraphs that are models of the stoic understatement; the darkly ironic gestures; and the classical imperatives of courage and cowardliness, transgression and expiation, of Hemmingway’s best stories and novels"


"One unique aspect of Tim O'Brien's stories is that he believes the truth in storytelling is better than actual truth. Although his stories are considered fiction there are some aspects of reality in each and every one. O'Brien does not fill his stories with mundane facts but instead uses language so vivid he makes a believer out of his readers."

BulletEverything is wrong by Michael Tortorello

"Yet Berlin, like O'Brien, feels bound by the responsibilities he has chosen, if only by default. He lists his obligations "to my family, my friends, my town, my country"--the same litany that delivered the author into Vietnam."

BulletWar and War: Love in the Postmodern War Fiction of Tim O'Brien by Minka Paraskevova

'Tim O’Brien  uses interesting un-short- story-like structures for his "tales": thus he starts "To Tell a True War Story" several times over again and presents each time a different lay-out of the facts. But in the center of the text he tells another story which is told by a character - Sanders, revealed as the "wise guy", who provides the "moral". All the while we listen to the author, who is protesting that "nobody listened". '

If I Die in a Combat Zone - [buy the book]
  (description) (excerpt) (bookclub guide)

Bullet New York Times (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.)

". . . a beautiful, painful book, arousing pity and fear for the daily realities of a modern disaster."

BulletStudy Guide for a Book Club

Discussion questions

BulletReview by Erick Lundegaard

"If I Die in a Combat Zone is a nice little book." (Editorial comment: Maybe it's not the same book . . .)

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)The Playbill

"In the end, If I Die is that rare thing in theater: a long play that doesn't drag or whither."  [Editor's note: Click on the links at the top of the page for articles and reviews about this well received production.]



Going After Cacciato - [buy the book]
(description) (excerpt) (bookclub guide)

Bullet New York Times (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.)

". . . combines a surface of realistic war reportage as fine as any in Michael Herr's recent 'Dispatches' with a deeper feel . . . of the surrealistic effect war has on the daydreams and nightmares of the combatants. To call 'Going After Cacciato' a novel about war is like calling 'Moby Dick' a novel about whales."

BulletWar Is War by Greg Wittel

"As O'Brien's third novel, Going After Cacciato is one of his most acclaimed works. The book brings to the reader many chilling aspects of war while developing a connection between the reader and the narrator."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Moral Questions in Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato: How to do Right in an Evil Situation by Jonathan Chisdes

"Going After Cacciato, by Tim O'Brien, is a book that presents many problems in understanding. Simply trying to figure out what is real and what is fantasy and where they combine can be quite a strain on the reader. Yet even more clouded and ambiguous are the larger moral questions raised in this book."

Tim O'Brien: Going after Cacciato (a Dutch student's book report) by Rolf Donders

Besides the use of imagination to reach your goals, this book brings up this big moral question: -How to do right in an evil situation: When you're in a war you're faced with a lot of atrocities and you'd probably wish you were somewhere else.

BulletReview (polemical but quotes liberally)

"And now, this genre of literature is taught as gospel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Tim O'Brien's anti-Vietnam War novels. They are required reading in the Academy's English Literature course. Indeed, the counter-culture revolution, fueled by the Frankfurt School intellectuals and carried out by their 'foot soldiers' in the Boomer generation, has reached our premier military academies. Indeed, the Barbarians are inside the gates."

BulletBook Report 

"Lieutenant Corson: Respected and loved by all soldiers, this lieutenant earns their respect for his sense of justice- He believes in his missions, but isn't afraid to bend the rules. Lieutenant Corson is a flat character."  [Editorial note:  there are a lot of flat characters, but Paul Berlin is round.  Now I KNOW Cacciato is round; you have only to look at him!]

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Planet Papers Essay

"It is generally recognized that Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (1978) is most likely the best novel of the Vietnam war, albeit an unusual one in that it innovatively combines the experiential realism of war with surrealism, primarily through the overactive imagination of the protagonist, Spec Four Paul Berlin." [Editorial note: Don't say you weren't warned.]

Northern Lights - [buy the book]
(description) (excerpt)  (bookclub guide)   


The Nuclear Age - [buy the book]

Bullet New York Times (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.)

"I wish the novel could have been either more surreal or less. It falls into an untranscending middle which muffles the important cry of 'Doom, doom.'"


The Things They Carried - [buy the book] (description) [cliff notes]

O'Brien on Cliff notes:
It just seems that people should think for themselves, not let somebody else think for them. . . . The second thing is that those books are so analytical and abstract. A novel is more visceral—it's not just an analysis of character or plot and theme and all that. It's the sound to the book and the sound to the language. So I'm not too hot about them, but they do it whether you like it or not.

index! - what a beautiful job and a useful gift to scholars and students from the 2001-2002 Advanced Placement Literature class at Carmel High School in Mundelein, Il


In an interview in 1991, O’Brien disclosed, "Ninety percent or more of the material is invented, and I invented ninety percent of a new Tim O’Brien, maybe even more than that."

BulletWhat Did They Really Carry? by Matthew Smith of Mr. Kramer's AP English, 2006

Bullet Vietnam recollections relive the war's surreal horror by Mark Webster of MIT, 1990

'In a stunning follow-up called "Notes," the author's character persona turns the story into an anguished confession. And in the final story, "The Lives of the Dead," a nine-year-old O'Brien learns the power of imagination in bringing a dead friend to life. '  [Editor's Note - this was the first paper I found on-line about O'Brien & for a long time it was the only one.  So thanks Mark & MIT!]

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Research papers, excerpts and other extras.  

A nice effort for and by students and a former "Tim O'Brien New Site of the Month"

Bullet New York Times (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.)

". . . captures the war's pulsating rhythms and nerve-racking dangers. . . . high up on the list of best fiction about any war."

BulletTim O'Brien and the Art of the True War Story: "Night March" and "Speaking of Courage". by John H. Timmerman

'For example, The Things They Carried first introduces a young Vietnamese soldier in "Spin," and then, nine chapters later, in "The Man I Killed," the narrator details killing this soldier and creates a short hypothetical biography for him--a "past" used to escape the reality of his death. The next chapter, "Ambush," suggests that perhaps the man is not really dead after all.'

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)The Myth-Shattering Courage of Tim O'Brien by Jon Matney

"Even as we are influenced by ancient myths such as The Iliad, where war is extolled and the valorous warrior praised, modern novels such as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (TTTC) challenge those very notions."

BulletA Soldier's Sweetheart  [buy video]  (review)  

"Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" made for TV movie broadcast on Showtime.  I didn't care for it.  The ending is a mess.

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)The Things They Carried by Jason Voegele 

In his story "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien describes a group of soldiers marching through Vietnam. He does this by describing the items that each of them carries with him during the march.

How to tell a true war story': Metafiction in 'The Things They Carried by Catherine Calloway

The tales included in O'Brien's twenty-two chapters range from several lines to many pages and demonstrate well the impossibility of knowing the reality of the war in absolute terms.

BulletTim O'Brien and American National Identity: A Vietnam Veteran's Imagined Self in The Things They Carried by Lynn Wharton

In this paper I shall be examining Tim O'Brien's treatment of both the national and the personal American self in his collection of Vietnam War stories The Things They Carried. I will look at some of the ways in which O'Brien renders frail that veneer of authenticity traditionally associated with autobiographical first-person fiction.

BulletThe Truth in Things: Personal Trauma As Historical Amnesia in The Things They Carried by Jim Neilson

O'Brien has been successful at conveying these vital truths about the war, many critics argue, because of his use of a postmodern aesthetic. By "postmodernism" I mean what Jean-Francois Lyotard identifies as "that severe reexamination . . . on the thought of the Enlightenment, on the idea of a unitary end of history and of a subject" (73).

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)Metafiction and O'Brien's The Things They Carried by Michele Friedlander

O'Brien's character makes several comments on storytelling in certain sections of the novel, such as "How to Tell a True War Story." Through making these comments, the narrator is not only justifying the intent of The Things They Carried,but he is also providing clues to the content, structure, and interpretation of the novel.

BulletTim O'Brien discusses "The Things They Carried" in Richmond for GO READ.

"The title is meant to refer to all of us…not just the soldiers. [It's about] the spiritual, the emotional, and the psychological baggage we all carry …You sort of accumulate more and more of these spiritual burdens the longer you live and they help define who we are, what our yearnings are, what makes us happy and what doesn't. [The title's] meant to go beyond the war to the human race in general."

Tim O'Brien's-The Things They Carried Eating Them Away from StudyWorld

" . . .the Vietnam  conflict has proved to be one that many of the participants have not  been able move away from, while getting on with their lives." [can't have it both ways!]

Crummy Essays to Buy- check these out teachers so you will know the plagarists! Students, please note that if you buy these essays, you will be caught!  Kind of makes you nervous, doesn't it?

Excerpts on the aptly named Bookrags website.  (Do not buy essays online.  Discover yourself by writing it yourself.)

from "Abducted by Vietnam (great title, bad job!) "One of the least dramatic but most common effects the war had on the soldiers in O’Brien’s book was desensitization."

  STUDY GUIDES ETC. FOR The Things They Carried


M&M's - "comic slang for medical supplies" [editor's note - the glossary is wrong, this actually means the candy, some medics carried them.  See O'Brien's comment]

Study Guide - Masconomet Regional School District

Quite good!

  • Analysis of some stories


Study Guide - Minnesota Independent School District 196
  • Creative links to Amazon for student activities


Study Guide - University of Wisconsin, River Falls

  • Discussion questions for an English class 


Student Web Projects - Tulane University

  • Short papers on topics associated with the war

Study Guide - West Virginia University Law School
  • Exercise for a class on "Lawyers and Literature


Ambush - Study guide - ClassZone
  • Talking points and some good ideas for assignments
Study Guide - Florida State University
  • Discussion questions for major stories and themes.

 25 Questions for Discussion - University of Wisconsin

  • Provoking set of questions

Living the Nightlife: Teaching The Vietnam War Through Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried by Vaughan Boone at Lee High School
  • Everything you need to teach this class to at-risk kids who don't read, don't go inside bookstores, and who are not native English speakers.  Here is a teacher who has done it and tells you how.  I would say there is some good advice here even if you teach at New Trier!


In the Lake of the Woods - [buy the book]
(description) (bookclub guide)

Bullet Missing in Contemplation by the excellent and insightful Pico Iyer for Time magazine.  (Alas you now have to pay for this article . . .)

"O'Brien's clean, incantatory prose always hovers on the edge of dream, and his specialty is that twilight zone of chimeras and fears and fantasies where nobody knows what's true and what is not. In Vietnam, of course, he locates the ultimate "spirit world," an eerie land of shadows where kids shot at phantoms, unable to tell friend from enemy, uncertain what they were fighting for."

BulletReview by Phoebe-Lou Adams for The Atlantic

"On its simplest level Mr. O'Brien's novel is about the disintegration of a marriage based on concealment."

Bullet Rage of Innocence

"O'Brien makes use of admirable technical innovations to dramatize John's story. Dissatisfied with a linear narrative's ability to capture his truth, he has invented his own fictional form."

Bullet New York Times (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.)

". . . striking new novel . . . about the moral effects of suppressing a true war story . . . a novel about the unforgivable uses of history, about what happens when you try to pretend that history no longer exists."

BulletIn The Lake of the Woods (Video not currently available.  Maybe you can catch it on the Hallmark Channel) 

Hallmark Hall of Fame movie; not bad for a movie that didn't have the guts to say "My Lai." [Tim's IMDB page]

in Love
[buy the book]
(description) (audio excerpt) (excerpt) (another excerpt) (reviews)

Compare the
first chapter  to "Faith" (Feb. 12, 1996 New Yorker)

BulletGadfly Interview with Tim O'Brien by James Lindbloom

"I think the truth is really a function of the statements we make about the world. Witness Clinton, with this whole business about the truth of what's sex and what's not sex. Witness Chippering, the character in my book, with his equivocations, hairsplittings, and so on. Ultimately, the truth of things is what we say about things; what we say about things determines the way we think about truth."

Bullet My review

"He tries to make himself call his girlfriend by her first name, but cannot. I was reminded of Macbeth; "But wherefore could not I pronounce `Amen'? I had most need of blessing, and `Amen' Stuck in my throat." There is comedy in "Tomcat in Love," but much more tragedy."


If he's not the standard grave, introspective O'Brien protagonist, his quest for a personal mythology reflects the same theme that makes O'Brien's serious novels so compelling: the power of stories to define and delude--and even to save us.

New York Times (You will need to complete a form for free registration if you have never visited the "New York Times" website.)

"But like all comic novels, ''Tomcat in Love'' is a complex affair that invites a complex response and offers a complex reward. Whatever O'Brien's motives in changing his style and direction, I, for one, hope he keeps it up. Now that the millennium is upon us, may it rain comic novels all around." - Jane Smiley


"In fact, the reader can only wonder at the disparity between the power of those earlier books by O'Brien -- distinguished by their inventive storytelling and their evocative depiction of the visceral and emotional realities of war -- and the mangled mess that is "Tomcat in Love." - Michiko Kakutani

"Review" from "The New Totalitarians"  (don't say you weren't warned!)

"This book is even a more egregious excuse for writing an anti-Vietnam War book than was O'Brien's 'Going After Cacciato.' Several favorable book reviews at the front of the book give it away. Harper's Bazaar says, "A tremendous achievement, a truly postmodern thriller..." Of course it is. It is written in the form of the modern deconstructionists who hate America, its Constitution, and its history."

Don't listen to critics for crying out loud!  Read the book and make up your own mind!

BulletWeird Tomcat Study Guide/Review

Time/era of story -
Learning secret about someone Yes
Secret: - special abilities - relationship with someone - real feelings

[Editors note:  You will find some of his other books reviewed here too.  I truly think it is a website in an alternate universe . . .]


July, July - [buy the book]

BulletO'Brien Interview by Robert Birnbaum for IdentityTheory, 2002

"That’s how I spend my days for four years in a row. I’m just sitting here in my underwear trying to write a book."

star_yellow.gif (208 bytes)O'Brien ruminates on war, writing by DAVID W. McKENNA for Macalaster, 2002

(not an interview, an article on a lecture/reading) "He received a letter from a woman addressed to the "real" Tim O'Brien. She wrote to O'Brien saying that she had met and fallen in love with a man who had attempted to pass off O'Brien's works as his own. O'Brien used this as the basis for one of July, July's main characters."

O'Brien, where art thou? by Hillary Schroeder for the Stanford Daily Cardinal

". . . when you do a book about the people of that generation it's easy to forget there were a lot of conservatives running around. If you think back on it, you think of it as all hippies and anti-war, but there were people like Dorothy too. It felt important to have at least one character in the book who represented these sort of values—ones that aren't often written about."

BulletAfter Macalester - an interview for the alumni page of the Macalester website

I wanted two absent characters who are still active in the minds of the other characters. Karen at the very end of the book is still kicking a cantaloupe in the cafeteria and Harmon is still there with her. In memory there's a timelessness that I wanted to try to capture at the end of the book where their July is going to go on forever. 1968 or '69 will be with me forever; all I have to do is close my eyes and I'm back [at Macalester], young and happy, and tomorrow looks golden.

The Class of 1969: Tim O'Brien's Baby-Boomer Novel Will Appeal to All Generations by Trudy Wyss for Borders

"Then midway into the book, I realized that my basic theme was this idea of who we were and who we've become, and so that's when the title came to me, the second July: a July back then and a July now."

Odd Internet Stuff I Don't Know How to Characterize

star_pink.gif (224 bytes)Tim O'Brien the movie critic on "Saving Private Ryan"

".  .  .  I think it's just a shitty piece of art, except for those first twenty minutes."

The Things They Carried'Richard Dreyfuss held up "The Things They Carried" in his fictional college class on "The Education of Max Bickford."

Like the book's author, Dreyfuss' character said, he had to make a decision about going to Vietnam. Whereas Tim O'Brien had gone, he had not, Max Bickford said.'

BulletUm, I don't know quite what to make of this . . . it's a lawyer's riff on "The Things We Carry."  But I bet students love his class!

What do our students carry with them into legal education? What emotional and cognitive baggage do they "hump" through the weary days of legal education?

BulletMartin Naparsteck on Tim O'Brien from "The Company of Writers"  (I enjoyed this thoughtful article that goes to something important about being a writer.  Hi Martin! -turns out we were at DePauw together - you missed a great reunion this summer. . .)

"So I asked him what M&Ms were. He looked as if I asked him if the sun comes up every morning; he must have consciously worked to keep his jaw from drooping."

Bullet Looking for first editions and other O'Brien material?  When O'Brien cleans house, he calls Ken Lopez.  It's good to shop around before you buy, so also visit  Abe Books(Don't put your first edition Tim O'Brien books in a rummage sale unless you want to make someone else's day!)

star_pink.gif (224 bytes)Reviews of websites about Tim O'Brien

Guess which one got four stars? <g>  Useful for educators

The Things They CarriedTim O'Brien, Tequila, and a Few Late Nights Telling War Stories By Sarah Hepola

Salt. Tequila. Lime. Tim O'Brien.

BulletThe band, "Shiny Around the Edges" has a TOB related CD, why do i love you and two of the songs, Impossible and As She Lay Sleeping are inspired by In the Lake of the Woods.

BulletTim O'Brien and 'Ethics' at the U.S. Naval Academy by Gerald L. Atkinson 

'And finally, it defies belief that the U.S. Naval Academy has mandated Tim O'Brien's anti-Vietnam War novels as required reading at the Academy. That's right, the same Tim O'Brien whose basic ethical principle is that it is OK to lie, especially novelists, because "Everybody lies!"'  [Editor's note:  Even cranks are represented on this website.]

Books Where You Can Learn More About Tim O'Brien

herzog.gif (8669 bytes) Herzog, Tobey C.
Tim O'Brien
(Twayne's United States Authors Series, No 691)

Published December,1997. This is the book that O'Brien scholars have been waiting for. Herzog knows O'Brien and his work and I learned quite a bit from his scholarship. 
United States United Kingdom Germany France


[hardback] [hardback] [hardback]


Heberle, Mark A. 
A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam

A critical look at each of O'Brien's books based on the author's reading of the texts and interviews with O'Brien.  It looks very readable and thorough.

United States United Kingdom Germany France
[paperback] [paperback] [paperback]

star_pink.gif (224 bytes) "Vietnam, We've All Been There" - Interviews with American Writers by Eric James Schroeder    

This excellent book of interviews is on my bookshelf.

United States United Kingdom Germany France

Bullet "Understanding Tim O'Brien," by Stephen Kaplan.  

A critique of O'Brien's work 

United States United Kingdom Germany France
[hardback] [hardback]    

Bullet"Wege aus dem Krieg" by Carsten Blatt

This book on O'Brien is IN GERMAN and is part of Peter Lang Publishing's American Culture series.

United States United Kingdom Germany France

Hear Tim O'Brien

Bullet Order a tape of O'Brien from 10/24/91 delivering a talk for the Ford Hall Forum.  

He reads excerpts from "The Things They Carried" and answers questions.  It is well worthwhile.

star_pink.gif (224 bytes)Selected Shorts A Celebration of the Short Story on National Public Radio 2000-2001 

Program 5: Week of November 3 - November 9, 2001
Tim O'Brien, "Speaking of Courage," read by Alec Baldwin
From: The Things They Carried (Broadway Books)

BulletCanadian Broadcasting Corporation radio broadcast from Jan. 15, 1995

Includes Tim O'Brien reading from In the Lake of the Woods at the University of Toronto.

BulletNPR has featured O'Brien several times (too bad they keep deleting older interviews!):


Bullet Order tapes of O'Brien from Wisconsin Public Radio:
Feb. 1995 "Moral War" [Catalog Description]  Novelist and Vietnam veteran Tim O'Brien describes his book "In the Lake of the Woods" as - on one level - a mystery. The central character participated in the My Lai massacre. Years later, he runs for public office and loses when his past comes to light. Then his wife disappears. That's the mystery. On another level, the book (and this conversation with Jim Fleming) is about the consequences of our moral choices and living with ambiguity.

For cassette copies of this hour, call 1-800-747-7444, and ask for program number 10-23-A.   NOTE: O'Brien is one of three segments on this hour long tape.
March 1996 "The Memories He Carries" [Catalog Description]  Writer Tim O'Brien has used his experiences as a Vietnam combat veteran to create three outstanding novels - ""Going After Cacciato," "The Things They Carried," and "In the Lake of the Woods." He tells Jim Fleming what it was like to return to Vietnam twenty five years later. He says that while he'll always have nightmares, he now has beautiful memories to place alongside the horrific ones.

For cassette copies of this hour, call 1-800-747-7444, and ask for program number 03-17-C.    NOTE: O'Brien is one of three segments on this hour long tape.


BulletA Soldier's Sweetheart  [buy video]  (review)   

"Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" made for TV movie broadcast on Showtime.  I didn't care for it.  The ending is a mess. [IMDB]

Bullet1999 Video by RMI Media  

O'Brien discusses his interest in morality and one of his favorite themes, the relativity of truth. He describes his highly acclaimed book, Into the Lake of the Woods, as a real mystery--one that isn't solved--and the lure of writing about what we don't know. (30 min.)

BulletIn The Lake of the Woods (Video not currently available.  Maybe you can catch it on the Hallmark Channel) 

Hallmark Hall of Fame movie; not bad for a movie that didn't have the guts to say "My Lai." [Tim's IMDB page]



From Patience Mason, author of the seminal work on PTSD, "Recovering From the War: A Woman's Guide To Helping Your Vietnam Veteran, Your Family, and Yourself:"

"I ran into Tim O'Brien in New Orleans at the "My Lai: 25 Years Later" conference and said to him, "Thank you for mentioning my book in In the Lake of the Woods.  He said very intensely, 'Thank you for writing it.'  It was a great moment for me."

Foreign Websites


Wege aus dem Krieg


Krigsmareridt iscenesat og historisk rekonstrueret

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Considering that it takes three to four hours to read ''The Great Gatsby'' and perhaps a night to write a short paper, what's...amazing is that students would risk their integrity, their education, their unlimited access to sexual experimentation -- all for freeing up 10 measly hours of their already limitless college time.

From "Dear Plagiarists: You Get What You Pay For," by Suzy Hansen in the New York Times
























Martin Naparsteck on Tim O'Brien from "The Company of Writers"

"So I asked him what M&Ms were. He looked as if I asked him if the sun comes up every morning; he must have consciously worked to keep his jaw from drooping. They're little pieces of candy, he said. Come in lots of different colors. God, I was too stupid to even make chit chat with a writer. I explained, but remained convinced I hadn't erased the original impression, that when a medic in Going After Cacciato gave a wounded soldier some M&Ms I thought it might be a nickname for some drug, legal or illegal. The grunts had a different language than those of us who were REMFs."