I read every book assigned in high school because that’s just the type of student I was. They weren’t bad books, but I also didn’t think they were good. I didn’t really enjoy reading them. The worst was The Grapes of Wrath. It was so long and that poor family. Everything sucked for them at the beginning, in the middle, and in the end…it still sucked. At least they didn’t run over that little turtle getting out of town. And yes, I understood the symbolism of the turtle.
The novels were great if I needed to find an example of an alliteration or a metaphor but that’s not why I read a book. Interestingly enough, the first book I enjoyed reading in high school and made me think to myself: this is good, this is why we read books, is overflowing with amazing examples of imagery, characterization, symbolism, and all those other terms English teachers love. I had to read The Things They Carried for an independent novel project in a creative writing class. It wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t any choice. I wanted to read What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or Girl, Interrupted. But, when your amazing creative writing teacher asks the class if anyone would volunteer to read the book few wanted to, you raise your hand.
I am not a Vietnam War historian, aficionado, or anything like that but I recognized I was reading something special. So special, that the book has stayed with me ever since that day and I can trace the inspiration for The War on All Fronts to reading The Things They Carried back in high school.
The lemon tree, the necklace of tongues, Norman Bowker in his car, Linda from little Timmy’s class, and all the things those soldiers carried literally and figuratively are still fresh after all these years. Looking back, Great Expectations wasn’t terrible. And I didn’t hate reading The Great Gatsby. But, those books didn’t stay with me. My books will probably never be part of a high school curriculum but that was never a goal anyway. To write a book that stays with someone years after reading it, that’s quite an accomplishment.