By Eva Dean Folkert
I have never been one for war stories. I don’t read them, won’t watch them, and hardly listen to them either. The heft of the subject matter is too heavy for me to bear; it weighs down my heart and tears at my soul. So I just simply avoid it.
I suppose I have my father and brother to thank for that. Between them, Major Robert P. Dean, my dad, and Colonel Robert C. Dean, my brother, served in four wars – WWII, the Korean War, Desert Storm, and the Iraq War – and neither ever talked openly about their experiences. And to be quite honest, I never asked them to. My dad’s two Purple Hearts and Bronze Star were enough proof of his foot-soldier heroism without my asking him to relive it. The care packages we sent to my surgeon-brother with covert whiskey hidden inside were enough to know he needed additional means to cope with the horrific injuries he treated due to modern military arsenals. I knew the heft of the subject matter weighted down their hearts and souls far deeper than mine. So I just simply avoided it.
Now though, the Vietnam War book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, sits by my favorite reading chair, its new binding becoming slowly, intentionally cracked because of the Big Read 2015. When I jubilantly joined in the Big Read in 2014, I picked up a well-worn copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird at the kickoff event where Dr. Fred Johnson was in full educational force. I wanted it that way. I wanted to read a copy of the long beloved story of Scout and Atticus, Jem and Boo Ridley that many hands had held, that many eyes had read, that many minds had believe in before. I suppose you could say its tactile familiarity even soothed me.
But this year, when I again attended the Big Read launch with Dr. Johnson booming his mind-blowing lessons once more, I was glad to find that the only Big Read books I could pick up were as new as the day they came off the printing press. Every O’Brien book was gloriously pristine and clean. Actually, it seems only right that this is how it should be. I should hold and read and believe in a brand-new book with brand-new stories to me, even though some version of them have been living in my own family for years. I suppose you could say its tactile unfamiliarity might even soothe me too.
And I know this: I need the help of other big readers to navigate a new, written, war-torn terrain to understand better and grow more for the sake and love of my father and brother. These O’Brien war stories I prefer not to read alone though. So I’m thankful that the Big Read will be there for me.