Cigarettes were the Agent Orange you paid for. –Sully (Hearts in Atlantis)

The Things They Carried is widely hailed as one of the finest books about the Vietnam War. Sometimes poignant war stories sneak up on you, where you least expect them.

I recently picked up Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis due to a recommendation I heard months ago, from none other than Seattle’s favorite reader, Nancy Pearl. I remembered her saying that Hearts in Atlantis was terrifying because of the way the terror slowly reveals itself. Though I had previously really enjoyed Stephen King’s books, I hadn’t read one in years. Pearl’s description made me want to check in with King again.

Hearts in Atlantis is a book that, strangely, complements O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. In these two books, King and O’Brien are telling a story of survival, lost innocence, and a war’s interminable legacy. And in their own way, both books are a little fantastical. In Hearts in Atlantis, King brings in his penchant for terror early in his protagonists’ lives, long before they ever go to war. He then uses that terror to explore the reasons why some became anti-war activists and why others became soldiers.

You won’t find Hearts in Atlantis on any “read-alike” list for The Things They Carried. There are many outstanding books about war, or that use war as a metaphor.  The Everett Public Library currently owns 57 titles with the Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 — Fiction subject heading, and even more under Vietnam War, 1961-1975 — Fiction.

What I enjoyed most about reading Hearts in Atlantis was not just the book itself, but the transcendence of Pearl’s recommendation, the way the book unexpectedly balanced my reading of O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. To me, this is what programs like The Big Read are all about!


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May is the Month of the Big Read

book coverWe are pleased to be participating in our second year of our partnership with the Sno-Isle Libraries in bringing The Big Read to all of Snohomish and Island Counties. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture—to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

 This year the book selection is Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War tour de force, The Things They Carried. Comprised of short stories O’Brien wrote over a period of years, this book has continued to receive critical acclaim since it was published. In fact, this year the book has been re-released in hardcover in recognition of its 20th anniversary.

The Big Read answers a big need. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young.

We hope you will join us, in reading and experiencing this book during the month of May. To enhance your experience, we have many great programs on offer including a documentary film series that includes titles that were once unavailable to the American public. We also have a display in the main library of “Things” that guest speaker and Veteran Jim Pace himself carried in the War. (Pace will speak at the main library on May 8.)

A very special event, a “Book-It”-like verbatim performance of Things will be presented, free of charge, at Everett High School’s Little Theatre at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 15.

 For information on all of the programs and events throughout Snohomish and Island Counties, visit our Big Read website