After the story The Things They Carried was published in Esquire, it received the National Magazine Award in 1987 and was included in the 1987 Best American Short Stories edited by John Updike. It has since been anthologized in many collections having to do with war, national memory, and Vietnam. O’Brien went on to write short stories for the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and the New Yorker, among other publications. Other stories from The Things They Carried were published in The Massachusetts Review, Granta, Gentleman’s Quarterly and Playboy. Despite his celebrity and his talent in bringing his fiction very close to his life experience, O’Brien remains a private author; he wears his signature baseball cap in most photographs. Similarly, the reader is granted a certain amount of access to the fictional O’Brien. We live his struggles with him, but there is always a part that remains private.
I feel like I’m caught in a whirlpool of “ Amusing Ourselves to Death ,” as author Neil Postman predicted 30 years ago . In the book, Postman contrasts two dystopian visions of the future. George Orwell’s 1984, where power is expressed directly through Big Brother, oppressively restricting people’s freedoms. And Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where power is expressed indirectly , by saturating people with so many delightful distractions that they can’t see their oppression. Where people “come to adore the technologies that would undo their capacities to think.”