'The Big Read' kicks off Monday

The Big Read, a month of activities, speakers and performances to encourage and celebrate reading, will kick off Monday with a party that will give away copies of The Big Read's focus book, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien.

The Big Read, a month of activities, speakers and performances to encourage and celebrate reading, will kick off Monday with a party that will give away copies of The Big Read's focus book, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien.

The event launch will be from 3 to 4 p.m. Monday on the sixth floor of the Grand Forks County Building in downtown Grand Forks. The Big Read is sponsored by the Grand Forks Public Library and other community organizations.

"The kickoff event on Sept. 20 will be an opportunity to learn more about the Big Read and pick up a free copy of 'The Things They Carried,'" Wendy Wendt, director of the Grand Forks Public Library, said in a news release.

Nearly 30 events that explore ideas and issues addressed in "The Things They Carried" will take place during The Big Read from Oct. 14 to Nov. 14. One of them will be a Great Conversation with author and Minnesota native Tim O'Brien on Oct. 14 at Chester Fritz Auditorium.

Other events will be: An Oct. 16 orienteering session at Turtle River (N.D.) State Park; a conversation Oct. 29 with award-winning children's author Lois Lowry at Empire Arts Center; a Nov. 3 screening of the film "Full Metal Jacket" at Empire Arts Center; and a Nov. 14 closing celebration. Book discussions, panel discussions and many other events are scheduled. Check out the full calendar at


A limited number of free copies of "The Things They Carried," a finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, will be available throughout the month, a news release said.

The kick-off party Monday will have an introduction to The Big Read by event organizers and statements from Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown; East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss; Col. John C. Quinn, vice commander of the 319th Air Refueling Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base; UND Provost Paul LeBel; and Jody Thompson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Grand Forks Public Schools.

An honor guard from the base will present the colors, and the Red River Velvatones will sing the national anthem. In addition to copies of "The Things They Carried," a brochure listing the month's events and other promotional materials will be available.

"The Things They Carried (1990)" is considered one of the finest books about the Vietnam war. O'Brien, a Vietnam veteran, wrote a semi-autobiographical account of a young soldier on a battlefield, as one reviewer described it, "a compassionate tale of the American soldier brimming with raw honesty and thoughtful reflection."

The book's narrator follows a platoon of infantrymen through the jungles of Vietnam. The soldiers trudge through the muck of constant downpour, get hit by sniper fire, laugh when they tell their stories and fall silent when making sense of it all. O'Brien challenges readers to ponder the larger philosophical questions about truth and memory, and brings the reader closer to the core of the men's experiences.

Every community chosen for The Big Read can pick a focus book from a list of recommended books, Wendt said. "The Things They Carried" was chosen for Grand Forks because it's a book that appeals to those who don't usually read for recreation, and because so many people in the community are veterans, active-duty military or their family members.

Also, for those who haven't served in the military, the book may offer some small insight into the sacrifices of those who have, she said.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest.


Support for The Big Read has been provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Boeing Co., the Poetry Foundation, and Ford Motor Co.

Local sponsors include UND; North Dakota Council on the Humanities; Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region; Red River Valley Writing Project; Chester Fritz Library; Grand Forks Public Schools; Lake Agassiz Reading Council; Alerus Financial; Frandsen Bank and Trust; Friends of the Library; WDAZ; and Clear Channel Radio.

Grand Forks is one of 75 communities nationwide participating in The Big Read from September through June. For more information, contact Wendt at the Grand Forks Public Library, (701) 772-8116.

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