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Tim O’Brien

Tim O'Brien is an American novelist. His books include the National Book Award-winning "Going After Cacciato" (1978), as well as his debut novel, "If I Die in a Combat Zone,[…]

Reflections on the younger generation, and on growing old.

Question: How do you feel about the rncurrent generation ofrnyoung people?

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Tim O’Brien: I don’t know enough.  I’m such a simple-minded guy; I just assume in most rnways,rnthere’s no difference.  The facesrnare younger and the bodies a leaner because the habits are better than rnin myrngeneration.  Nobody smokes any more,rnor very few.  Everybody knows aboutrnthe right foods to eat.  Everybodyrnlooks a little sleeker than in my era. rnThe girls look prettier and the guys look tougher, well not rntougher,rnbuffer.  But aside from that, look,rnI can hang out with college kids or people in their 20’s and feel rnutterly atrnhome in a way that I don’t think I could have felt at home where when I rnwas 26rnhanging out with Kurt Vonnegut, or I think I would have felt rnill-at-ease.  But there’s a poise among young rnpeoplernthat really does astonish me. rnReally astonishes me the way people can do something that was sorndifficult for me.  So, I’m not surernwhat to say, exactly.

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Question: What’s your next book about—andrn do writers haternthat question?

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Tim O’Brien: I don’t think I hate it, I fearrn it more thanrnanything.  Because you’re put onrnthe spot to articulate things about something in progress that have the rndangerrnof freezing you.  That is, you sayrnit enough times, “I’m doing this,” and then you damn well better do it.  You start telling yourself, "Well, Irnsaid I’m going to write this book and it’s going to be that kind of rnbook.And it freezes you where you arernreluctant to go beyond it or push in another direction with the same rnbook.  

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Having said that, I know enough about what I’m rnworking on tornsay it’s a book about being an older father, that I’m 63 and I’ve got rnthese twornyoung kids and I can say that it’s about some of the stuff that I was rnwritingrnabout with “The Things They Carried,” the sense of your own mortality rnpressesrnin on you in a war.  And you knowrnintellectually you’re going to die some day, but in a war you’re rnreminded prettyrnoften, and it’s right at you.  And Irnfeel that way as an older father. rnI imagine where I’m going to be 10 years from now. rn I mean, basketball’s going to be tough,rnand will I even be alive? And the two little boys who know nothing of rntombstonesrnand know nothing of the tick of biology or... you know, are facing it, rnas Irnam.  And there’s a sadness to itrnthat’s accompanied by exhilaration of the moments matter and "By God I’mrntaking advantage of them." Which is what I meant earlier about writing.  That I’d rather—I mean, I could dierntomorrow and as a writer be content with four or five of the books I’ve rnwrittenrnas being good.  But I can’t die andrnbe content about these two unformed lives that are too young to be good.  And I want to be there to watch themrnbecome good and to do what I can to help. rnAnd so I’m writing about that. 

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But, it’s funnier than that.  Therern are funny things in it too.  The discovery of rnlanguage and the storytelling.  Part of the book rnis about the stories Irntell these kids and their sources. rnPartly in the world now and partly in the world long ago.

Recorded March 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen