The community-wide Big Read Holland Area program coordinated through Hope College and focusing on the book “The Things They Carried” during November will include a lecture providing history and perspective, a free film showing, a musical performance, events honoring veterans and multiple opportunities to join small-group discussions of the well-known novel.


The program, developed around the theme “An entire community reading one book together,” is funded through a grant to the college through the Big Read initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in partnership with Arts Midwest.  Herrick District Library is the primary area partner with Hope, with others including the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Branch Capital Management, and several other area schools, churches, businesses and other community organizations.

The public events, intended for all ages from teen through adult, will begin with a kick-off celebration and lecture at Hope on Monday, Nov. 2, and continue through Thursday, Nov. 19, at a variety of locations in Holland.  After reading the book, community members are also invited to take part in any number of single-evening discussion groups, offered in either English or Spanish, taking place throughout Holland.

Admission to all of the activities is free, and copies of the book are available at no cost while supplies last to those who do not have access to the novel in other ways. Free books will be available to the first 50 people who request one at the main location for Herrick District Library on Saturday, Oct. 31. Free books will also be available to the first 50 people who request one at the kick-off celebration and lecture on Monday, Nov. 2. Herrick District Library has nearly 40 copies available for checkout as well.

Written by Tim O’Brien and published in 1990, “The Things They Carried” follows a platoon of infantrymen through the jungles of Vietnam using a collection of short stories.  The novel has sold more than two million copies and has been translated into several languages. 

To open the month, Dr. Fred Johnson, associate professor of history at the college, will deliver the address “The Legacy of Their Burdens” on Monday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. in Maas Center Auditorium at Hope.  The lecture will examine the historical reality that was the foundation and setting for “The Things They Carried.”

Accompanied by his very best friend and Golden Retriever service dog, “Tuesday,” former U.S. Army captain and New York Times bestselling author Luis Carlos Montalvan will present his highly acclaimed children’s book, “Tuesday Tucks Me In,” in a dynamic, interactive “read-a-long” program for families on Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. on the upper level of Herrick District Library’s downtown location.

The documentary film “Naneek,” which follows a Vietnam veteran’s return to Vietnam will be shown on Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall.

The Emmy-award-winning artist Van-Anh Vo will perform a program featuring traditional music from North, Central and South Vietnam; arrangements of Western contemporary music for Vietnamese instruments; and her original compositions, in collaboration with Hope College jazz students and faculty on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church.

The Holland Area Veterans Council presents its Annual Veterans Day Program on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. at The Commons of Evergreen. The program will feature the Holland American Legion Band. The Michigan Vietnam Wall memorial will be on display, naming 2,648 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War, available beginning at 4 p.m.

Utilizing the “The Things They Carried”  as a source of reference, reflection, and inspiration, an exhibition of work by local middle and high school students will explore how stories and the act of story-telling influences perception of self and others. The exhibition will take place on Friday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Holland Armory. Works within the exhibition are in a variety of media, including videography, photography, text and audio recordings, and come from schools and classrooms from across the Ottawa area.

Herman Keizer Jr., a retired chaplain and colonel with the U.S. Army, will explore the hidden wounds of war in a presentation titled “Moral Injury after War” on Monday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. at Herrick District Library. Keizer will describe how religious communities can become partners in the healing of moral injury.

Families are invited to give back to veterans locally and globally through the Give Back to Veterans Play Group on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. at Herrick District Library. Participants will read a book, create a craft, learn about things soldiers carry, and support vets locally and globally through a service project with A Million Thanks and another local organization benefiting veterans.

The month’s activities will culminate with an address by author Tim O’Brien on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. at The Commons of Evergreen, an event scheduled in partnership with the college’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. O’Brien will talk candidly about war and loss in the public presentation.

Several book discussions are open to the public.  The sites, dates and times include: Curragh (Tuesday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m.), Hops at 84 East (Wednesday, Nov. 4, 8:30 p.m.), Barnes and Noble (Saturday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m.), Centennial Park Studios (Monday, Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.), Coppercraft Distillery (Thursday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.), Big Lake Brewing (Monday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m.), JPs (Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m.) and Our Brewing Company (Saturday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m.). Hope is also hosting a public book discussion with faculty and students on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 11 a.m. on the north end of the first floor of the Van Wylen Library.

Additional area public libraries participating include Fennville District Library, Henika District Library in Wayland and Howard Miller Library in Zeeland, each of which is also offering a book discussion. Fennville District Library will hold a discussion on Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 p.m.; Henika District Library on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 6:30 p.m.; and Howard Miller Library on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 6:30 p.m. in the Banquet Room.

In addition to the events and discussions open to the general public, several area schools are participating by having students read the book, as are other community groups that have organized their own discussions.  The participating schools, provided with copies of books through the grant, include Black River Public School, Hamilton Community Schools, Holland Christian Schools, Holland Public Schools, Saugatuck Public Schools, West Ottawa Public Schools and Zeeland Public Schools.

Several area businesses are partnering with the program, including Readers World, which is offering a 20 percent discount on the book, and Barnes and Noble, which is coordinating a fundraiser Sunday-Saturday, Nov. 1-7, with 10 percent of sales going to the Big Read Holland Area whenever a customer mentions The Big Read at the point of purchase.

The Big Read initiative is designed to revitalize the role of reading in American culture by exposing citizens to great works of literature and encouraging them to read for pleasure.  Hope is one of only 75 non-profit organizations nationwide, and one of only two in Michigan, to receive a grant to host a “Big Read” project between September 2015 and June 2016. In addition to this grant, Vo's performance is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

More information about the Big Read Holland Area events and the book, including a complete schedule with street addresses and a list of all partner organizations, is available online.