The Book That Changed My Life


Some of you have taken classes with him, know him through the University Writing Center, or see him from time to time in the hallowed halls of Simpkins. I am sure by the picture you know very well that I am talking about Dr. Baird. According to the Department of English’s faculty page, “Dr. Neil Baird’s current research examines how students learn to write in their majors.  He is specifically interested in barriers to disciplinary enculturation.  His ongoing ethnographic and case study research explores the role the body plays in the writing of collegiate football players, how perceptions of ownership influence thesis writing group discourse at the MA level, and barriers to transfer in 300-/400-level writing courses.  His research also investigates how advances in computer technology and social networking are transforming rhetorical theory and qualitative research methodologies.” All that being said, let’s take a look at “The Book Changed My Life.”

What is the book that changed your life?

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?

Tim O’Brien’s fiction account of the Vietnam War that is closer to the truth for him than his nonfiction account If I Die in a Combat Zone.

Where/How did you first encounter this book?

I encountered this book while writing my MA thesis. One of my favorite graduate seminars was 20th Century Literature taught by Dr. Dante Cantrill, and my thesis work, which focused on Vietnam War literature, emerged from this course. Tim O’Brien’s book was one of many primary sources I read for my thesis.

How did the book change you?

The Things They Carried was really the book that changed my trajectory from one who studies literature to one who studies composed knowledge. About midway through the book, the narrator says something like, “Sometimes story-truth is truer than happening-truth.” I’m currently a writing studies scholar; I use social science research methods to study composing knowledge. My initial research agenda concerned the relationship between composing and healing in relation to trauma, one which I hope to return to in the near future. This book and it’s relationship to If I Die in a Combat Zone really made me think about the somatic dimensions of composing. This book also made me think hard about what is true and how do we represent truth. As a writing studies scholar, I have to represent the writers I study in my own research reports, and it’s partially because of this book that I think deeply about ethics of representation.