Rations with syrup-laden peaches and pound cake.
Letters from loved ones.
Pocket knives and salt packets.
Sometimes, a pocket watch.
Mostly things of necessity, Tim O’Brien wrote in his 1990 novel “The Things They Carried,” were found in the pockets of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam.
This fall, Wichitans will have a chance to explore O’Brien’s book in depth, thanks to a $17,000 grant to fund the fourth annual Big Read-Wichita, a communitywide literacy initiative hosted by the Wichita Public Library.
The program asks Wichitans to read and discuss the book together, an important step in increasing literacy rates, library and city officials said.
“For the first time American reading is on the uprise,” said program chairperson Vicki Tiahrt. “We attribute that to the Big Read.”
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer unveiled this year’s book selection and announced the grant — the maximum awarded by the National En-dowment for the Arts — at a news conference Monday.
“For the past three years, our residents have collectively embraced reading by participating in the Big Read program,” Brewer said.
“Reading is a source of pleasure and a vital tool for personal development, community enhancement and civic connection.”
Wichita Public Library special-projects librarian Jennifer Heinicke said the library will use the grant to buy posters of this year’s art selection — “Signs” by American artist Robert Rauschenberg — and promotional materials. Money also will be spent on 800 books to be given to area residents.
The program also promotes readership among area youth by offering three children’s books on the reading list: “The Wall” by Eve Bunting; “The Buddha’s Diamonds” by Carolyn Marsden and Thay Phap Niem, and “Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy” by Andrea Warren.
“If children don’t read they are not going to do well in school,” Tiahrt said. “We have to have an informed and thoughtful citizenship for our country to survive.”
The Big Read-Wichita kicks off Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 15. Free events to promote the book include a book discussion and signing by the author Nov. 3. The library will also host local musicians and the Wichita Ballet.
For more information about O’Brien’s novel or to see a schedule of events, check out “The Big Read-Wichita” on Facebook or visit www.bigreadwichita.org.