9-11 books: We want to remember, we try to forget

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011

SALISBURY — Although there are hundreds of books about Sept. 11, Deal Safrit of Literary Bookpost says no one has asked for any of them on this 10th anniversary.
“I didn’t even order any,” he said.
Maybe the time to read about it is past — or we’re still not ready.
But a search of book sources lists some of the same books over and over.
Safrit and his wife Sheila Brownlow think one of the best is “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers,” by Kevin Flynn and Jim Dwyer. The Flashlight Worthy Book site called it “the perfect balance of dispassionate, inspiring and honest.”
Sam Stowe, a Salisbury High School graduate now living and writing in Raleigh, calls “102 Minutes” “the best account so far on what happened to people working in the WTC on 9/11.”
The most obvious work of non-fiction that dealt with the terrorist attacks was the “9/11 Commission Report,” the 592-page paperback that detailed the findings of the 9/11 commission. Now, copies are available online for as little as 1 cent.
When the report came out, people immediately began criticizing it, claiming it was lies, propounding different conspiracy theories — the typical reaction to any government report.
A story we may have forgotten also happens to be a favorite of the people at Literary Bookpost, “The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland.” In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 38 commercial airliners carrying more than 6,000 passengers were forced, as a precaution, to land in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.
Due to the closure of U.S. airspace, the passengers spent four days in this isolated town of 10,000 before being allowed to continue their journeys. In that time, Gander’s residents rallied together to extend an unmatchable hospitality. Townspeople not only opened schools and Legion halls as emergency shelters, they invited the passengers into their homes for showers, meals and warm beds while local businesses simply gave toiletries and clothing to passengers stuck without luggage.
The Gander story shows up on many lists of 9/11 books.
A book that became one of my top 10 books of all time also made many lists, “Extemely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer, a novel about a boy coping with his father’s death in the World Trade Center Towers. The novel is not only full of complex emotions, the author created a hybrid — using photos of the towers, scenes from New York, handwritten pages and different typography to tell the story.
Foer managed to capture a child’s feelings perfectly, although the book is for adults. There’s so much going on in “Extremely Loud” that it parallels life — tragedy of monumental proportions struck, yet the personal tragedies are what most affect us.
Margaret Basinger, who was a teacher and counselor in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, also named that as her top 9/11 book.
And Jennifer Abella, an East Rowan graduate who is an editor at the Washington Post, agreed with Basinger. “I’d also like to recommend ‘Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You,’ by Peter Cameron. September 11 is a subtle backdrop to this coming-of-age novel, my favorite since ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ ”
Colum McCann, the Irish writer who spoke at Catawba College for this spring’s Brady Author’s Symposium, also wrote a 9/11 novel, “Let the Great World Spin.” It does not take place on Sept. 11, 2001, but in 1974, when a French tightrope walker, Philip Petite, crossed the air between the two towers, which were still under construction. Again, the stories of the people watching that tell more than the event itself.
It’s hard to find a “top 10 9/11 books” list, fiction or non-fiction, but critics and readers repeat some titles again and again, such as Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” a novel about people dealing with the new reality after 9/11. It has been called one of his best books.
More fiction by familiar authors was inspired by 9/11, including “Terrorist,” by John Updike; Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom”; Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” about persecution of Jews.
A search of one online book seller turned up 175,193 results, many of which only contain peripheral references.
And new books are coming out all the time, such as Tim Zagat (yes, of Zagat surveys) has compiled first-person stories from no less that Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki, among others, in “9/11: Stories of Courage, Heroism and Generosity.”
Other new works include “The Elventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden”; “Debunking 9/11 Myths, Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts” by the editors of Popular Mechanics; “A Place of Remembrance: Official Book of the National Septmber 11 Memorial.”
A shocking find in an Internet search of 9/11 is “We shall never forget 9/11: The kids Book of Freedom,” a PG-rated coloring book that just came out in August and features a disturbing image of a Navy SEAL shooting at bin Laden.
“Firehouse,” by David Halberstam, one of the author’s last books before he died, is about a specific Manhattan firehouse and its firefighters, almost all of whom died.
Martin Amis’ “The Last Days of Mohammed Atta” traces the last days of one of the 9/11 hijackers.
And books about the collection of photos, notes and memorabilia left at Ground Zero; the memoirs by survivors are too numerous to mention.
At least one book looks at the health and environmental impact of the terrorist attacks: “City of Dust: Illness, Arrogance, and 9/11,” by Anthony DePalma
And a final recommendation from Deal Safrit: “Incendiary,” by Chris Cleve. A novel, it’s about a terrorist attack at a soccer game in London, told from the perspective of a woman who lost her husband and 4-year-old son.
Novelists, especially, have taken so many different approaches to the tragedy that shook America to its core. Many of the books are searing, full of fear and loss. Some end on a note of hope, hope that life will go on and we will overcome.
And they keep writing about it, in varied forms — perhaps an indication that we are still in the process of overcoming.