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A decade later, are readers fatigued with books about 9/11?

September 9, 2011

In the flowering of unity that followed the 9/11 attacks, even the Hatfields and the McCoys officially settled their famous feud. Now, as we prepare to commemorate the 10th anniversary, America is paralyzed by division. Can books explain what happened?

For a list of upcoming activities at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the center’s website. And mark your calendar: This year’s Miami Book Fair International runs Nov. 13-20.

And if they can, will anyone read them? As The New York Times reported earlier this week, the new round of 9/11 books must overcome the public’s “lukewarm” response to previous books about the event. What’s more, will people still want to read books about 9-11 “after weeks of magazine covers, newspaper articles and wall-to-wall cable news coverage?”

Let me add: Americans might be forgiven if they are too exhausted, nervous and distracted to give the 10th anniversary an expected degree of attention and reverence. A decade of war, economic catastrophe, and the sorry spectacle of a toxic political atmosphere, with politicians unable or unwilling to work together, can sap the spirit of even the most patriotic citizenry.

One volume that’s exceeding expectation, according to The New York Times, is Granta 116: Ten Years After, the Autumn issue of the prestigious quarterly journal. Technically Granta is a magazine, but it looks, feels and reads like the liveliest anthology you’ve ever seen.

For example, the online version of Granta 116 is where I found the fascinating story by Dean H. King on how the Hatfields and McCoys signed a formal peace treaty to unite as Americans in their shared grief over 9/11. Always inventive in its themed issues, Granta’s print version includes includes essays, poems, and short stories from Nicole Krauss, Pico Iyer, Jynne Martin, Nadeem Alsam and others.

What’s more, Granta is sponsoring 50 literary events around the world, bringing writers together to talk about 9/11 and its impact on the world, life and literature. One of these is scheduled for Sunday at Books & Books in Coral Gables at 5 p.m., featuring novelists Edwidge Danticat, Diana Abu-jaber, Cristina Garcia and M. Evelina Galang. For a complete list of Granta events worldwide, visit http://www.granta.com/Events.

Public fatigue with 9/11 books can be seen in inexplicable indifference to The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, by the bestselling husband-and-wife team of Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. Authors of previous books on Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon, Summers and Swan have waded through some 300,000 pages of recently released documents and conducted fresh interviews to create a panoramic account of what happened that day, and after.

Writing with astonishing detail, Summers and Swan relate the actions of the terrorists who hijacked the planes, many of the passengers, pilots and victims on the ground, and the first responders. They follow the story into the highest levels of the Bush administration, examine the conspiracy theories of the “9/11 truth” movement, and include the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2 — amazing feat, as the book went on sale only two months later, in July.

Note that: Published in July — but have you read or heard about it? Me, neither, until a friend recommended it to me.

The Eleventh Day is a terrific feat of intense, old-style journalism, brimming with thoroughly sourced detail, yet cast into a strong narrative that reads at times like a thriller. For a comprehensive one-volume retrospective account of 9/11 and its aftermath, this book will be hard to beat for some time to come.

The Granta event at Books & Books is free. The address is 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. For more information, visit the bookstore website.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean Piccoli permalink
    September 10, 2011 8:14 am

    Thanks for recommending “The Eleventh Day.” If there’s a must-read (besides the 9/11 Commission Report) among the first wave of books, it could be “The Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright, from 2007. It contains an amazing portrait of the first radical Islamist, a “stern bachelor” from Egypt who dressed like a Westerner, lived in the States and loved American movies.

    http://www.randomhouse.com/book/194238/the-looming-tower-by-lawrence-wright/9780375414862/?view=excerpt

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 10, 2011 10:13 am

      The Eleventh Day benefits from the perspective and the opportunity for additional research and reporting that comes only with the passage of time. But that doesn’t mean some of the first wave of books do not continue to hold enduring value and interest.

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