Recommended Books (not) About 9/11

All four of these books relate in some way to September 11, 2001 — however, the events of that day are not the sole focus of any of them. The first three are distinctly about life After That Day, the fourth takes place decades before 2001 while the twin towers were still new to the Manhattan skyline and a man was boldly attempting to walk across a tightrope in between them.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is narrated by a young boy whose father died when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. His unique voice is both childlike and profound as he treks around New York City in a broad search for anyone who may have information about a key and a name he found in his father’s closet.  Supporting characters such as an elderly neighbor, the protagonist’s grandmother and her “imaginary friend”, all add richness to this story. It’s painful to read at times because the little boy is blatantly searching for help from adults, but the kind of help he seeks is seemingly nowhere to be found. It’s a uniquely written book, though, that is well worth a read if you don’t mind a writer who takes some drastic liberties with punctuation to help develop a narrator’s voice. 

Love is the Higher Law is a brief young adult novel by David Levithan that weaves a story among three NYC teens whose lives were drastically changed when their first week of school was interrupted by planes flying into nearby buildings. While most of the story centers around other aspects of their lives, the shared experience of being on the cusp between childhood and adulthood when they witnessed firsthand the buildings burning and falling is one of their strongest bonds. This quick read isn’t the strongest writing I’ve seen from this author, but it is nonetheless a book I enjoyed reading and confidently recommend to my students.
Gwen Cooper’s memoir entitled Homer’s Odyssey changes gears a little. This is a nonfiction story about her experience of raising and loving a cat who was born without eyes. She was living in Manhattan on 9/11/01; one of the most traumatizing things for her was being unable to get back to her apartment for several days while Homer was alone, hungry, and terrified by all of the strange sounds and smells that had taken over the neighborhood. This part of the story takes up a mere chapter of the book, but it manages to capture a poignant and detailed account of how a person’s (and a pet’s) life was affected and how it has gone on.

Of these four books, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin is undoubtedly the most beautifully written. It fascinated me while reading to know that this book was written years after the towers collapsed, but so eloquently uses the towers as an architectural pivot point for several stories that seem completely separate until about three quarters of the way through the novel when even the most obscure details turn out to bind the individual narratives together.  I can’t do it justice while leaving enough time to finish grading your essays and quizzes tonight, so please go here if you want to read an adequate review.

 

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