Literary links for 9/11

When America was attacked on 9/11, it seemed as if words might fail. But in trying to understand that tragedy and what it meant, words have served us well. Here are some literary links for the 12th anniversary of those attacks in 2001.

“Every year I reread @colsonwhitehead‘s remarkable piece abt New York & New Yorkers, past, present & future,” Chelsea Clinton tweeted Tuesday morning. The piece is “The Way We Live Now 11-11-01; Lost and Found,” which ran in the New York Times Magazine.

The New Yorker digs into its archives and showcases its best 9/11 covers, personal portraits, and larger-issues stories, such as administration of the victims’ compensation fund and the complexities of counter-terrorism.

Claire Messud set a high fiction bar with her 2006 novel, “The Emperor’s Children.

Our reviewer Marisa Silver found it “a delicious social satire about a small group of navel-gazing New York intellectuals (and their romantic and social shenanigans) on the eve of the end of the world as we knew it. Here, she shows us how history does and does not change us, how character is borne helplessly forward by external events while remaining stubbornly true to itself. This intractability is her characters’ strength as well as their often hilarious -- and ultimately sad -- burden.”


John Updike’s 2006 novel “Terrorist” was less successful; our reviewer called it “an interesting, if failed, thought experiment.”

Don DeLillo’s novel “Falling Man” was published in 2007. “The expectation, of course, is that [DeLillo] will give free rein to his conspiratorial imagination, creating a big-canvas swirl of sects, secrets, technological choreographies,” Sven Birkerts wrote in our review. “Instead, ‘Falling Man’ is a gripping, haunting ensemble piece, much less about the public, historical event than about its psychological radiation through the lives of a single New York City family. It is DeLillo at his most bare-bones, asking, ‘How do we now live?’”

In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction went to Lawrence Wright for his book “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.”

By 2011, with undeniably larger effects, one lingust told NPR there was no legacy of 9-11 language.

Astronaut Frank Culbertson was the only American not on Earth on Sept. 11. Letters of Note points to his 2001 letter of Sept. 12 -- and 13 and 14 (things move fast when you’re up in the International Space Station) -- that includes his description of seeing New York from orbit after the World Trade Towers collapsed, and then: “For the last two days, the Russian MCC has been good enough to transmit live broadcasts of radio news about the event and associated stories, to make sure I was well informed. Every specialist who has come on the line to discuss a procedure or a problem has at some point extended greetings to me with kind words. Tonight the Russian capcom told us that because of the special day of remembrance in the U.S., all day people had been bringing flowers and lining all the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and this evening they were lighting candles in the street outside the embassy. How the world has changed.”

Thomas Pynchon’s upcoming novel “Bleeding Edge” also deals with 9/11 -- look for our upcoming review in Sunday’s print edition.


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