A Monitor Guide to Books of September 11

A year after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the publishing industry has produced more than 300 related books. No single event has ever generated so many, so quickly. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, we're providing summaries of a small selection of these titles. The first list ran Aug. 22.

110 STORIES

by Ulrich Baer

New York University Press, $22.95

In the slew of Sept. 11 books being released this summer, "110 Stories" may be an anomaly. Composed of two- or three-page poems, short stories, and dramatic prose, it turns literary – rather than documentary – eyes on the terrorist attacks. "In its ways of incessantly building and transforming a world, literature helped me confront reality without promising wholeness or denying absence, shock, and loss," writes Ulrich Baer, the book's editor, in the introduction. So he put out a call to New York's poets and novelists – Paul Auster, Peter Carey, A.M. Homes, and Susan Wheeler among many others – asking for their responses to the tragedy. The guidelines were loose; some of the selections are related only peripherally, if at all, to Sept. 11. A few of the stories may have been better left as personal exorcisms rather than published. But others achieve remarkable poignancy in the short space they are allowed. They don't try for universality, but simply offer slivers of response: a writer's meeting with a neighbor, who exhorts him to tell her daughter's story; the origin of the black-on-black New Yorker magazine cover; the death of nostalgia. As a kaleidoscope of images, thoughts, impressions, and gut responses, the collection begins to achieve Baer's goal: "finding meaning in – and beyond – the silent, howling void." (368 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

OUT OF THE BLUE, Henry Holt & Co.

by Richard Bernstein

$25

Howell Raines, executive editor of The New York Times, writes in this book's introduction, "Sometimes tragedy must be confronted directly, for it is an indelible part of the human experience." Indeed, author Richard Bernstein, 20-year veteran reporter of the Times, opens the book with a contemplative look at the horrifying first few moments following the attacks in New York on Sept. 11. From there, Bernstein takes us back to 1979, to a modest storefront office in Peshawar, Pakistan, where a charismatic religious scholar named Abdullah Azzam first began recruiting volunteers for a new Islamic army. It is here, Bernstein says, that many of the men who would eventually play a role in the Sept.11 attacks (including Osama bin Laden) first joined the holy war that was ultimately directed at America. Clearly distinguishing between fact and informed guesses, Bernstein provides a comprehensive, engaging narrative of Sept. 11, the events that led up to the tragedy, and its aftermath. Throughout the book, he compares and contrasts the lives of the terrorists with the lives of some of the Sept. 11 victims, and provides striking glimpses into the unimaginable human details of the tragedy. (304 pp.) By Christian Scripter

AMONG THE HEROES

by Jere Longman

HarperCollins, $24.95

The story of United Flight 93 has a special resonance in a day full of terrible and heroic deeds. The flight crashed in a field near Shankesville, Pa., killing all aboard. However, the passengers' uprising against the hijackers saved hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives in Washington, D.C. "Among the Heroes" depicts the hijacking of Flight 93, moving from the morning of Sept. 11, when the passengers depart for the airport, to a December memorial at the crash site. New York Times reporter Jere Longman conducted hundreds of interviews with the families, friends, and colleagues of the passengers and crew on the flight. What emerges from these interviews is a sense of the love between the passengers and their families and friends, and the strength displayed by those on the plane and on the ground during the ordeal. The final phone calls from the plane are simply heart wrenching. Longman also pieces together what is known about the hijackers into a narrative of frightening determination, focusing on pilot Ziad Jarrah. By the conclusion of the book, the reader has a sense of knowing everyone on the plane, and to a greater or lesser extent shares in the love and the sorrow. (304 pp.) By Tim Rauschenberger

WAR OF WORDS

by Sandra Silberstein

Routledge, $25

Arguing that "nations are not brought rhetorically to war in a single speech," English professor Sandra Silberstein tunes her linguistic ear to the words used by politicians, eyewitnesses, and the media following the Sept. 11 attacks. She helps her readers hear the turns of phrase and conflation of terms that helped vilify enemies, unify the nation, and give extraordinary powers to the president. For example, Silberstein reads George Bush's visit to the National Cathedral on Sept. 14 as a "coronation of sorts" for a president not fully legitimated by a contentious election. At the cathedral, religious leaders spoke of the need to resist "evil," and called blessings upon the commander and pastor in chief, President Bush. Silberstein highlights how ABC anchor Peter Jennings helped to join the military and religious themes that day when he said, "The US Army Orchestra, organized in the 1950s to meet requirements such as this – great national occasions, great state occasions in Washington, when music as we hear there in the playing of 'America the Beautiful' and 'God Bless America,' are so essential to occasions such as this." Unfortunately, the insights don't go much deeper in this overly thin treatise that shows signs of hasty production and editing. (224 pp.) By Ben Arnoldy

WHAT WE SAW

by Dan Rather

Simon & Schuster, $29.95

This book offers something that others about Sept. 11 will not: a DVD with footage of CBS News coverage. It's either a selling point or a reason to stay away, depending on how raw your emotions about 9/11 are. The book portion of "What We Saw" is made up of "remembrances," as Dan Rather calls them – reports and excerpts from CBS broadcasts and print outlets like The New York Times and Time. A few of the pieces offer details that the casual reader might have missed. One Wall Street Journal article describes how the command centers of American and United airlines reacted to the hijackings. It provides a glimpse of their inner workings – how closely they track their planes, and how they deal with emergencies. Another compelling piece is by a fireman's widow, who recalls knowing that her husband had died when the South Tower fell because she felt the cord that connected their hearts had been severed. While the book is a thoughtful reminder, it would have been helpful to have the photos captioned, given that they are also part of this very visual story. The DVD is well done, but it's difficult not to relive the emotions of that day when watching it, especially seeing people jump to their deaths. (144 pp.) By Kim Campbell

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