Book Review

Literature about 9/11: Recommendations

In 2005, I read nearly 30 fiction and nonfiction books about 9/11 (Link) for a long essay/feature for the German literature e-zine “” (Link).

Since then, I continued to read literature about the 2001 attacks: Some great books, a lot of mediocre stuff – and lots of obscure or over-hyped titles.


Coming up: The best – and worst – 9/11 related fiction and nonfiction:


Five novels that I can recommend:

– FRÉDÉRIC BEIGBEDER: ‘Windows on the World’, 2003 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER: ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, 2005 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOYCE MAYNARD: ‘The Usual Rules’, 2004 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOSEPH O’NEILL: ‘Netherland’, 2008 (rather loose connection to 9/11, Link)

– BRIAN K. VAUGHN: ‘Ex Machina’, 2004 to 2010 (Graphic Novels, Link)


Windows on the World Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close The Usual Rules: A Novel Netherland Ex Machina (Volume 1): The First Hundred Days


Five personal essays that I can recommend:

– ELSE BUSCHHEUER: Das New York Tagebuch, 2002 (Link, German)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ISABEL ALLENDE: ‘My invented Country’, 2003 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– NOAM CHOMSKY: ‘9-11’ / ‘The Attack’, 2001 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– DAVID WYATT: ‘And the War came’, 2004 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– MITCHELL FINK: ‘Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11’ (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link) Das New York Tagebuch (Kiwi) My Invented Country The Attack: Hintergrunde und Folgen And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11

Personal Essays and Nonfiction that I can’t recommend:


– RAFIK SCHAMI: ‘Mit fremden Augen: Tagebuch’, 2002 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– KATHRIN RÖGGLA: ‘really ground zero’, 2001 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link. It’s fun if you like young German literature…)

– LILY BRETT: ‘Between Mexico and Poland’, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ORIANA FALLACI: ‘The Rage and the Pride’, 2001 (Link)

(horrible Italian right-wing author, I reviewed it here, Link)


Survivor Tales (most of them not *that* good…):


– RICHARD PICCHIOTTO: ‘Last Man Down: A Firefighter’s Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center’, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOANN B. NAMORATO: ‘The Long Road Home: Memories after September 11th’ , 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ABD SAMAD MOUSSAOUI: ‘Zacarias Moussaoui: Mein Bruder’, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ANNIE THOMS: ‘With their Eyes: September 11th – The View from a High School at Ground Zero’, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ALISSA TORRES: ‘American Widow’, 2008 (Graphic Novel; pretty bad, Link)


Collections and Journalism (hit-and-miss):


– RICHARD BERNSTEIN: ‘Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11th, 2001’, 2002 (Link)

(quite good – I reviewed it here, Link)

– ULRICH BAER: ‘110 Stories: New York writes after September 11th, 2001’, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– PAUL AUSTER u.a.: ‘Dienstag, 11. September 2001’, 2001 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JACK CANFIELD: ‘Chicken Soup for the Sould of America’, 2002 (Link)

(pretty bad: I reviewed it here, Link)

– NEIL GAIMAN u.a.: ‘9-11: Artists Respond’, 2002 (Comic Anthology, pretty bad, Link)


Don’t bother: 6 bad 9/11-related novels:


– NICHOLSON BAKER: ‘Checkpoint’, 2005 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– DON DeLILLO: ‘Falling Man’, 2007 (Link)

– JAY McINERNEY: ‘The Good Life’, 2006 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOHN UPDIKE: ‘Terrorist’, 2006 (Link)

– ROLAND SPRANGER: ‘ThRAX’, 2002 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– FRANZISKA PEDERSEN: ‘Der 11. September oder: Die Geschichte von Lukas und Saira’, 2002 (German, Link)

(horrible book; I reviewed it here, Link)



private drama: novels about people who were not involved in the attacks

(in some reviews, these books appear to be books about 9/11... they’re not. Incidentally, none of these books is particularly good / recommended, either:)


– IAN McEWAN: ‘Saturday’, 2005 (Link)

– JOANNA SMITH RAKOFF: ‘A fortunate Age’, 2009 (Link)

– PETER CAMERON: ‘Someday this Pain will be useful to you’, 2007 (Link)

– KEITH GESSEN: ‘All the sad young literary Men’, 2008 (Link)

– IAIN BANKS: ‘Dead Air’, 2002 (Link)

– FRANZISKA GERSTENBERG: ‘Wie viel Vögel’, 2003 (German short story collection, Link: Story ‘Glückskekse’)

– NICK McDONELL: ‘The Third Brother’, 2006 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– WILLIAM GIBSON: ‘Pattern Recognition’, 2002 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– AUDREY NIFFENEGGER: ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, 2003 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– CLAIRE MESSUD: ‘The Emperor’s Children’, 2006 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– HEIDI JULAVITS: ‘The Effects of Living Backwards’, 2003 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)


A Culture of Fear: (good!) novels from the 2000s that deal with terrorism and the climate of a post 9/11 world:


– CHRISTIAN KRACHT: ‘1979’, 2001 (German, written before 2001, Link)

– MEG ROSOFF: ‘How I live now’, 2004 (Link)

– FIONA MAAZEL: ‘Last Last Chance’, 2008 (excellent; Link)

– GREG RUCKA: ‘Queen & Country’ Vol. 1, 2001 (an espionage Graphic Novel set in Afghanistan, written in early 2001. Excellent research/tone… and very prophetic. Link)

– GREG RUCKA: ‘Queen & Country: A Gentleman’s Game’, 2004 (a novel that’s part of the same espionage series and deals with terrorist bombings at the London underground, written in 2004. Very, VERY prophetic. Link)

– JEPH LOEB: ‘Superman: Our Worlds at War’, 2001 (a mediocre 2001 graphic novel, written before the attacks… but dealing with ALL the major political issues. Eerily propheric. Link)


1979 How I Live Now Last Last Chance: A Novel Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Volume 1 A Gentleman's Game: A Queen & Country Novel Superman: Our Worlds at War


and: 4 books about 9/11 that I WANT to read:


– ART SPIEGELMAN: ‘In the Shadow of no Towers’, 2004 (Graphic Novel, Link)

– DAMON DiMARCO: ‘Tower Stories’, 2004 (Oral History, Link)

– NICHOLAS RINALDI: ‘Between two Rivers’, 2004 (Link)

– ANJA REICH / ALEXANDER OSANG: ‘Wo warst du? Ein Septembertag in New York’, 2011 (Link)


In the Shadow of No Towers Tower Stories: The Autobiography of September 11th Between Two Rivers: A Novel Wo warst du? Ein Septembertag in New York

Related Links:

  • ‘Underdog Literature’: 23 book recommendations for August 2011 (Link)
  • ‘No need to read?’: 40 disappointing literary classics (Link)

Spread Toxic Waste around your Home…?

“Peruse the labels of the things you are cleaning with right now: Do you see the words POISON, WARNING OR DANGER anywhere? Most likely you do.

When you clean, you are distributing these dangerous chemicals all over your house, cleaning your dishes with them, washing your clothes with them, letting them taint the air you breathe.

How can a home full of toxins ever be called ‘clean’?

Is toxin too strong a word for our standard store-bought cleaning product? No, it is not.” (p. 214)

For an article on ‘Maker’ Culture and Green Living, I’m reading a selection of how-to-guides and personal accounts of urban gardeners, do-it-yourself dads and arts-and-craft activists.

One of the best books – so far – is ‘Urban Homesteading: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City’, written by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, a young LA couple.

On 320 pages and in very precise, dense writing, the book gives you tons of well-researched, practical and surprising advice on how to grow vegetables in tight spaces, raise chicken in your backyard, can fruit, sun-dry tomatoes or build a greywater watering system for your garden.

I don’t plan on doing ANY of this in the near future – but the book is written in such a pleasant, knowledgeable and likeable tone that I would still recommend it for anyone who has plants, likes to experiment in the kitchen… or simply misses biology class.:-)

4 of 5 stars. Recommended. (Link to

and two final, follow-up quotes (p. 216 and p. 215):

“The words ‘green’ or ‘natural’ in the name [of a cleaning product] don’t mean anything at all. Those terms are not regulated. Warnings like ‘Avoid contact with skin’ and ‘Use in a well ventilated area’ are hints that these products are not the gentle daisy juice their labels might lead you to believe.”

“Serious scientists, not just New Age paranoiacs, are beginning to associate these common household cleaners (or perhaps the chemical cocktail they create in mixed use) with cancer, asthma, allergies, immune system disorders and reproductive disorders. And that is just in us humans. They are also tainting the waters, and affecting the entire ecosystem.”

Green Lantern, The Flash and Geoff Johns: Where to start?

In the 1960ies, ‘Green Lantern’ (a ‘Space Police Cop’) and ‘The Flash’ (‘The Fastest Man Alive’) were two of the most popular DC heroes. Since 2005, both heroes – and their comics – made a BIG comeback, thanks to writer Geoff Johns.

White, old fanboys LOVE these nostalgic stories about white, old heroes…

‎…while feminists and liberal readers want more minorities, more social issues, more complexity. (I’m one of these guys.)

Geoff Johns IS a good writer, but I’m not very interested in ‘his’ heroes and their stories, and after I’ve read about 8 ‘Flash’– and 5 ‘Green Lantern’-comics written by Johns, I still have a hard time enjoying them: They’re mainstream in a very dull, bland, All-American way.

Still: there is ONE entertaining, atmospheric and newbie-friendly ‘Flash’ comic by Johns that I read in March and that worked really well (4 out of 5 stars, and with terrific art by Toronto artist Francis Manapul), “Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” from 2011. [““]

…and there’s ONE very good and comprehensive introduction to ‘Green Lantern’ by Johns that I’ve read last night (4 out of 5 stars, but with pretty bad art / character design by Ivan Reis) from 2007: “Green Lantern: Secret Origin”. [““]

Both are recommended, and both FINALLY helped me to see the charms / allure of ‘Flash’ and ‘Green Lantern’. I’m still not a big convert or fan… but if you want to TRY these heroes, these are the best starting points I’ve found so far.

P.S.: A more artistic, out-of-continuity book that stars 1950ies versions of Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman and MANY other DC heroes is “The New Frontier” by Darwyn Cooke. It won’t help you catch up with these characters’ modern-day interpretations… but it’s a good showcase of their essences and their early appeal.

Here’s a great, reader-friendly review. Enjoy!

The Stories of John Cheever [great short stories 02]

John Cheever (1912 – 1982) wrote four novels – and 61 tense, bitter and sardonic short stories about life in the suburbs and the American dream of the Space Age: cocktail parties, swimming pools, spotless kitchens and the tragic, tender, middle-class atomic family.

A predecessor to ‘The Ice Storm’ and ‘Desperate Housewifes’, Cheever’s stories describe the domestic and sexual dramas of the 1950ies and 1960ies:

If you like ‘Mad Men’ and/or easy, accessible stories about domestic struggles and hidden traumas, Cheever provides you with dozens of quick, witty variations of these familiar themes.

In 1979, his collection ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ won the Pulitzer Price.

Out of 61 stories written between 1947 and the mid-1970ies, I can recommend the following:

  • Torch Song
  • The Cure
  • The Worm in the Apple
  • The Trouble of Marcie Flint
  • The Country Husband
  • Clementina
  • The Seaside Houses
  • The Ocean

…and, my three favourites:

Cheever repeats himself a lot. Stories from the same collection that seemed tired and poorly thought-out:

  • The Sorrows of Gin
  • O Youth and Beauty!
  • The Housebreaker of Shady Hill
  • Brimmer
  • The Death of Justina
  • A Vision of the World
  • Reunion
  • Metamorphoses
  • Montraldo
  • The World of Apples

Get the paperback on or

Or get a new – but incomplete – German translation from 2009.

All in all: 4 of 5 stars. Straightforward, intelligent and entertaining short stories… but often repetitive.

Nothing you need to read front-to-cover. But excellent summer reading, nonetheless!

John Updike: The early Stories [great short stories 01]

John Updike (1932 – 2009) wrote dark, complex and delicate short stories about everyday life in small towns and the everyday sorrows of husbands and wifes. His ‘Rabbit’ series of novels has gotten better and better (try ‘Rabbit at Rest’, 1990)…

…and 103 of his short stories are collected in a beautiful collection called simply ‘The Early Stories: 1953 – 1975’:

I read the book last year and marked my favourites.

Especially the earliest stories are surprisingly fresh and atmospheric.

Give them a try!

  • Friends from Philadelphia
  • A Sense of Shelter (Google Doc)
  • The Lucid Eye in Silver Town
  • Ace in the Hole
  • Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth
  • Home
  • Dear Alexandros

Later in the book, I can recommend the following:

  • A Gift from the City
  • The Orphaned Swimming Pool
  • My Lover has Dirty Fingernails
  • The Taste of Metal
  • Transaction
  • The Man Who Loved Extinct Mammals

Twelve bad and uninspired stories from the same collection:

  • At a Bar in Charlotte Amalie
  • Incest
  • The Crow in the Woods
  • Wife-Wooing
  • Leaves
  • The Stare
  • Museums and Women
  • The Morning
  • Lifeguard
  • Commercial
  • The Dark
  • Augustine’s Concubine

All in all: A good quota. Lots of solid – and some outstanding – classic US short stories.

4 of 5 stars. Great summer reading. Recommended! Link Link