The Lure of “Post 9/11 Literature”

Cover ImageFor obvious reasons, there’s much ado regarding 9/11 bouncing about these September days. Be it pictures, odes or song, a variety of artistic mediums are sought out and used in an attempt to lance the overwhelming emotions caught up in the dark day – that for almost a decade now – blots our calendar each year.

As an avid reader I naturally look to the language and prose of others in my attempt to sort through the chaos of history’s events. Acting as philosophical aides if you will, the angles and perspectives of differing authors ultimately give me a better grasp on how I choose to interpret something as horrific as 9/11. Simply? I turn to books.

The term “post-9/11 literature” is often tossed about and seems loosely tagged to titles. Though it seems straightforward, I personally find the term confusing so decided to turn to those in the know for some solid answers and title suggestions pertaining to the genre.

“‘Post-9/11 literature’ is a slippery fish,” shared writer/reviewer Mark Athitakis in a recent email. “While it ought to mean fiction that directly addresses the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there actually aren’t many books that would qualify under that definition.”  Athitakis points to Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” Claire Messud’s “The Emperor’s Children,” and Ken Kalfus’ “A Disorder Peculiar to the Country” as titles that “attempt to depict the effect of the day’s events on individuals.”

Athitakis believes the meaning of “9/11 literature” has expanded “almost by necessity” due to its broad arch, and now bends to include “books about Muslim terrorists but not necessarily the 9/11 hijackers (Updike’s “Terrorist,” Andre Dubus III’s “The Garden of Last Days”), the effect of 9/11 on domestic life years after (Sue Miller’s “The Lake Shore Limited,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”), debates about media and democracy after 9/11 (Amy Waldman’s “The Submission”), American intelligence’s response (Ward Just’s “Forgetfulness”), and so on.”

Whether a book Is/Is Not 9/11, there is still a vast array of titles out there that yearn to capture the energy and angst surrounding the terrorist attacks. Earlier this week NPR wondered if Amy Waldman’s ‘Submission’ Could Be America’s Sept. 11 Novel? Guardian has compiled a list of the 20 best 9/11 books, while the New York Times notes the ongoing publishing push in the article, 9/11 Books Released Into a Sea of Others.

Regardless of one’s interest in “post 9/11 literature,” it is fascinating to bear witness to the birth of a genre – to have experienced the attacks and appreciate the attempts of others to make sense through the device of story. “I think years from now we’ll look back at this first decade’s worth of novels as a great venting of anxiety and confusion,” wraps Athitakis, “—there is no “9/11 novel,” but there clearly is a desperate effort to get one’s hands around it, to see if fiction can address its emotional and political effects.”

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

Ellen Airgood’s ‘South of Superior’ Seduces With Rustic Charm

Cover ImageEllen Airgood is an unlikely author. Clocking outrageous hours as a waitress and baker at the small diner she owns with her husband in Grand Marais, Michigan, it’s a wonder she has a second to write up anything other than a customer’s tab.

Airgood, however, is clearly as resourceful as the colorful characters who appear in her lyrical new novel South of Superior (Riverhead).  Released just last week, South of Superior is shaping up to be that perfect summer read. While its charms hold particular appeal for those who reside in Michigan, Airgood’s debut will easily translate to any reader looking for a wise, warm tale of love, life and friendship.

“Celebrating community and a hardscrabble way of life, South of Superior brilliantly captures what it’s like to live in a place that’s remote and lonely, yet enlivening and vital…” states Riverhead. “Filled with people who take great joy in the simple things and who recognize the deep reward in caring for others, it’s the kind of place – and story – that grabs hold of the soul and doesn’t let go.”

Airgood resides in Grand Marais, which sits on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and provides the setting for South of Superior. Known as the “Yoop” from those south of the Mackinac Bridge, the UP is nothing short of majestic and remains somewhat of a mystery for those who reside outside of its breathtaking borders. In South of Superior, Airgood grants a glimpse into the rustic lives of those who have called the peninsula home for generations and captivates with its rugged beauty.

Airgood will be appearing at several northern Michigan bookstores for signings of South of Superior over the summer. You can link to Airgood’s appearances here but as always, call venues before heading out the door.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Rosamund Lupton’s Eerie ‘Sister’ Makes Her Way to the States

Cover ImageIf pacing is the literary equivalent of peeking through fingers at the movies, get ready to make serious tracks with Rosamund Lupton’s hypnotic thriller, Sister. Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader of the mystery genre, Lupton’s edgy novel is an absolute stunner with hooks on all fronts for any literary appetite.

It’s not surprising that author Lupton, who studied English Literature at Cambridge University, was a script-writer for film and television as well. Sister confidently holds elements of Lupton’s former experience, and steadily unspools in eerie sequences of shadow-flecked shots and fractured plays of light. While Lupton’s slick yet elegant prose kicks up the backbeat of anticipation, it also deftly feeds the very humanistic plot that thrums at the heart of Sister.

“With ‘Sister,’ Lupton… enters the highly charged ring where the best psychological detective writers spar, her hands raised in a victory clench,” Liesl Schillinger raves in her NYT review (spoilers). “She encircles her story with electrified ropes: new developments continually jolt her readers, which doesn’t stop them from eagerly – and a little sadistically – awaiting the impact of the next blow… . Lupton builds suspense not only around the causes and details of her story’s brutal denouement, but also around the personalities and motivations of those who lunge and duck.”

Piatkus published Lupton’s Sister (as a paperback) to high acclaim in the UK last September and Crown Publishing Group subsequently snagged the rights to the first US edition. Crown rightfully expects Lupton’s novel Sister to be a hot seller and will release it in hardcover this Tuesday, June 7th.

Publicity is ramping up on other fronts as well. Rosamund Lupton was recently interviewed on NPR’s  The Diane Rehm Show, where she discussed her novel and it’s recent release in the United States. In addition, Sister was chosen as an Indie Next pick for June and selected by The Oprah Magazine as a July ‘Reading Room’ selection.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer


– Rosamund Lupton’s second book Afterwards will be released in the UK by Piatkus on  June 9th, 2011.

‘Friends of the Library’ are Friends Indeed

Book lovers turned out en masse last Saturday morning looking to add a few new titles to their personal collections. On what was an absolutely flawless Spring morning, I was just one of many local bibliophiles who opted out of the brilliant sunshine for a little stint of shopping on the lower level of the Baldwin Public Library.

We all need friends, but no one does it quite like Baldwin’s Friends of the Library when it comes to their Semi-Annual Used Book Sale. The excitement was palpable as book enthusiasts eagerly thumbed, browsed, and flipped through more than 10,000 books looking for literary treasures. Be it novel, cookbook, movie, or music, the Friends had it all broken down and categorized into tight, tidy sections allowing patrons the opportunity to snag prime hardcovers and paperbacks for just a few bucks a book.

With library funds dwindling, bookstores closing, and the surge of e-books, many avid readers are now looking toward used book sales as a way to stockpile their reading stash while also contributing to a great cause. Friends of the Library treasurer Joe Wolf expected some 600-700 book buyers to move through Baldwin during the weekend’s Spring sale, and said the 2010 Fall sale made about $13,000.

In our tight economy, the Friends of the Library play an integral role in financing library programs, above and beyond the library’s budget. All proceeds from the Friends’ sales go directly to library programs and materials. Author visits, summer reading programs, movie screenings, and Everyone’s Reading  programs are just a sampling of the extended list of gifts the Friends provide. Simply stated by one of Baldwin’s librarians, “We couldn’t do it without them.”

If you’re looking to contribute on either end, the next used book sale will take place in November. The Friends accept books, CDs, DVDs, and GameBoys in excellent to good condition. If you have donations, you can leave them on the shelves by the elevator doors on Baldwin’s main floor. Tax receipts for donations can also be requested at the Circulation Desk.

If you can’t wait until November for the next big used book sale, you might want to check out Bookstock in Livonia next week. All proceeds benefit literacy and education initiatives for our local communities.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Author Allison Leotta Brings it all Back to Birmingham

Author Allison Leotta returned to her old stomping grounds earlier this week to collect an Honor Alum Award, talk about her new book, and shed some professional light on the topic of sex crimes and domestic violence to high school seniors.

Leotta was presented with the Honor Alum Award last week, which is given to a Groves High School graduate who has made significant contributions to society or their career areas.

Why Leotta? Well, Leotta is a federal sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C. and the author of the debut legal thriller Law of Attraction. Leotta graduated from Groves High School in 1991 and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree at MSU’s James Madison College, and her law degree from Harvard University. Certainly qualified.

Leotta’s experience and expertise in areas of domestic violence and sex crimes allowed her to seriously contribute to the college-bound conversation. Addressing the senior class Leotta jokingly said, “This is your chance to talk to a prosecutor before you’ve been accused of a crime.”

Though laughter ensued, the subject of sex crimes on campus is no laughing matter to Leotta. She gave caution as she easily called up several cases with the same scenario: girl meets boy(s), all get drunk, girl has sex with boy(s), girl sobers-up, girl presses charges. All lives ruined.

Silence. Direct hit.Cover Image

Sober moment and important public service message aside, Leotta kept her young audience up to speed on her fast-paced legal thriller, Law of Attraction, and her current projects including her surprisingly successful blog and her deal with Simon & Schuster. Leotta is queued up to write two sequels to Law of Attraction. The next installment is titled Discretion and will be released sometime next year.

As for her blog? Leotta said she is getting over 20,000 hits a month, and I must admit the concept is very cool. Leotta is a crime show watcher, and her blog dissects episodes and cross-checks them for believability. Would this really happen? Is this how things would move forward in a court of law? Are these the charges that would actually be brought up? According to Leotta, The Good Wife (CBS) leads the pack in accuracy.

Leotta now lives in the D.C. area but just can’t shake the midwest. Michigan has a cameo in Law of Attraction and the novel’s heroine holds serious midwestern influences. “Although her family is very different than my own, I wanted her to have the spirit that so many Michiganders have,” said Leotta. “She is warm, friendly, hard-working, and generous.”

So, what now? Leotta is currently promoting her book and actively working on her sequels. When I asked her if she would consider writing over prosecuting in the future, she really couldn’t say. “I love being a prosecutor. So I’ll try to keep doing both. I’m in the process of dreaming up my heroine’s next few adventures. It has been a crazy, fun, busy, wonderful time!”

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Night Light Revue

Heather Sellers Delights at Writers Live! Event

Consider yourself one of the lucky ones if you were fortunate enough to attend Baldwin Public Library’s recent Writers Live! event. Hope College professor Heather Sellers wooed the audience with her intelligence, wit, and sincere charm while promoting her latest book You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face-Blindness, and Forgiveness.

Sellers suffers from a neurological disorder termed prosopagnosia, or face blindness. The bizarre disorder causes impairment in the recognition of faces, and at its most severe can cause the lack of recognition of close friends, family, spouses or even one’s own children. Such is the case with Sellers.

Face blindness isn’t a vision problem, Sellers explained, but rather one of memory. She likens the disorder to a file cabinet where the brain stores images. When you see someone, your brain snaps a picture and slips it into your files to be called up later. However in Seller’s case, after the image gets snapped, it’s immediately and irretrievably “thrown out the window.”

So what does this really mean? Well, if you meet Sellers face to face, she won’t recognize you – even one second later. If you had a dinner date with her last night? She’ll pass you by the next morning. If you grew up next door to her or happen to be her best friend? Doesn’t matter, she’ll have no idea who you are. Brad Pitt, Barack Obama, the Mona Lisa? All the same to Sellers – the facial images just don’t process.

It’s a hard concept to wrap one’s arms around, but try to imagine the professional and social implications of such a disorder for a woman who works with hundreds of students and ever-changing colleagues year after year. Sounds crazy, right?

Crazy is pretty much how Sellers felt until her disorder was diagnosed just five years ago. As a child Sellers’ parents told her she was emotionally unstable, yet Sellers miraculously compensated by relying on context clues such as a person’s hair, voice, clothing, or particular gait. She trained herself “not to freak out” as she attempted to piece together the facial puzzles that  have dogged her since childhood.

Freaking out is apparently something that Sellers doesn’t do. Composed and collected, Sellers laughingly shared her observation that “professors are given a wide range of normal” – a fact that certainly influenced her decision to enter the academic world. She found she could hide amidst the acceptable eccentricities so inherent to campus life. Currently Sellers is part of the English department at Hope College where she teaches creative writing.

Cover ImageSince her diagnosis, Sellers has “come out” with her face blindness and You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know has been a huge part of that process. Garnering both high praise and national attention, Sellers’ memoir seems to be striking a chord in the hearts of her readers. Where so many years of angst and frustration might lead anyone else to bitterness, Sellers has found a certain peace and renewed faith in humanity, and it was precisely this compassionate, feel-good vibe that permeated the air and made for such an exceptional evening.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

Related Links and Information

-Link here for the live video of Heather Sellers at the Baldwin Public Library’s Writers Live! program.

Oprah’s November Pick

NPR’s Living With Face Blindness: Who Are You, Again?

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone!

Friends Don't Let Friends Read Alone

Friends don’t let friends read alone, at least that’s what Baldwin Public Library’s Kathryn Bergeron believes. Bergeron is Baldwin’s systems librarian and also acts as the main facilitator of the BPL’s “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone” book club.

The club launched late last spring as the “Young Professionals Book Club” and was originally designed to draw in the college crowd. Though the library has several programs designed to engage the community’s older and younger populations, Bergeron felt the college-aged demographic needed to be addressed.

“College students come in to study and to get books and DVD’s and we wanted a chance to reach out to them,” noted Bergeron of the original idea behind the club. “There had been a lot of talk about an evening book club… so we kind of started there but we wanted to let it evolve a little bit and see what it wanted to become. Book clubs are kind of their own entity… they have their own personality.”

By fall that personality was taking shape, and the evolving book club changed its name to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone.” “Most of the people who are in it are still young professionals, but it’s not limited to anyone,” shares Bergeron. “Anyone who wants to show up is more than welcome to. I think that the venue and the time lends itself more to young people, but we have other people… and I’m more than happy to see them.”

That venue is the Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham where the book club meets one Tuesday evening each month. The coffee house is a natural draw for the trendy set, but Bergeron also chose it as a show of community support. “We’ve worked with Zuma in the past and they’ve been very supportive of us… and we wanted to do something to give back to them… . We’re really grateful to Zuma for hosting us every month.”

So how does Bergeron make her title selections? “We have a collection of book club books, first of all, at the library and we pull from that… . We try to change up the books so that, yes, you might have one that is incredibly depressing but then the next one is going to be something probably more fun or more happy, so you can kind of juxtapose the books against one another.” The group just finished The Undertaking by poet Thomas Lynch  and will discuss Alexander McCall Smith’s  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for their February title.

Overall, Katherine Bergeron is pleased with the success and growth of the book club. “… I’m really glad that it is something that we were able to try and I think that it’s worked out very well so far and I hope that it continues to blossom.”

The “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone” book club is open to all and will meet at Zuma Coffee House at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 to discuss The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Books are available upon request at the Baldwin Public Library.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer