Booking Through Thursday: Villainy

Here’s the first installment in another of the book memes I will be using as motivation/inspiration for writing more about books and the reading life.

Today is the 7th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I know that not all of you who read are in the U.S., but still, it’s vital that none of us who are decent people forget the scope of disaster that a few, evil people can cause–anywhere in the world. It’s not about religion, it’s not about politics, it’s about the acknowledgment that humans should try to work together, not tear each other apart, even when they disagree.

So, feeling my way to a question here … Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

I don’t know that I read a lot of books involving villains, other than some of the SF I read. To the extent 9/11 and the Madrid and Tube bombings, etc., affect my reading selections I am one of those sort of looking for the great post-9/11 novel. I know using the term 9/11 is too nation-centric but it is the easiest short hand for the central conflict most perceive today.

I can’t say I’ve found that novel yet but the best two I’ve read thus far are Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Dorothea Dieckmann’s Guantanamo. While Guantanamo deals more with America’s political response to 9/11 than the impact of 9/11 and terrorism on society as a whole, Saturday fairly oozes the unease and angst of the last seven years. And while they are two of the best books I’ve read over the last couple years, I would be remiss not to mention Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land, which explores the impact of 9/11 on Middle Eastern immigrants to the U.S.

From my perspective, these books succeed because they are not “we the victims” tales. Rather, they take a broader view of what these events mean for the world and society as a whole. With that as perhaps my standard for post-9/11 literature, we may be looking too early. As with history, perspective requires time. With troops still in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ongoing debate over whether this is a clash of civilizations or something else, and 9/11 still being too often used as political fodder, the novels so far probably are the first drafts of any true post-9/11 literature. The pursuit of and search for that literature will affect countless readers for years to come.

It’s never the changes we want that change everything.

Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

2 comments to Booking Through Thursday: Villainy

  • I agree with the sentiments of your post. I have read several pieces of lit that deal with 9/11 as well including Saturday by McEwan. Others that I have read are Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman, The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard and Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

    After reading your post I’ve added “Once In a Promised Land” to my to-read list.

  • Read Chomsky. He gives one a great perspective of terrorism.

    Villainy is not the right word