April 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

April started with a short 9-11 theme where I read three books related to 9-11. I really like it when you get to look at a subject from different authors’ point of view. I loved it when I read a lot about Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood and I have enjoyed it with these 9-11 books too. I really have to incorporate that more in my reading in the future! But … not much else happened with regard to reading this month.

Again this month I had hoped to make it through 6 books, but darn that Clarissa. She’s standing in the way of my making it to more than 4. I’m not sure exactly what happened this month. 3 out of the 4 books were rather short – and the last one, Battle Royale, was long (624 pages) but easy to read so even though I spent time reading Clarissa, I should have read at least 5 books. And this means that I’m only 2 books ahead now. I had hoped to be 4 books ahead at this point – I need to build up a solid lead to prepare for Les Miserables later this year …

So – here’s what I did manage to finish this month.

  1. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. An incredibly book about a boy loosing his father in the 9-11 attacks and trying to come to term with it. 5 stars.
  2. Don DeLillo: Falling Man. A survivor from the attacks on the World Trade Centers try to come to terms with his life and figure out how to put his life back together while a performance artist reenacts one of the victims’ fall all over town. 3 stars.
  3. Amy Waldman: The Submission. What if a Muslim American designs the winning monument for Ground Zero? What would happen? A good book that manages to evoke the feeling that was dominating in the time after the 9-11 attacks. 3 stars.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. 40 students is put on an island, given weapons and told to fight each other ’till only one is still alive. The Hunger Games for adults – with much more violence. 5 stars.

I only read 1495 pages this month. Normally, I read more than 2000 pages a month so I’m not sure what happened. Yes, I did read some Clarissa, but still. I did that too in the previous months. And in some of them I read more than 2000 pages as well as a book on my kindle and some Clarissa. So this month was just bad. And I don’t know why…

So I did rather lousy with my challenges this month. I did read 3 books for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge so I have now read 13 books so far for this challenge. So I’m more than halfway there so this is going good. I did read another bonus chunkster this month for the Chunkster ChallengeBattle Royale with it’s 624 pages. I still need to read one book which is greater than 750 pages so I didn’t make any progress with this challenge. I didn’t read anything by either Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman, so no progress with either of these challenges. I’m struggling along with the Clarissa read-a-long – I’m finding it really hard to take time from the other books I’m reading to sit down with Clarissa. So I’m behind but not a lot and I will catch up at some point. I’m stubborn enough to finish this book this year (at least I’m pretty sure I’m that stubborn…!). And finally, my own challenge, my list of 25 books that I want to read this year … and I managed to read … none. Zero. Zilch.

Since I didn’t read even one book from my list of 25 books, I have some catching up to do. Since I don’t want to play catch-up in the last months of this year, I have to get some books read from my list and for the other challenges. So I have to focus on that in May. I plan to finish The City & The City, of course, and probably also Dragonfly in Amber and The Mists of Avalon – and hopefully 1 or two more. And that’s just to catch up! Sighs … But I made this list because I really want to read these books so I just have to buckle down and get to it! And that’s what May is for!

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Amy Waldman: The Submission (review)

This is the third book I read in my small 9-11 read-along and it’s definitely the easiest read of the three, the other two being Don DeLillo Falling Man and Jonathan Safran Foer Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Still, even with being an easy read, this has a lot of information about the aftermath of 9-11.

A jury has been gathered to decide on a memorial for Ground Zero. This is two years after 9-11 and the jury has been going through a lot of entries and finally narrowed it down to two – they argue back and forth about which one and finally the jury decides on a design –  with especially the support of Claire Burwell, who is representing all the families who lost someone in the attack. They choose a beautiful garden enclosed by a wall with the names of all the victims on it.

But when they open the envelope with the name of the architect, they get a bit of a surprise. The architect turns out to be an American Muslim, Mohammad Khan.Now the question becomes if it matters who the architect is. Turns out it does. When it’s leaked to the public that the architect is a muslim, all hell breaks loose. Claire still sticks up for him but faces serious opposition from a lot of the other families.

The families are torn between what to think about a Muslim architect. Some see it as a way to reconcile – others see it as a slap in the face. Can a Muslim design a memorial for all these people who were killed by other Muslims?

A sidestory to this is the story of the illegal immigrants who also were killed in the attack, personified by Inam and Asma Anwar’s story. They come from Bangladesh to get a better life in USA. But Inam is killed in the attacks and Asthma is now on her own with their little boy. Without understanding much English, she has to find out to go on living as a single Muslim woman. She wants her husband to be mentioned on the memorial. She wants a place to go with her son to remember his father, her husband. When she decides to speak, her words have a huge impact.

There was some events towards the end that I at first thought would put an amazing twist to the story but it didn’t really work for me. I also quite didn’t believe in Claire’s development. I was sure that she was going in one direction and when she went in the complete opposite one, I was very surprised – especially since it came right after her remembering a situation with her husband, talking about how you can like an artwork without liking the artist or vice versa, that liking one and hating the other isn’t mutually exclusive.

What I did like about this book was it’s focus on how difficult it was to be a Muslim at that point. How all Muslims were judged by what a few extremists did and how the difference between being a terrorist and a Muslim disappeared. I liked the focus on how hateful the dialogue became and how you couldn’t say anything critical of the government without being called unpatriotic. It really put a spotlight on the importance of not judging an entire group of people by what a few representatives from that group do.

I really liked how Claire’s children build cairns all the way through New York to guide their daddy home. I loved that way of showing how children need something tangibly to work through their grief – it reminded me of how Oscar in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close visited all the people named Black to solve what he thought was the last riddle left to him by his dad and how the children in Falling Man sits at the window looking for planes. The building of the cairns is a beautiful thing. And it becomes clear that it’s also an extremely important thing since we later in the novel both have a destruction of a cairn and also a new cairn, a very significant cairn.

These cairns are a way of remembering. One way. Just one way. Nothing more. And that’s the thing. If you visit a cemetery, you will see how many different ways there are of remembering. The gravestones differs, there are small stone birds and bird baths on some graves, constantly fresh flowers on others and so on. So with all these people killed on 9-11, how do you make one memorial that will suit all? Not to mention the rest of the States. As well as the fact that this memorial also have to send a signal to the rest of the world. What is the right way to remember all this loss of life?

I think the novel really works in bringing about the way it felt like in those first years. How hard it is to follow your head and do what you know is right when your heart is screaming out against it. How things don’t exist in a vacuum but are depending on so many other facts and circumstances and how our decisions are influenced by all this. It might have been taking the easy way out to write the novel from a young Muslim woman’s viewpoint but to me, she was a more interesting than Claire. But maybe that’s more because I don’t quite believe in Claire’s decisions.

I have a hard time rating this novel. I think there’s a lot of good in it but maybe it didn’t live quite up to my expectations. I think maybe that while at the same time the novel’s strength is how easy and quickly it is in discussing some very serious topics about racism, sorrow, anger and a nation trying to heal itself, it’s also the novel’s weakness. I felt like it skated a bit over the issues without going completely in depth with any of them. But it is a good read, it raises some interesting points but I still think Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the better 9-11 novel of the three, I’ve read now.

  • Title: The Submission
  • Author: Amy Waldman
  • Publisher: William Heinemann
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 299 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Introducing a new theme: 9-11

From my experience of reading several books related to Charles Dickens and his unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood I have learned, that it brings something extra to the reading experience when you attack a theme from several angles or view points. And because of that, I would like to read more in themes – choose a few books with the same issues or some other relation to each other and read them close together. My Dickens-Drood theme has been a rather huge affair and I’m not done with it yet. But this is not preventing me from reading other themes – especially shorter themes with only a few books.


When something happens, when disaster strikes, it often takes some time before it shows up in fiction and popular culture. It’s been more than 10 years since 9-11 and my impression is that not many authors have dared to write about this theme. I haven’t read any books about it yet – and I have to admit that I haven’t watched any movies with this theme either. But I have three books on my shelves about 9-11 and I’m looking forward to reading them and to see what these three different authors have to say about this theme.

  1. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The movie version of this was nominated for an Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year and the trailer looked interesting. The book looks very different from most other novels with it’s blank pages, pages with only one sentence on it or several pages with pictures of a falling man. Also, Jonathan Safran Foer is an author that I’m looking forward to reading so I’m excited about this.
  2. Don DeLillo: Falling Man. I have not had the best of luck with Don DeLillo so far. I gave up on Underworld and although I have read Mao II it didn’t make a huge impression on me (but I think I had the wrong expectations). This is a novel about a 9-11 survivor and I’m hoping this will change my impression of Don DeLillo – especially since I plan on giving Underworld another try later this year.
  3. Amy Waldman: The Submission. This novel is more about the aftermath of 9-11. It’s not mentioned explicit in this novel that it’s about 9-11 but it’s about a memorial for a devastating terrorist attack. A jury gathers to select what memorial – and the anonymous winner turns out to be an American Muslim. I’m so looking forward to reading this novel!

Book shopping in Paris (part 2)

On this our first whole day in Paris, we made it to three book stores. The first of these was Village Voice. I had really looked forward to this store and knew it was one of the stores I wanted to go to. And it really is a good store. So many great fiction novels – especially contemporary.

I really think this is a great store and if you happened to live in Paris for a while, this would probably be the go-to store. Not only does it have all the new books and also a bit more of literary fiction than some stores, it also has a lot of great events happening. At least they look great on the website. Still, I only bought two books here  – although they have some books that I kind of wish I had bought too now … as well as I wish I had bought the Granta (Theme: 10 years after 9-11).

Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ve been wanting to read this book for so so long so when I saw it, I picked it up immediately. This is a book about a high school shooting with the main focus on the mother who never really wanted to be a mother and now have to come to terms with what role she played in his act. At least that’s what I think it’s about – we’ll see when I get to read it what it’s really about.

Amy Waldman: The Submission

I heard about this on the New York Times Book Review podcast and it sounded very interesting. It’s about 9-11 but not really. After a terrorist attack, a jury have to decide what memorial to build. After choosing the best one, they open the envelope and realize the architect is an American Muslim – and that kicks off a heated debate. I can’t wait to read this – I hope it will have a lot of insights into the America of today.

If you think you’ve read about these books before, it’s because I made a mistake and thought I had bought these two at Shakespeare & Co. So I’ve corrected the first Book Shopping in Paris post with the 4 books I bought at Shakesspeare & Co. so please check it out as well.