Reading after 9/11

flagIt won’t come as a surprise to anyone in the U.S. that Sunday marks a very important anniversary; it’s been 10 years since September 11, 2001.

Our world changed in so many ways that day.  Never again would we casually run to the airport to catch a flight.  We eyed strangers or those who looked different warily.  We accepted curbs to our civil rights that would have been unthinkable just days earlier.  To get an idea of how drastic it all was, I remember that the summer prior to 9/11, the big news was the disappearance of Chandra Levy (a big story here in D.C.) and multiple shark attacks.

In those first weeks after 9/11, I don’t think I did much reading since I was too caught up in the 24-hour news cycle.   Then, thankfully, I got my hands on a review copy of The Fiery Cross and I was lost in the adventures of Jamie and Claire in the new world.

My memories of that book are very tied up with that time.  Others said that there was too much time spent with Brianna and Roger (I agreed) and Claire’s medical experiments (I didn’t), but for me the book was a welcome passport to a new and different world.  I loved it.  But, more importantly, I needed it.

As the world settled down, I gradually got back into the reading patterns that were so familiar to me. Historicals began a resurgence that would last for years because publishers felt that readers wanted to escape into happier times.  That certainly held true for me.

But, interspersed now with historicals, I’ve eased my way back into contemporary romance and romantic suspense, but with the latter, there is a difference.

I now have zero tolerance for books with a terrorism theme or subtext – most especially if the book is badly done.  I give Brockmann a pass, however, because her books seem more realistically done than others.  When the attack against Bin Laden happened, I actually felt as if I had some insight into the men who were our national heroes.  And heroes they are.

There’s another way my reading life changed – perhaps, forever.  I have no interest – as in zip, zero, nada – in the current crop of dystopian novels.  I live in Washington, D.C. and the apocalypse is something I fear.  It’s too real a possibility for me to be able to “enjoy” a post-apocalyptic fictional experience. And, frankly, I just don’t see that changing.

As we all prepare for the anniversary, I’m wondering if your reading habits changed since 9/11? Or are you still reading as you always did?

- Sandy AAR

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40 Responses to “Reading after 9/11”

  1. DabneyAAR says:

    What a great column. I’d have to say I too–the the exception of YA literature–found myself growing tired of dystopian novels. In fact, over the past ten years, I’ve lost interest in novels that portray life as a depressing slog and humans as to flawed to love. Since 9/11, I’ve gone from reading mostly high end literature to romance and mysteries. I don’t need fiction to tell me that, at times, life sucks, those you love can die, or people can treat each other horribly. I look for redemption not damnation in my books. I am sure that need is why I’ve gone from reading no romance in the years before to 2001 to reading tons of romance. I feel as though I am happier for that switch, especially in the post 9/11 world.

  2. We’re all authors. Between the beginning and the end we write our own stories.

    Since 9/11 I’m very conscious that none of us write our own endings. So we need to spread out the happiness to encompass more than the end.

    We need to write happiness and joy into every hour of our lives. And we need to say “I love you” much, much more often.

  3. Leigh says:

    Like you I was caught up in watching the 24 hour news channels. While I never really thought about it after that I was very much into reading political intrigue books by Lee Child, W.E.B. Griffin, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor where the good guy always wins.

    I used to read romantic suspense, but after reading so many of the gritty stories, the plots just seem full of holes.

    I can’t say that I have embraced apocalypse now books either. I don’t want to read about the world coming to an end.

    • Vol Fan says:

      Leigh: Like you I was caught up in watching the 24 hour news channels. While I never really thought about it after that I was very much into reading political intrigue books by Lee Child, W.E.B. Griffin, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor where the good guy always wins. I used to read romantic suspense, but after reading so many of the gritty stories, the plots just seem full of holes. I can’t say that I have embraced apocalypse now books either. I don’t want to read about the world coming to an end.

      As you, I find myself devouring books by Lee Child, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor. I also am fascinated by apocalyptic books, wherein the hero/heroine rules in the end. Good over evil. Before 9/11, I don’t think I had ever read any of these type of books. Now, I read all of them that I can find.

      We also have more military/black ops type books out there in romance. I don’t recall many of them before, but they have become quite popular and I do enjoy them.

  4. maggie b. says:

    I don’t think 9/11 changed my reading habits. Or viewing habits re TV or movies. Maybe because I have read many books on the early pioneers and realized that life can be hard, can be a struggle, that the world can be difficult and there still be beauty and greatness in it. I think that is one of my attractions to WWII romances as well. Here were people who just came out of the great depression, who were only just getting back on their feet and they fought and sacrificed to keep the world free of tyranny. And there is no bitterness in their tales – they were proud and happy to do it. I want more of that in my own life. Less whining by moi about the little struggles I face and more of that can do American spirit that formed a nation, kept it together in the face of those who would have torn it apart, and stood up to tyranny when it came knocking at our door once more.

    Of course, I have the built in HEA of romance to cushion the whole thing, so that helps ;-)

  5. lauren says:

    Since 9/11 I actually started to read more…we ALL changed on that day in many ways…I was also in a transition in life having just entered my 40′s. My kids were teens…my mother had just become disabled in 1999 and I had the care of her and still do 12 years later. Our business took a huge hit financially after 9/11…due to many things…we lost our savings and retirement within a few months (and the rest went in 2009) …our daughter was struggling and our son was embarking on adulthood (at least chronologically) the stress of that year devastated me like no other…fear…anxiety…and post traumatic stress from the previous 3 years put me in a deep depression that took about 5 years to recover from. So now as the 10th anniversary of the attack on the united states by an enemy is upon us I look back and am very grateful for the lessons I have learned and the person I have become since that time. If it were not for the escape of reading…who knows what would have been my path.

  6. xina says:

    I can’t remember what I was reading after 9/11, but I remember watching in absolute horror and being very upset. Whenever something bad happens in my life, I don’t read novels. My head is filled with questions and worry and I can’t relax enough to read. I’m sure that is what I was going through after 9/11.
    After the Bin Laden capture I just happened to pick up Brockmann’s, Prince Joe, and just kept going in the TDD series. Even though I had read it before, each book kept my interest. I don’t know if it had to do with the incident, but perhaps it did.
    As for post-apocalypse novels…romance or otherwise, I have no interest at this time. I believe the readers that do enjoy them, at least with the romance novel variety, are looking for reassurance that there is indeed a happy ending even in a world turned upside down. However, they are not for me.
    Great article Sandy. Beautifully written.

  7. bungluna says:

    Dabney said: “I look for redemption not damnation in my books.”

    I do too. We were stationed in D.C. and my husband was working across the freeway from the Pentagon. We were living on post and got locked down. The stress was tremendous, as well as the fear and uncertainty. My books got me through that time. I also have zero interest in apocalyptic novels. I prefer sci-fi with a more optimistic view of humanity’s future or lighter contemporaries. The hea is a great consolation to me.

  8. RTD says:

    I think there’re some incredible authors dealing with terrorism, and I believe it’s important to address these issues. I don’t believe in diving into fantasy land when the going gets tough – I’d much rather read about realistic characters today dealing with real threats than about yet another ditsy spinster marrying the Duke of This or That after a most scandalous affair during The Season.

    It’s not only Suzanne Brockmann who does a brilliant job, though Over the Edge is one of my favourite books ever. It was released only a couple of weeks before September 11, and eerily foreshadows the events of that day. Brockmann really knew her stuff.

    I wouldn’t say it’s just Americans whose lives were changed – the entire world was changed by that day. It’s not just in America that you have to get groped at airports now, and carry your possessions in little plastic bags. It wasn’t only the USA who sent troops to the Middle East – and it wasn’t only America who had many deaths because of it. It wasn’t only America who watched the plane fly into the second tower – live on television – it was everyone the world over. People from many, many countries died that day.
    Every airport in the world was closed after it happened. I should know – I was on the other side of the world and couldn’t get on an aeroplane!

    If anything, these events made me more interested in the military and the conflicts in the world. I feel it’s important to know what’s going on.

    • xina says:

      RTD: I think there’re some incredible authors dealing with terrorism, and I believe it’s important to address these issues. I don’t believe in diving into fantasy land when the going gets tough – I’d much rather read about realistic characters today dealing with real threats than about yet another ditsy spinster marrying the Duke of This or That after a most scandalous affair during The Season.

      Yes, but some of us might find comfort in that ditzy spinster. Nothing wrong with that.

  9. Lada says:

    I started reading more romance after 9/11 for the escapism and the guarenteed HEA. I found – still find – comfort in reading about people finding renewal and redemption and love overcoming all obstacles.

    I do have certain preferences like characters who are strong and behave intelligently but I don’t care so much about genre. A good book is a good book is a good book. A talented author can get me to read almost anything.

  10. kathy says:

    Sandy; As usual I love your writing. After 9/11 everyone should be reading romance with a HEA.

  11. Susan says:

    I wasn’t reading romance back then, but I don’t think my reading habits changed much after 9/11.

    It didn’t change much after the Murrah Building Bombing here on OKC, either.

    I already read to escape. If anything I just read more during those times.

    I like a good thriller or romantic suspense, but I don’t read those books as often as other types of romance.

    As far as dystopian fiction, I stopped reading that in the 70s before the Cold War ended. (OMG I’m getting old…)

  12. Sandy C. says:

    My reading habits didn’t change, but I did find a new author because of 9/11. I read an article in the L.A. Times in which 9/11 was called “a failure of imagination”, and they were turning to authors who had written fictional scenarios of terrorism. Suzanne Brockmann was mentioned due to the terrorists using knives to hold up the airplane (eerily similar to box cutters) in “Over the Edge”. I was intrigued enough to seek out her books during my next visit to the bookstore, and I’ve been a Troubleshooters fan ever since.

  13. Vol Fan says:

    I’ve been thinking about this more since my previous post and wanted to add something to it.

    I think (for me anyway) that I lost my innocence then. Even though I’m no youngster, I still think to some degree I was still a bit innocent. I didn’t have much interest in politics, nor certainly never expected any kind of really bad to touch me. So 9/11 changed me in many ways. I had to deal with my husband becoming disabled (still is) and then taking care of my elderly parents too (My father passed on, but I still take care of my mom). I never realized until this blog question that it did change me in ways I didn’t even know. I found myself wanting to read about strong, heroic winners. Those characters that took on terrorists and evil-doers and won out! I guess in my own fashion, I wanted to say “To hell with you all, we will never let you defeat us”, if that makes any sense. LOL I became intensely interested in politics and still am to this day. I read a lot of political non-fiction, along with fiction.

    I understand how some want to get away from it all in sweet and/or regular romances, and I do still enjoy them, but for me it seems to be the opposite. I want to be transported too, but I want to see good, strong people like Mitch Rapp and Jack Reacher sticking it to the terrorists and evil people who have preyed on us and destroyed our innocence.

  14. Heather S AAR says:

    I once had a college professor that told me that when you’ve been the victim of a violent attack, the world suddenly becomes a very dark and dangerous place. You don’t trust anyone, not even your friends. That was certainly true for me at that point in time and to a certain extent it was true for me after 9/11. I went through a period of time where I couldn’t stand any sort of violence, in books, tv, movies. The horror was too fresh in my mind and I had to escape to happier places mentally.

    Eventually, though, I was able to resume my previous reading habits. But then when my fiance called off our engagement, I found I couldn’t stand to read anything happy. It just reminded me of how miserable I was. Fortunately, I overcame this as well and have happily enjoyed romance ever since.

    A few months ago I spent several long days and nights at my grandmother’s bedside while she was dying. I needed an escape, another world that I could sink into and forget about beeping machines and IVs and disinfectants. I relied on Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series to transport me to a different time and place. Bloody and violent, yes. But somehow that was just what I needed.

  15. jcscot says:

    I can’t say that my reading habits changd post-9/11. I’ve always been a voraciuos and wide-ranging reader anyway but I do agree that my life was directly affected by those events. I’m Scottish, married to a soldier, and was living in England at the time. That day, tge

  16. jcscot says:

    I can’t say that my reading habits changd post-9/11. I’ve always been a voraciuos and wide-ranging reader anyway but I do agree that my life was directly affected by those events. I’m Scottish, married to a soldier, and was living in England at the time. That day, the barracks upped the security state and we had armed soldiers patrolling the patch. My husband, a young captain, was working in the divisional headquarters and within weeks was in Afghanistan.

    10 years on, we have three children aged five and under and my husband (now a Lt Col) is preparing for yet another op tour, this time in Helmand.

    It goes without saying that America bore and continues to bear the brunt of the fallout from that day. However, other families in other countries also pay the price in blood and separation and anxiety.

  17. Carrie says:

    My reading didn’t change after 9/11. At that time I was mainly reading non-fiction and mysteries, and I only read between 25-50 books a year. In 2008 a family crisis threw me for a loop at about the same time I started reading mysteries and suspense books that contained more romance. I also went on a Georgette Heyer kick at the time. I don’t watch much TV or many movies, so books became my way of escaping the stress.

    I read romantic suspense, PNR, post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy, sci-fi romance, contemporary, and some historical romances. While I read plenty of books with violence (Kate Daniels series, for one) I mostly skip the more gritty, realistic contemporary suspense books with sick serial killers or graphic scenes of torture. Violence in a fantasy book doesn’t effect me the same way as violence that sounds too much like the evening news.

    Reading is an escape for me. It can be moving, dramatic, angsty, and tense, or humorous and light. But I don’t necessarily want it to be too realistic or dwell too deeply on the sadness of the human condition. I see that every day in real life.

  18. AAR Sandy says:

    Thanks, everyone, for weighing in! (And Kathy, you made me blush. Many thanks.) Reading is just about the most personal thing there is and it’s not surprising that we’ve reacted in different ways.

    I think I’m going to try and step away from the TV today and not revel in the coverage. But I will watch tomorrow morning.

  19. kathy says:

    Sandy; I think that is a good idea. Cuddle up with you Ragdoll. I hope he is doing well. My Ragdoll Clancey gives me alot of comfort, all the time. I’m sorry I made you blush but it’s true what I said. I can always tell when an article is written by you.

  20. AAR Sandy says:

    Kathy: You have a Ragdoll? The best cats ever! Rufus is doing very well, thank you. Best to Clancey.

  21. dick says:

    Nope. It didn’t change my reading habits at all. In fact, 9/11 has never had the impact on me that it does on many, for I remember Pearl Harbor. My dad was a truck driver, and I can remember his reluctance to go to work. As with 9/11, everybody was glued to the radio.
    In some ways, I find the way in which the nation dwells on 9/11 to be off-putting. I was in high school when the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor rolled around, and although there were editorials and speeches, I don’t remember there being much else. Perhaps winning the war was sufficient to soften the memories.

  22. Diane Farr says:

    I used to read a lot of horror, believe it or not. I don’t think I have read a single horror title since 9/11. I still adore Anne Rice’s vampires, but just … can’t … read ‘em. The only vampires I read about these days are the sparkly kind who find true love and live in the woods and don’t hurt anybody. I guess 9/11 made me afraid of the dark. :(

  23. Julie L says:

    I definitely changed my reading habits since 9/11, before then I read a lot of non-fiction or thrillers, best sellers, spy/espionage type books. After 9/11 I became addicted to only reading Pride and Prejudice and its onlline fanfiction. Then I discovered the Outlander books and read and listened to them constantly on audio over and over which then morphed into discovering historical romances, which is where I mostly am today.

    Like others have mentioned, I needed an escape and couldn’t read anything violent or dark or down. I think I definitely suffered from some kind of post trauma syndrome, I’m 15 miles away from NYC and have a perfect view of the NY Skyline. My husband worked across the street from them (still does) and I was a mess that day. The smoking site of the towers was a daily reminder for over a month after the tragedy of what happened.

    Now, ten years later, I’ve finally added romantic suspense novels to my repertoire and love them, but it’s only occasionally I read them, they’re far and few between. Baby steps.

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