Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn – 102 Minutes: The untold story of the fight to survive inside the Twin Towers.

At 8:46am on Tuesday 11th September 2001, American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. 102 minutes later both towers had collapsed and 2749 lives were lost. This book tells the story of the people inside the towers, those trying to escape and those that went there to help.

Everyone knows where they were on September 11th 2001. In a way it’s like the JFK moment for my generation. I remember that day as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was not personally affected but I knew people that were. I was at university at the time (about to start my second year). The husband of one of the mature students on my course had been in New York working on that day. He had in fact been scheduled for a morning meeting in the World Trade Center. Luckily for him the meeting got cancelled the night before so he was safely in his hotel room elsewhere in the city when the aircraft struck. His wife was unaware that the meeting had been cancelled, so she had no idea if he was still alive, and because of communication issues it was days before they were able to contact each other. At work, one of the secretaries had a cousin who was working in the World Trade Center at the time. She survived but lost a leg. There are so many stories like these we will only ever hear a fraction of them.

I’m fascinated by the events of that day. It feels wrong to say that but nonetheless it’s true. Channel 4 always show good documentaries around the anniversary of the attacks which I make an effort to watch so when I saw this book I had to get it. I had been planning to read the book ready to review for September 11th but I got behind with my reading so I’m a little late. The book actually took me almost two weeks to read which is quite a long time by my standards (I read most books in under a week). It was heavy going, I found I was mostly only able to read one chapter at each sitting. It was a lot to take in, both in the amount of information contained in the text and the emotional side to it as well.

I found the book to be well written and easy to follow. Because it followed the stories of so many different people it did on occasion become a little difficult to remember who was who, but on the whole the authors did a good job of making sure that the reader knew whose story was currently being told. The ones that particularly stood out for me were Doris Eng and Christine Olender, trapped on the top floors of the North Tower in the restaurant, Windows on the World with no way of escaping. Ed Beyea and his friend Abe Zelmanowitz. They were below the impact zone in the North Tower waiting for help, Ed was a wheelchair user so could not use the stairs and Abe wouldn’t leave him. Roko Camaj, a window cleaner in the South Tower and Firefighter Orio J Palmer who was the first rescuer to make it to the impact zone in the South Tower. These are just a very small selection of those whose stories are told in the book. The stories were obtained from interviews with survivors and relatives of those who died and also from recordings of telephone calls made to the emergency services and messages left on the answer phones of loved ones.

As well as telling the human side of the story the book also looked at the reasons why the towers collapsed so quickly and why the planes caused such devastating damage preventing everyone above the impact zone in the North Tower from escaping. Most people above the impact zone in the South Tower also died as despite there being an intact stairway only 18 people managed to find it and escape successfully.

One thing that annoyed me slightly about the book was the continual references and comparisons to the sinking of the Titanic. I can see why the authors may have wanted to draw comparisons but once or twice would have sufficed. I actually find the sinking of the Titanic quite interesting as well, but if I want to read about that then my husband has plenty of books on the subject that I can read.

I liked the diagrams that were included in the book. They helped to give a better idea of the damage such as were the impact zones were and how the stairways and supporting columns were damaged.

I felt at times the book was needlessly political. Whilst I did find it interesting it didn’t really seem to fit all that well. The book is marketed as a story about what it was like inside the towers and the content about the whys of it all did seem to detract from that a little.

That said the book was good and very interesting, although also emotionally draining as can be expected from a text dealing with such a subject. I have picked up more information from the book than I have from the documentaries, I think the information sinks in better when I read it. If you have an interest in the events of September 11th 2001 then this book is definitely worth a read.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Dom Joly Talk and Book Signing

Last Thursday I attended a talk and book signing by Dom Joly at Waterstones in Bristol Galleries (or The Mall Bristol as it’s now called, not to be confused with The Mall Cribbs Causeway!). I was pleased that he was coming to Bristol as we had been planning to go to his book signing in Bristol for his autobiography “Look at me, look at me” a few years ago but it unfortunately got cancelled.

We arrived just on time for the 7pm start and found some seats in the second row. Unfortunately, just before the talk started a large man sat in the seat in front of me which restricted my view somewhat!

Dom was promoting his new book “The Dark Tourist”. He spoke about the places he had visited for the book and his experiences there and showed photos from the trip. He spoke in a very entertaining manner and I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and would have been happy for it to go on much longer. He then opened up for questions from the audience. I’m not generally a fan of audience questions as they can end up being repetitive, pointless or just plain bizarre! A few of the questions asked did fall into those categories but there were a few good questions asked as well. The music from Trigger Happy TV was mentioned which I found particularly interesting as I like the music from the show.

After that we queued up to get our books signed. Dom was friendly and nice, he signed our books and I got a photo with him which you can see below.

Dom Joly

Looking forward to reading the book now. If it’s even half as good as the talk then it will be a good read. I will definitely make to effort to go to another signing if he releases any more books in the future.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Richard Matheson – I Am Legend

Robert Neville is the last man alive, the rest of the population have become bloodthirsty vampires. He spends his days safeguarding his home, killing the vampires and searching for a cure. He spends his nights barricaded in his home trying to drown out the vampires that gather outside trying to get him.

I was looking forward to reading this book as it sounded like just the kind of thing I like. I had seen the film some time ago but couldn’t really remember it very well (in fact I couldn’t even remember it was vampires, I thought it was zombies but that came back to me once I started reading).

I was certainly not disappointed with the book. I enjoyed it very much and read it quite quickly. Before starting I was a little disappointed that it was so short but having now read it I think the length was just right, it would not have gained anything from being any longer, in fact it may have been the worse for it.

I think the loneliness of Robert Neville was captured well. I particularly liked the chapters with the dog which really illustrated this well. I found the book to be well written, enjoyable and quite thought provoking. I would definitely recommend it.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Louis Theroux – The Call of The Weird: Travels in American Subcultures.

I really enjoy watching Louis Theroux’s documentaries and have watched most of them so when I saw this book I had to have it. He has a unique and entertaining style and this is carried across in the book almost as well as on the television.

The names of the chapters are the names of the people who are the main subjects and looking down through the list I recognised many of those names. Even the ones that weren’t familiar at first glance soon came back to me as I stared reading their chapter. There were just two exceptions to this, Ike Turner, as that documentary never got finished and Oscody of the Heavens Gate cult as this is one of the episodes that I have missed.

It was very interesting to see how the peoples lives had changed. I especially liked the chapters about JJ Michaels, the porn star and Jerry Gruidl, an Aryan. Jerry is particularly fascinating as on one hand he comes across as a nice man, he seems quite kind and helpful in many ways but then he reveals his very strong racism and hatred towards non-white people and Jews which is a complete contradiction to the nice side of his personality.

You would be able to read and enjoy this book not having watched the documentaries as Louis includes a summary of his previous visit to that person in each chapter but I think having a knowledge of the programmes helps make the book more enjoyable.