Sunday, January 10, 2021

Book Review: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff (audio)

I wasn't sure if I'd ever like an audiobook with multiple narrators. But an oral history is the natural book for that audio format. I've been reading more oral histories the last few years and liking them, although thus far they've mostly been about pop culture (TV shows and movies). This was my first serious one. And boy, how serious! I also wasn't sure if I should listen to a book about September 11th. I was in New York on that day and I don't especially like hearing other people's stories much, plus I strongly think that abbreviations like "9/11" are disrespectful, and even though I myself was in NYC, I dislike how many accounts ignore the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA. A college friend's brother died in Shanksville.

But this won the Audie award for best audiobook in 2020 and the reviews were fantastic and it kept showing as available in my library system, so I finally decided to give it a try. If I didn't like it I could stop. It also was much longer than I usually prefer, but it was over the holiday break so I had a good chance at finishing it before my 2 weeks were up. 

It is amazing like everyone says. An oral history was perfect for multiple narrators (and no, that one guy who sounds like Rainn Wilson isn't. There is a listing at the end of all the narrators. Although they don't seem to be listed anywhere else, particularly not in any of the publisher's websites or materials, which I thought was kind of crappy.) I do wish at least a couple of famous people --Rudy Guiliani, Katie Couric--could have recorded their own parts, especially because they were not very long overall. The accounts of people who were trapped in the World Trade Center buildings that day were particularly harrowing, of course. And the firefighters and other first responders brought a different perspective. They didn't have a lot of perspectives of regular office workers uptown like me who only had to walk several miles and be out of work for a couple of days. I wish the chapter on children's responses had been half the length. It was interesting hearing about kids whose schools were in the Financial District and Battery Park City, who were in danger themselves and who often had parents who worked in the buildings. But there were too many kids from all across the country. That though is the book's only flaw. I was amazed that people went back to work in the Pentagon the next day, even though parts of it were still on fire! 

If you experienced that day in those places and know what it was like, this book is respectful and conscientious and thorough. If you didn't, it will give you a real insight into what it was like. And for all of us, it was fascinating to learn about how the president being shuttled around the country from Florida in the days before technology was where it needed to be, meant those aboard Air Force One knew less about what was going on than pretty much anyone else in the country. They occasionally could get a local news channel for about 20 minutes as they traveled over a major city. Hearing about the responses within government that day was pretty eye-opening.

There were a few moments where the recordings were tough, but you knew everyone on the recordings had survived by the nature of the project (not everyone they were speaking to, though.) I really appreciated having the actual recordings from air traffic control and George Bush's speech. 

If you kind of what to read/listen to this but are worried you'll be sobbing throughout--I wasn't. I had one little moment where I teared up for a second, but I was fine. I wouldn't recommend listening/reading before bed. Pick a sunny day.

I listened to this digital audio book through Libby/Overdrive.

No comments: