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updated 9/8/2011 8:19:00 AM ET 2011-09-08T12:19:00

Though so much of the way we live today seems to have been shaped by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it’s still startling to realize that it’s been 10 years since that fateful day. For those who witnessed its horrors firsthand — whether in New York City, Washington, D.C. or Shanksville, Pa. — the memories remain all too fresh. Even for those who only watched on television, the images and aftershocks are indelible.

Rebuilding a life in the wake of Sept. 11

A decade later, we are still coming to grips with the toll of 9/11. As our culture continues to process its ramifications, myriad writers have taken to the page to recount, deconstruct and understand the experience. Here are just a few books that take a poignant look at the events and effects of the event.

‘Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11’
By Damon DiMarco
(Santa Monica Press)
Arguably the most successful attempt at capturing the enormity of the events of 9/11, Damon DiMarco’s sprawling oral history runs a wide gamut of testimony from survivors, responders, witnesses and people whose lives were forever altered by the attacks. The human stories are presented with a raw candor a thousand times more affecting than any cold statistic offered by a commission. The most recent, expanded edition includes follow-up interviews with some of the individuals initially profiled, providing updates on their lives and their ongoing struggles to come to terms with the events of a decade ago. “Tower Stories” is a riveting and disarmingly emotional read.

‘102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers’
By Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
(Times Books)
New York Times reporter Dwyer and special projects editor Flynn chronicle what happened in the World Trade Center on 9/11 between 8:46 a.m., when the first hijacked plane crashed into the North Tower, and that tower’s collapse at 10:28, 29 minutes after the South Tower fell. Their account is as gripping as it is meticulous, filled with tales of both horror and heroism: a bank employee who evacuated after the first collision, then returned to his desk, only to die after seeing the second plane hurtle straight toward his office; an insurance executive trapped in an elevator plunging downward, its cables severed; a window washer who escaped from an elevator stuck between floors by scraping through wallboard and ceramic tile; people clawing their way toward the windows of the upper floors, desperate for a breath of air. The scores of stories they present from dozens of different viewpoints are harrowing and haunting.

Dick Cheney on 9/11: 'We were living in the fog of war'

‘Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York’
By Adam Gopnik
(Vintage)
“Through the Children’s Gate” is a collection of essays by the celebrated New Yorker contributor about his 2001 relocation to Manhattan after a lengthy spell in Paris, detailed in his previous book, “Paris to the Moon.” Gopnik and his budding family of four arrive back in the city just before Sept. 11, but his book does not dwell gratuitously on the horrors of that day. Instead, Gopnik grapples thoughtfully with the unnerving challenge of raising his children in an environment of unimaginable, traumatic change. How do you alleviate the concerns of a 9-year-old who has just witnessed one of the greatest catastrophes of our lifetime? As he observes his kids immersing themselves in imaginary friends, pets, fads, music, holidays and sports — both as a means of navigating the 9/11 experience and simply going through the process of being a kid in New York City — Gopnik finds himself questioning the rituals of being both a parent and an endearingly fallible adult. The book becomes less about the tragedy of the attacks than contemporary life in post-9/11 New York.

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‘Where You Left Me’
By Jennifer Gardner Trulson
(Gallery Books)
A frank, first-person account of one woman’s struggle to come to grips with losing her husband on Sept. 11, Jennifer Gardner Trulson’s “Where You Left Me” strips widowhood of its somber mystique and frames it in the sharp, uncompromising light of day. Haunted by her idyllic former life as a happily married wife and mother, Trulson is forced to come to terms with a new reality. Determined to move forward and not diminish her husband by focusing “on how he died instead of how he lived,” she earns a second chance and builds a new life for her family.

‘Where You Left Me’: 9/11 widow regains ability to love

‘The Legacy Letters’
Collected by Tuesday’s Children; edited by Brian Curtis
(Penguin Group)
Tuesday’s Children is a nonprofit organization that supports families of 9/11 victims and others impacted by global terrorism. This affecting book comprises poignant letters from children, parents, spouses, family members and other loved ones of 100 people who died in the attacks. Some of the letter writers are lifelong New Yorkers; others are first-generation Americans, or citizens of other countries. Yet from all their diverse voices, a motif emerges: resolve to honor the loved ones they lost by living purposeful lives. As one writes: “People think that we have ‘moved on,’ but I prefer to think we have moved forward.” All proceed from sales of the book go to Tuesday’s Children.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

Photos: Remains of the day

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  1. Nancy Nee, George's sister

    A heavily dented and damaged mass hardly recognizable as the helmet it once was. Thinking about how powerful the destructive force must have been still makes her lose her breath. “George was such a tall, strong man’,’ says Nancy Nee. And yet looking at the black relic brings her a certain measure of peace. Her brother George Cain was a firefighter to the core and the helmet was an integral part of his life. On Sept. 11, George helped evacuate hundreds of guests from the Marriott Hotel, close to the World Trade Center. When the towers collapsed, he did not stand a chance. The hotel was destroyed, but most of the guests survived. To this day, her children miss their uncle very much, says Nancy. She still hasn’t shown her two youngest the helmet.

    Captions by Giuseppe di Grazia and Martin Knobbe / stern Magazine
    Translation by Anuschka Tomat (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Myrta Gschaar, Robert’s Wife

    Maybe he did manage to get out of the South Tower after all. Maybe he is wandering around not knowing who he is. For years, these thoughts haunted Myrta Gschaar. She did not abandon hope, until the day authorities informed her that her husband’s wallet had been recovered. When she went to the police station to pick it up, she saw the two-dollar bill. Myrta Gschaar felt dizzy and the policemen needed to keep her from falling. It was one of the two-dollar bills with which Robert had proposed to Myrta. They had promised each other to always carry theirs with them. When Myrta had recovered, she placed the slightly charred note next to her undamaged one. She moved them toward each other as if they were about to kiss for the last time. Or the first. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Bradley Burlingame, Charles’ brother

    The poem’s words are still clearly legible: “Don’t stand at my grave crying. I am not here. I did not die.” This sentence was printed on the reverse side of the funeral card for Patricia Burlingame. Her son Charles always carried it with him, just as he did on the day that terrorists hijacked the plane he was flying. Flight AA 77 crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., at 9:37 am. Sixty-four people on the plane and 125 more inside the building died. Knowing that his brother had the funeral card on him is a comforting thought for Brad Burlingame. Just as comforting, that he likely died a hero. The flight data analysis showed that 30 minutes after takeoff, the air carrier suddenly started an erratic flight pattern. For Brad, it indicates a struggle in the cockpit. “Charles was a former Navy pilot. He defended his plane and his passengers until the very end.” (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Erich Bay, Lorraine’s husband

    Lorraine Bay was supposed to be back home from her United Airlines flight on Wednesday night. On the evening of Sept. 12th, the flight attendant planned to celebrate her husband's birthday. Half a year later in their house, Erich found the presents Lorraine had bought for him: two shirts and two belts. It took Erich a long time before he mustered the strength to enter Lorraine’s room. And it took him even longer before he was able to open the box that contained her belongings that had been recovered from the area where her plane crashed in Pennsylvania. In it, he found a pair of sandals Lorraine had packed for the late summer weather. Her wedding band was slightly melted and it was missing a stone. The ring remains Erich’s most important memento of his wife. He gave Lorraine’s earrings to one of his nieces, but he will keep the wedding band until he dies. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Joseph and Samia Iskandar, Waleed’s parents

    Three frequent flyer cards and a debit card are all that remained of their son. Recovery workers at Ground Zero found neither his body nor any parts of it Thus, the parents placed the four cards along with a photo of their son in a niche in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles. The plastic is the only remembrance of the last day of Waleed Iskandar's life. The youngest of three children, he was born in Lebanon and raised in Kuwait. He graduated from Stanford and Harvard. In his job as a consultant and in his leisure time with his girlfriend, Nicolette, he flew more than 400,000 miles a year. He was sitting in the window seat in row 34 when the plane crashed into the North tower. His parents, Joseph and Samia Iskandar, hope that maybe “he did not exactly know what was going on in the cockpit.” (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Nelly Braginsky, Alexander’s mother

    Alexander Braginsky had immediately accepted an invitation by his employer, the news agency Reuters, to an 8:30 am business breakfast at Windows on the World on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. Fifteen minutes later, a Boeing 767 crashed into the North Tower. “If he had only stayed in his office, if he had only been less keen on learning new things,” says his mother. Braginsky, however, wanted to know everything and he happily shared his knowledge. On the evening of the day he died, he was scheduled to hold a lecture in front of immigrants. He himself was an immigrant, who came to the U.S. from Odessa, Ukraine, when he was 15 years old. Ever since, he had helped others navigate the exciting metropolis of New York. For a long time, the wallet had been the only memory of her son that Nelly Braginsky could hold in her hands. Just this past April, she learned that a bone fragment had been found. Finally, she was able to bury Alexander. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Betzy Parks, Robert's sister

    To his sister, he was the man who wrote letters. He sent her a greeting card when she graduated from High School. He sent her encouraging words when she left for England to pursue her studies and later when she traveled Europe. Writing letters was his way of showing his affection. Thus, Betzy Parks knew immediately that she had found the perfect gift for her brother Robert when she spotted a silvery letter opener in a bazaar in Mexico in 1991. He had kept it on his desk ever since and he took it with him when he started working as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. There, the father of two teenagers was known as a wizard with numbers. He knew almost every movement of the stock market since 1929 by heart, as well as every home run the New York Yankees ever made. On Sept. 11th, 2001, Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 of the 1,000 employees in its York headquarters. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Sonia Tita Puopolo, Sonia Morales Puopolo's daughter

    When Sonia Tita Puopolo received a call almost one year after the attacks on 9/11, informing her that rescue workers had recovered her mother’s left hand with the wedding ring still on it, she did not know whether to laugh or cry. The ring, of all things! It was the symbol of the great love between Sonia Morales Puopolo and her husband, Dominic. It remained almost intact. Every diamond was in its right place. “For me it is a symbol of hope despite all the sadness,” says her daughter. Today, Sonia Tita Puopolo wears the ring just as her father wished. She even wrote a book about the ring. The Puopolos were a generous couple. They made donations to a number of causes: the Democratic Party, gay rights groups, AIDS and cancer programs. On Sept. 11, the mother of three children was on her way to visit her son Mark Anthony. She was on the first plane that slammed into the towers. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Barbara Spence, Maynard’s wife

    In April 2002, recovery workers found the first body parts belonging to Maynard Spence, pieces of organs and fragments of his bones. His wife, Barbara, didn't want to see them. Together with Maynard’s daughters from his first marriage, Barbara decided to cremate everything. She spread Maynard's ashes over his favorite mountain in North Carolina. Barbara wanted to remember Maynard as this tall man with a vibrant laugh, as the man who penned her short love letters. Yet, today the most important love note is the one she herself wrote, scribbled on one of those notepads lying around in hotels. Maynard, from Atlanta, had this note on him when he visited the New York branch of the insurance company he worked for. “Hey Lover Boy – hope you have a wonderful day! I’ll be thinking of you! Love Babs.” Four years ago, she got a tattoo above her heart. It features a yellow rose, a hummingbird and the date 9/11, and will forever connect her to Maynard. (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Alison Crowther, Welles’ mother

    He was the man with the red bandanna, an accessory he had adopted from his grandfather. He wore the bandanna on this morning at the Trade Center, high above the southern tip of Manhattan. Welles Crowther survived the initial impact of the plane. Shortly thereafter, he called his father. It was the last that was heard from him. Months later, his mother, Alison, read an article in which witnesses recounted how they were rescued from a smoky stairwell by a man whose nose and mouth were covered by a red bandanna. Six months after the attack, rescue workers found Welles’ body under a shattered staircase. The time on his wristwatch, a Citizen Chronograph WR 200, had stopped at 2:25. The red bandanna was not recovered.

    Captions by Giuseppe di Grazia and Martin Knobbe / stern Magazine
    Translation by Anuschka Tomat (Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Henry Leutwyler / Contour by Getty Images for stern Magazine
    Above: Slideshow (10) Remains of the day
  2. BUSH
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    Slideshow (13) Aftermath of Sept. 11 attacks
  3. Reuters
    Slideshow (20) Sept. 11: Attack on America

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