That Day in September by Artie Van Why

A day can change a life.  

The book in one sentence: An ordinary man's first-hand account of that horrifying day in September and how it changed his life.

My thoughts: There are books. And there are stories. Some books remain simply books. This isn't one of them. To read this unadorned, unembellished true story of Artie Van Why's account of September 11 was a privilege for me. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with us, Artie.

The back blurb is:
We all have our stories to tell of where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. This is one of them. In "That Day In September" Artie Van Why gives an eyewitness account of that fateful morning. From the moment he heard "a loud boom" in his office across from the World Trade Center, to stepping out onto the street, Artie vividly transports the reader back to the day that changed our lives and our country forever. "That Day In September" takes you beyond the events of that morning. By sharing his thoughts, fears and hopes, Artie expresses what it was like to be in New York City in the weeks and months following. The reader comes away from "That Day In September" with not only a more intimate understanding of the events of that day but also with a personal glimpse of how one person's life was dramatically changed forever.

I want it to go away. I don't want it to have happened.
But it won't, and it did, and I was there.
I wanted to catch that falling man with the flailing arms and legs.
But I couldn't and I didn't, though I was there.
I wanted to be a here, doing more than I humanly could.
But I wasn't, and I was.
I wanted to be there through the end.
But I wasn't.
I wanted to stay an rescue.
But I didn't.
I wanted to be injured, more dirty, more at risk.
But I wasn't.
I want to imagine being buried, being missing, being gone.
But I can't.
I want to know why I survived, and others didn't.
But I don't.
I want it never to have happened.
But it did. 
 (That Day in September, pages 3-4)

I remember September 11, 2001 quite well, considering it is almost a decade since. I was a mother to a very cute headstrong toddler. The TV was blaring, and I was probably doing something mundane - like feeding the baby or eating. When I saw that black smoke pouring out from the twin towers like a movie-version of Armageddon, I did a doubletake. Because it wasn't a movie happening on-screen, it was real, it was happening.

Surreal on-screen. Moreso there. What follows next is Artie's firsthand account of the horrors he saw, felt, experienced as the day unfolded - the hysteria, flailing bodies, the unthinkable. Artie traces as 9/11 shatters his comfortable little world.

Cut to the past as he recounts his comfortable world before that day: his struggle to find his career but settling into something less than his dream; his struggle with his sexual identity, and slowly finding himself. He remembers mundane experiences in Manhattan: his "coffee man," the plaza during lunchtime, noontime concerts ... Cut to the aftermath, and how he and countless others had to deal with the shock and rebuild their lives.

But that day in September was a crossroads, forcing him to decide what he wants to do with his life.
And as a way of dealing with the shell shock, what started has one little email he wrote for family and friends has since spawned into this book. That book eventually became a one-man theater piece in Los Angeles in October 2002 and Off-Broadway in New York City in 2003. Artie has continued telling his story and today, more people are coming together to collectively tell the story of that day. This book, the theatre shows, and rebuilding his life to be closer to family - it seems to me that he has found his "calling."


Memoirs are always a difficult read for me. I can pull apart a book if it's overly theatrical, outrageous, or just plain cliche. But reality in print? Memoirs, I leave well alone and I let the storytelling take over. I remember someone commenting on Night by Elie Wiesel that the writing was lacking, did not flow, blah blah. I could not for the life of me understand why you would pick apart some of the most courageous writing I had ever read. 

So in this respect, this is not a review in the real sense. It is my way of paying homage to people like Artie who have the courage to share the most intimate part of their soul through their writing - their fears, their hurts, their regrets, and yes, their triumphs. 

This is a no bells, no whistles type of book. There is no beautiful prose - it is strictly pages pulled from someone's diary. It doesn't use verbal acrobatics nor does it use any magical literary devices. But it is real, it is raw, it is honest and it is heartfelt. 

Artie Van Why is an ordinary man. He could be just you or me. But by telling us his story, he has given a voice to those who otherwise could not or would not have spoken. 

It is these types of stories that remind us why people put pen to paper in the first place - to express, to understand, to be be heard. It is through the retelling of many people's stories that we can rightly remember those who died, and those who survived, and are continuing to remember the impacts of that day. It is through stories like these that we can remember the tragedy of the day, the simple acts of heroism, and the reminder of the frailty of humanity.


Artie tells us his story because he is compelled to. Let me leave you with Artie's wish:
The one thing I can do is continue to tell my story ... to help keep the memory of that day alive. To honor those who died. That is my sole desire. To let those words be just a small piece of the history of that day in September. 
Let us remember 9/11. Let us remember through Artie's story. Thank you, Artie.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this review. I am also donating the review copy to my public library so that more people can read Artie Van Why's story. 

For more info, I encourage you to check out these links:


  1. This sounds like a really inspiring read. Thanks for reviewing it.

  2. @Willa, thanks for coming by and reading! :)

  3. I have read this book (That Day in September by Artie Van Why.) It's a very moving personal account of what it was like to be a person in NYC on that fateful day. I highly recommend it!

  4. @Anon - (why anon?) i highly recommend it too!

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments on reviews of memoirs!

    Great review of That Day In September. Thank you for sharing.

  6. It definately puts a human touch to the lives that were effected to the thing we watched on film without a blink to our eyes and a feeling of despair and disbelief on that day of 9/11.

  7. @ Ruthi - thanks for the visit! hope you get a chance to read this - i'd love to find out what you thought about it!

    @ Ajlounyinjurylaw - although many are far-removed from this specific event, the human experience remains universal. thank you for visiting!


© guiltless readingMaira Gall