Friday, August 07, 2009

Go Read This Thing: Columbine, By Dave Cullen Now With Comments From The Author Himself!

Here's my review of David Cullen's most excellent book, Columbine.

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I hesitate to say that the shootings at Columbine "affected me," since whenever I hear someone say "September 11th really affected me," when they were far away and usually think of New Yorkers as godless heathens,and the city as a blight on the nation, I want to hit something, but, you know...

Columbine really affected me.

So. I'm stating here that I know this is both unfair and hypocritical (and probably douchey) of me to say.

Whether or not my innate fascination with grisly occurrences (ask me anything about Jonestown, or the Donner party, or the Hale-Bopp cult deaths!), was my impetus for reading this, or an attempt to exorcise my sort-of left over feelings of that first dousing of existential dread and anger, I don't really know. But either desires were more than satisfactorily met.

Cullen knows everything about this case. He knows the people, the time lines, the coverage, and the outcomes. Going so deep into something so senseless and violent can feel a bit like diving into the bell jar, but Cullen keeps the narrative from dipping into a fetishistic glamorization of Eric Harris' and Dylan Klebold's minds, and that could not have been easy.

While it was sometimes hard to keep track of just the second to second "schedule" of what happened during the shooting (which, if you didn't know, was supposed to be a bombing larger than the Oklahoma City attack), that all seems secondary to the main drive of the book's purpose: to explain that there is no answer to the question, "Why did they do it?" The shooters had vastly different personalities (and illnesses) and thus had diametrically opposed reasons.

This question slowly became a gaping psychological and spiritual maw that ate up everything in its path, haunting the community at large, but also the killers' parents more than anyone else. In an effort to fill that hole (or, if you like, for the more nefarious purposes of making a story tidy and sellable) the media was all too happy to collect stories and create a narrative of the killers and the shootings that just weren't true. For instance:

The killers were not members of the Trench Coat Mafia, they were not loners who were picked on, they did not target jocks and Christians, and the were no Christian martyrs in the shooting.

Who and what the killers actually were is best left to Cullen to attempt to explain. I highly recommend this book.

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You can see other things I've been reading over on my Goodreads page!