Judging by my book list in the lefthand sidebar, my taste has been fairly eclectic recently. But there is a rhyme to my reason, or rather a rhythm. I like to bounce back and forth between fiction and non-fiction, biographies being my favorite form of the latter. Since novels seem to take me longer to read (I have no idea why this is), I usually get a little itchy staring at my "to-read" list even if I'm in the middle of something wonderful.
So, for the first time, I decided to take a bit of a literary risk - I purchased the audio version of a book that I was really interested in. It wasn't my first audio experience, but in the few times that I've tried them, it's always been with something I didn't care much about. This time, Dave Cullen's Columbine was a book I had been meaning to read for over a year. Given the subject matter (and my love for talk radio, a primer for auditory learning), I decided that listening to Columbine might work.
The two weeks I had Columbine playing in my car, I found myself running all kinds of errands, and even just sitting in parking lots or my driveway to extend my listening time. At night I would bore my husband to death by explaining and then mulling over some of the finer points. I took to asking people around me, "What do you remember about the Columbine tragedy?" and then knocking off one by one the impressions that outsiders were left with that aren't true. Since, from what I can tell, most of America summed up this awful day as a pair of bullied boys who "snapped" and went on a shooting rampage, not realizing that instead this was actually a failed bombing that the killers planned for YEARS. Had April 20 unfolded the way Eric and Dylan hoped, it would have been an act of terror on par with Oklahoma City.
Almost everything I believed about the Columbine murders were not true: the killers were not your typical "outcasts," they were not goths, the blame did not rest entirely on the parents shoulders, even the story about the girl who was killed because she believed in God. NOT TRUE.
I struggled to find words to describe the book, because it seems wrong to call it "amazing," when the subject matter is so terrible. But given the painful topic, I thought the author did an incredible job of describing the killers, their intent, and how the story got spun, not from a malicious media but from initial impressions of the attack that were left uncorrected.
I remember when the shooting happened, the national news thought that there was a group of killers shooting inside the school. This mistake is partially attributed to the fact that the boys arrived wearing trench coats to hide their weapons, but then shed the coats once the attack started. So when the students and teachers were describing what the shooters were wearing, it was all different, leading to the speculation that there were more shooters. The misunderstanding was no one's fault, but added to the mass confusion.
From what I understand reading the reviews (which I only do after I've finished something), Cullens' conclusions are somewhat controversial. But he hardly ties it up with a bow. The school's dynamic, the police mistakes, the killers themselves are all very complicated. Which is what makes the book so interesting to an outsider. He writes so well that the sad subject feels appropriately heavy, but the story he tells is as clear as possible. I was fascinated from the first word to the last.
Last week, Dave Cullen himself stopped by the blog and offered a comment on my post about the EMA's. I had been meaning to write the review of his book before this, and admit fully and proudly that I was giddy to know he spent a minute or two at HH. Also, I was extremely impressed that he took time to connect with a reader in that way. The power of the internet never ceases to amaze me.
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