Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Columbine: The Review

I don't usually do back-to-back book commentaries, but I'm done with Columbine, and I'm hoping to put it behind me and move on to something lighter.

Don't get me wrong; it was a good book. A very good book. Dave Cullen is obviously an outstanding journalist, a top-notch researcher, and an engaging writer. It was thoroughly written, both as an overview of the school massacre and as a psychological study of the two killers. It is, in large part, a critique of the media, and on those of us in the public that demand news second-to-second, as it happens.

It is amazing - and sad - to see how much has been legislated or created based on the assumptions made the first 24 hours after the two kids walked into their high school and shot it up, and how much hasn't changed at all because the truth that developed later wasn't as interesting. It is incredible and frustrating how many myths still surround the killings.

I couldn't put the book down, or stop talking about it, which was a real downer for my husband, who couldn't really understand why I was interested in it in the first place. But it's the kind of book you want to talk about... talk it out.

It's the kind of book that gets under your skin, that lives in your head. While watching the fireworks on July 4th, I cringed at the explosive sounds, and wondered if the students there that day would ever be able to sit through fireworks again. I thought about them when I filled our propane tanks for the grill. I thought about them when I used a C2O cartridge for our seltzer bottle. I thought about them when I saw someone on TV in a trench coat. My head is full of images, even though the book doesn't have any pictures.

I taught middle school English for six years, and one of my first years I had a student eerily like Dylan Klebold. Quiet, depressive, combustible. Highly disturbing violent stories about knives and guns and blowing students to pieces... along with some unmentionable things that might happen to me if I didn't run away with him. Gosh, I shuddered reading this book and wondered what happened to that kid.

It's an excellent book, and one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Columbine.

But I'm glad it's done, and instead of moving on to Crazy for the Storm, I'm taking a break with something lighter. Something fun a friend gave me to read for my birthday, which doesn't have anything to do with guns or bombs or SWAT teams or psychopaths or killings, or survival.

Something more summery. Something more befitting the pool and the sun. And an easy night's rest.


  1. I'm definitely thinking I need to read this book. Not that I'm morbid or anything, I've just always been fascinated by Columbine. I was finishing high school when it happened and I remember the changes at my own school as a result.

    I'll remember to have a lighter book on hand as a backup!

  2. I keep trying to tell my husband I'm not morbid either. There is a draw, though, to such a devastating experience.

    I think part of it is trying to figure out why it happened... what made the killers do what they did, and a wonder in how all the survivors could survive.

    The book doesn't disappoint on either end.

  3. Isn't that the sign of a good book - that you can't put it down?

    That tragedy was so incomprehensible that we'll be talking about it for years to come. I pray we learn something.

  4. Thanks very much for that, Heidi. I appreciate you spreading the word. The candor is good, too: I think a light book next makes sense. I'm hoping to write a few light things before I plunge back in to anything like that again.

    The process for me writing it was kind of similar: painful at times, but ultimately very rewarding, and I was glad I did it.

    I'm glad to hear you didn't want to put it down. That's one of the big things I set out to do when I started: write it as a story that would draw you in keep you engaged. I didn't want it to be like eating your veggies: a book you slogged through because you thought it was good for you. It can be good for you, but still a good story that you want to keep reading.

    Your comments made me happy.

    Thanks also to Megan and Shelli. Let me know what you think if you read it. There's more info and the book trailer at my Columbine website.

  5. Wow Dave! Thanks for stopping by! If I had known you'd read it I would have been more thorough in my comments!

    It's an outstanding book, and I was constantly in awe of how much work had to have gone into writing it - and the toll that must have taken on you.

    I will reread it, I'm sure. There is so much in there I'd like to soak up better, but like I said, I couldn't put it down, so I was having a hard time taking my time. I kept wanting to turn the page to read what came next instead of slowing down.

    I think you did a fantastic job of being very objective and reporting without being overly dramatic about it. You treated every person fairly and I really liked that.

    There is so much to say about this book. Like I said, it's the kind of book you really want to talk about as you are reading it.

    Thank you for writing this book, and leaving a comment here.

  6. Thanks, Heidi. Your original comments were great, but I liked the follow-up, too. I'm glad it made you want to keep turning. That is about the nicest thing you could say.


  7. Dave - I really couldn't put the book down. My kids know it as "the book mom read in the car," which is saying something since I get carsick reading.

    Would you be willing to do an interview on my blog? I write fiction, and most of my readers are fiction writers,(but readers of everything) but there are questions I have that I think could walk the line between the two.

    I know you are probably swamped, and I'd ask you personally in an email but I didn't know how to contact you.

    In any case, again, thank you for this book - for the time and sensitivity, for the impact it probably made on your life. And for writing here.

  8. Sure, I can do an interview. It's calmed down a bit.

    My email is dave@davecullen.com