Tuesday, May 12, 2009

(39) Columbine by Dave Cullen

I will never forget April 20, 1999. I had just gotten off of work, in fact, I may have left early. My normal time off was 2:00PM. I remember settling into my green la-z-boy. The quilt my Aunt made me thrown over my lap. Settled in for General Hospital & my afternoon nap.

Instead of General Hospital, I found that ABC had gone live to Littleton, Colorado. And I sat in my chair & watched the events unfold. I remember crying as I watched Patrick Ireland fall out of the library window into the arms of the SWAT team. I remember seeing Danny Rorhbough laying on the ground. Not fully comprehending that he was dead.

We all remember those images. We all remember those days following April 20. Overnight the entire country became afraid of Goths. The phrase "Trench Coat Mafia" became synonymous with mass murderers.

It is now ten years later and the truth is finally coming out. Dylan Klebold & Eric Harris were NOT Goths. They were not bullied or picked on. They were not racists or Anti-Semitic. Nothing caused the boys to "snap". Eric Harris was a psychopath. And he took Dylan Klebold along for the ride.

"We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coat Mafia. Most of those elements existed at Columbine - which is what gave them some currency. They just had nothing to do with the murders." -- page 149

And that is what pisses me off reading this book. I remember the fear. I remember the scrutiny & public ridicule that Goths went through after Columbine. And it was all for nothing. FOR NOTHING. Because the Media was desperate to be the first to have Breaking News about anything. They took hysterical kids & put them in front of the camera within minutes of having their lives turned upside down & inside out.

Make no mistake Columbine is a very disturbing read. Cullen gets graphic and detailed in his description about what went on in the high school that tragic day. It was hard to read through the tears in some places. And I couldn't sleep last night replaying the events & the words in my head. It is a disturbing book. But then again, Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold were very disturbing kids.

But Cullen is also very thorough in making sure that all sides of the story are told accurately. From the parents of the killers, to Principal D, to the law enforcement trying to piece it all together, Cullen leaves no stone unturned.

I will say that I was a bit disappointed that Cullen did not give equal "page space" to all of the victims. And that could be because their families chose not to be part of the book to that degree. And that is okay. Everyone heals in their own way. At least, that is the assumption I am going with.

I am putting Columbine in the "Best of 2009" category. Even though it is a disturbing read, it is well written, objective, and thorough. Maybe with the publication of this book all of the myths, rumors, and misconceptions can be put to rest. Maybe now, the country and Columbine can move on.


BookWormz said...

I just read this - finished it today. I thought it was very well written, and it was shocking how "normal" the boys seemed in comparison to how the media portrayed them. Incredibly strange, sad story.

Charlotte's Web of Books said...

It is very apparent that Eric Harris was a psychopath. And I agree, it was shocking at how normal they seemed.

I just cried & cried when they had Dylan's funeral.

Their poor parents.

Mimi said...

I'm curious, but nervous about this book too.

I remember, as a Mom, being drawn to portraits of Dylan - how does that happen to one's child? How does a parent go on after having their child perpetrate this? How? How? How?

starviego said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlotte's Web of Books said...

I love the power of the delete button.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks, Charlotte--and BookWormz.

Charlotte, I made a conscious decision to choose ten main characters/storylines--including three murdered and one injured--to give ten perspectives on what happened. That seemed like a lot for the reader to juggle and keep track of, and my biggest fear was that I had too many.

I thought long and hard about who to choose, and made sure to have males, females, adults, kids, cops, admin, victims, survivors, clergy, etc. But most of all, I went for people with different responses, and each of whom had a really interesting story for the reader to get engrossed in.

I ended up working in some additional people in more supporting roles, but mostly cutting. If I'd done all three dozen killed or physically injured-not to mention 2,000 with emotional wounds--I don't think any of them could have had the same impact.

There were many great people I wanted to convey, and most people I approached were willing, but my instinct was not to allow myself to do that.

Mimi, I understand your apprehension. I have talked to quite a few people who don't feel ready to go back there. You might want to try 20 pages at the bookstore and see how it affects you.

Charlotte's Web of Books said...

Mr. Cullen,

Thank you so much for your response. This was a book, that once I was finished, I was eager to discuss it with someone.

I never thought to contact you to get answers to my questions.

Thank you for telling the tough stories that needed to be told.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks, Charlotte. I enjoyed reading your take on it.

My researcher culls the google alerts for the best things written on the book, and yours was a standout.

And definitely call me Dave. I don't think I'll ever feel like a Mr. Cullen.

The Empty Envelope said...

I have been wanting to read this for some time. Thanks for the review.

Charlotte's Web of Books said...


Thank you so much for your kind words. As a bookseller & a blogger, having an author comment on your blog is akin to meeting a rockstar! It turns me into a giddy little school girl.

Will you be doing a tour with this book? Any chance of you coming to Kansas City?

Dave Cullen said...

Well, I doubt I can live up to rock star, but I'll give it a go. LOL.

I actually just finished the book tour a few days ago. Publishers have really cut back on book tours, so we did just a handful of big cities on each coast, and then London and Dublin. I'm trying to catch my breath now, but so much to catch up on.

The best part of the book tour was doing the bookstore events and getting to meet so many people, and hear their reactions to the book in person.

Charlotte's Web of Books said...

I understand Publishers cutting back on book tours. Financially, it is still a scary time in our country.

But, I must say that I am envious of the UK leg of your tour. I dream of going to Ireland.

What has the feedback been like from the readers on your tour? Have there been any reactions that have surprised you?

Thank you for your responses thus far, you are creating quite the loyal fan by responding to my questions.

Are you working on anything now? Can we look forward to another book?

Dave Cullen said...

Dublin seemed great, but I was only there 12 hours, landing at 9 a.m. without sleeping at all on the plane, so I was kind of a blur.

I had 2.5 days in London and really liked it.

Meeting readers has been so much more fun than I expected. Nearly everyone has been positive. The emails are about 99% positive, too, with just a few really nasty ones.

No surprises in awhile. At the beginning of the tour, I remember being caught off guard a few times, but by now, I'm pretty used to what people will ask.

I want to do several magazine pieces in the next year, and then on to another book. I have an idea, but I'm not sure, so I'm keeping quiet about it for awhile.

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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