Sunday, December 19, 2010

Columbine - Dave Cullen

Among Eric's final words (on video) to his parents, he quoted Shakespeare "Good wombs have borne bad sons."

The first question we need to ask: Is it important to know understand what happened at Columbine? I think that answer is yes.

This isn't sensationalized rubbernecking, there's a LOT of valuable information here.

Mistakes were made and instead of coming clean, the media and the police kept perpetuating the false truths until they became reality. What I remember about Columbine, I've learned, is vastly different than what really happened. Why is it important to know that? Because it gives us some context for what we see and hear in the future. The media doesn't care if they get it right, they only care that they get it. Period. We have the right (and an obligation) to question what they tell us.

Psychology in this book is fascinating. Not just Dylan and Eric, but everybody. Witness reaction, survivor reaction, parental reaction, police reaction, public reaction.

Religion made a mad dash for the spotlight in the wake of Columbine. It certainly features prominently in this book. A clinging to faith, a begging for comfort and understanding; some even begging to live. Ultimately, at least according to this book, no lasting changes occurred.

It's hard to "love" this book, but it's definitely a solid 4.5 star read. I liked what he did with the time lines. It saved the reader from being constantly slammed in the face with the massacre and grief. There is some nice dispassionate analysis. I liked that.

The author has clearly arrived at some conclusons as the years have passed, which show through in the book. His impressions may be completely accurate; he's lived with the evidence. Since I haven't read the evidence myself, I can't hang my hat on it being an ultimate truth, but it seems to make sense. There were occasional strange choices in the narrative. Trying to use a "teen" voice. It didn't work and was kind of undermining to his expertise. A minor quibble.

This is an important book, one every parent should read. We can all spin this however we like, but Dylan and Eric had seemingly normal upbringings. The bottom line is this - They weren't your kids, but they could have been.

There's a Hemingway quote toward the end "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

May we never have to break this way again.


(I modified this review slightly after originally posting.)


Dave Cullen said...

Thanks for the nice words on my book, Columbine. I'm actually not sure what you mean by my biases or speculation, but I guess I can live with that.

For anyone close to a student or teacher, I just created a Columbine Student Guide and Columbine Teacher’s Guide.

Nicole Del Sesto said...

Hey Dave - Happy to elaborate. Thanks for commenting.

I hope those words don't take away from what I consider a very well researched book. Clearly it's been a passion for you for a LONG time. It came through in the book, and it comes through on your website. I see countless hours put into this project, and I have so much respect for that.

My feelings about the bias are this: At a certain point it felt to me like your research led you to believe that Eric was the primary instigator and I felt like it took Dylan off the hook a bit. You have read the thousands of pages of evidence, I haven't. The journals may indisputably prove that to be the case, or it's your interpretation. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's what I meant by speculation.

When I was trying to figure out who killed who in the library, I was actually shocked to see Dylan had killed/shot so many. He may have been a tagger-alonger, but when push came to shove, he pushed. Of course, there were a million opportunities for him to end it before it began, so maybe it was just me letting him off the hook. I certainly found him the more relatable of the two kids.

The other aspect where I felt a bit of a bias was toward the parents. I have great empathy for them, and I think you do too? What they have been through is unimaginable and to have people blame them on top of that is unthinkable, and I felt like you gave them the benefit of the doubt, which I felt was a bias toward them. I don't disagree with it, but in reading other views on the topic of the parents there are definitely mixed views.

It's very easy to look back on all the clues and say "WHY DIDN'T THEY SEE THAT?" We'd never had a "Columbine" before, so it was unimaginable, but I think had the Harris's probed just a little bit, they would have found something. There seemed to be stuff all over Eric's room. ONE LOOK, and it could have been avoided.

I don't hold the parents responsible, for one thing it's not my place to do so. I ache for them. But I have to wonder, just a bit in the back of my mind, if there weren't some blinders on.

Hope that clears it up. I'm active in two online books groups and three of us read Columbine in December. It made all of our top 10 list for the year.

Nicole Del Sesto said...

(the parent's having blinders, not you)

gm said...

Cullen , who first reported on the story for the online magazine Salon, acknowledges in the book's source notes that thoughts he attributes to Klebold and Harris are conjecture gleaned from the record the pair left behind.

Jeff Kass takes a more straightforward approach in "Columbine: A True Crime Story," working backward from the events of the fateful day.
The Denver Post

Mr. Cullen insists that the killers enjoyed "far more friends than the average adolescent," with Harris in particular being a regular Casanova who "on the ultimate high school scorecard . . . outscored much of the football team." The author's footnotes do not reveal how he knows this; when I asked him about it while preparing this review, Mr. Cullen said he did not necessarily mean to imply that Harris was sexually active. But what else would such words mean?

"Eric and Dylan never had any girlfriends," the more sober Mr. Kass writes, and were "probably virgins upon death."
Wall Street Journal