Off the Shelf: Columbine

ColumbineColumbine by Dave Cullen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d been looking forward to reading Columbine for some time. The book promised to be a comprehensive account of a haunting event in American history. Dave Cullen had written about the shootings around the time they occurred and continued to follow and research the story, creating the now-published book.

There’s no doubt that Cullen had a massive task in front of him. The shooting had tons of formal & informal records attached to it & was partially filmed while it happened. When the author quotes from the reams of journals, police reports, transcripts or even mentions how much material was released, readers can only imagine the daunting task of going through it all. Not only does Cullen examine the shooting itself, he examines the boys’ lives and what lead up to their horrible plan as well as how the community coped afterward. Brief anecdotes evoke much, but sometimes the narrative feels stretched thin, as if Cullen is struggling to keep all these stories balanced at once.

Because of this abundance of information, Columbine does do well in deconstructing the myths built up around it and strives to point out what the media got wrong. But the story keeps returning to the why of it all & while Cullen suggests possibilities, carefully describing them as “theories” and citing the evidence that supports them, there are no hard and fast answers for anyone looking for one. Realistically, readers may know this going into the book, but Cullen’s story has moments of stylistic weakness that seem to suggest one thing but deliver another. For example, late into the book, Cullen makes the assertion that Eric Harris’s arrest was an incident that influenced his decision to follow through on his massacre plans and that Dylan Klebold had one as well. But when this premise is set up, the following paragraphs does not give a concrete “instigating event” but describes what his state of mind must have been through an incident where Klebold’s creative writing teacher was disturbed by a story he turned in.

Personally, reading Columbine was a cathartic experience and caused me to reflect on my own perception both in 1999 (when I myself was an angry teenager getting ready to graduate & thought the world was worthless) and currently. Reading the stories of the survivors has been a glimpse into a reality that not many of us will probably know. The book is a well-researched work so if there are readers who want to know more about the event itself, Columbine will suit your interest. But it is also an emotionally harrowing read with a good deal of ambiguity surrounding it, so don’t expect to be finished with it when you read the last page.

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