Not My Usual Kind of Thing

Columbine by Dave Cullen

This month—ten years after the killings at Columbine High School—Dave Cullen, a journalist who has followed the story from the beginning, published this exposé that reveals the truth and the misconceptions about the killings. For example: the Columbine killings were a failed bombing that turned into a school shooting. And the idea that the two killers were a couple of loners who were targeting jocks was a myth. I didn’t know those things. (I confess I didn’t follow the story very closely when it was breaking, but I certainly hadn’t heard that.)

Cullen also describes how seemingly normal the two teenage killers appeared on the surface; this is nothing short of chilling. And he explains their (terrifying) transformation into people who would laugh during a killing spree.

When I first began reading this book, I thought I might have to put it down. I have an aversion to true crime books, and getting inside the brains of psychopaths isn’t really my thing. Way too creepy. The redeeming thing about this book—the thing that kept me reading—is that the author keeps the story anchored among the living. At least that’s how it felt to me. Columbine reminded me a bit of the book Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger—in the sense that both books are ostensibly about a particular high school and particular students in that school; but each book really is a story of the larger community, and each is a snapshot of that sliver of American society at that moment in time.

One fascinating aspect of the Columbine story, which is explained in this book, is that it became more muddled as time passed, because of the facts that were covered up and because of the way the media framed the story. So this book is also about the story behind the story.

So once I got past that initial “ick” feeling, I could not put the book down until I had finished it. Columbine is compulsively readable.

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