The first thing I wanted to do when I finished Columbine was to sit down and write. I’d paused last night, with 150 pages to go, and waxed optimistic that Cullen would be able to draw his remarkably thorough account of the events at Columbine High School in April 1999, the perpetrators, their motives, their victims, and the community they attacked before and after that day.
I was torn—at once better informed more perplexed. I found the book to be satisfying, but not satiating.
But I didn’t write right away. Instead, I was lucky enough to have someone who is smart and has read the book in my house. We talked. Mostly, I talked.
“It was well-researched, but not particularly well written…But it didn’t really need to be brilliant writing. If it had been beautiful, it may not have been so fast-paced; and if it weren’t so fast paced, it may have been difficult to get through.
“He made weird stylistic choices, like taking on the voice, or tone, or diction of the killers…But he was trying to make them human, and if he’d divorced his own voice from theirs all the time, they could have remained distant and inhuman.”
(I don’t really do the give-and-take of the conversation justice. Please assume at least a little bit of reply, response, and retort within each set of ellipses. I didn’t do all the talking. I just did most of it.)
This was the general arc of the conversation. I’d criticize, and then I’d firmly debunk my criticism. I’d hear the beginning of an alternative viewpoint, and I’d work it right into my own thinking.
The truth is that I loved the book. I left it feeling a little emptier, and so my first response was to dig into the reasons that I shouldn’t have loved it. But I loved it, both in spite of and because of its faults.
The truth is that the Columbine killers were human beings. We all want to believe that they were some kind of mutants, or devils. They weren’t. They were kids. They were flawed—deeply. They were deeply, deeply disturbed. But they were still human.
The truth is that when you finish this book, you’re not supposed to feel better. You’re supposed to feel as if you know more of the facts, understand more of the factors. You’re supposed to feel better informed; you’re not supposed to feel better.
When it’s all said and done, the book is worth the money. When it’s all said and done, the book is worth the time. When it’s all said and done, the book is worth the horror, the confusion, the strife, and the struggle. Read it. You won’t regret it. Or you will. But then you won’t again.