It’s difficult to find an appropriate word to use to describe Dave Cullen’s COLUMBINE. If I had to pick one, I think I’d go with “engrossing.”
During the span of ten years, Cullen pored over tens of thousands of pages of police documents and records, and interviewed survivors, victims’ families, and other members of the community that surrounded Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
In my opinion, COLUMBINE should be required reading in any beginning journalism class. In a society that seems to accept opinion and speculation from the mainstream media as fact and “news,” Cullen takes one of the most emotionally-charged events in our nation’s history and reports it, period. He has plenty of opportunities to profess anger, sadness, sympathy, and disbelief, but he doesn’t. He refuses to point a finger of blame at anyone other than the two boys who committed the crime, and then, you know he points that finger only because it’s so obvious what they did. Cullen’s book is journalism at its best: he presents the facts – all of them, in all of their gory, infuriating, heart-wrenching details – and allows his readers to come to their own conclusions. He cites his sources unwaveringly and never places himself in the story. Journalism 101.
Although I stand by my description of the book as “engrossing,” it was an incredibly difficult read. I have a very clear understanding now – probably the best I can hope to have not having lived through it personally – of what went through the minds of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for years prior to the attack. Cullen walks his readers through everything, literally step by step in some instances. By the end of the book, there is very little left to wonder.
There are triumphs in the story, and they help to assuage the pain and disbelief, but they don’t negate it completely. I think overall I am glad that I read COLUMBINE. I think it’s good to have a bit of understanding when something so unspeakably tragic takes place. I think I learned from it. I know I’ll never hear “Columbine” again without shuddering a little, without thinking about the thirteen who died, the one who dreamed it all up, and the one who followed.