Amanda Reads: Columbine

-deep, shaky breath-

Hello, internet people. Today, we’re going to talk about a difficult thing. I am holding my breath that I manage to discuss this book in a dignified, respectful way. Because today’s book is none other than Columbine, Dave Cullen’s book compiling years worth of research into the tragic Columbine school shooting that is permanently emblazoned into so many of our minds. While I was personally quite young when this unfortunately iconic event took place (in 1999, I would’ve been 7 years old), it is the often referenced example of what was for many years the worst school shooting in our history.

The school shooting phenomenon is one that, unfortunately, still exists in our country. While the event at Columbine is one of the most publicized and well known occurrences, people still bring weapons into schools and open fire. As we know, public shootings have also taken place in other settings, such as movie theaters, etc. This has led to a  great many debates about gun restrictions, etc. I am not here to talk about those things. I am simply here to talk about a book.

When I told friends and family that I was putting myself through the emotionally grueling act of listening to Columbine on audio, the first question I got was always “Why?” Why, indeed? Within the first 5 minutes of starting the audio, I found myself crying (it’s a very dramatic, intentionally emotional beginning–more on that later). For a moment, I considered stopping. But here’s the thing: psychology fascinates me.

When I was in school, we were at one point shown a documentary film about the events of Columbine. Some of the images from that film are permanently fixed in my mind–even now, I can clearly see the shooters and the library in my mind, and pictured them as I read the book. Upon reading this book (provided, of course, that it can be considered a more accurate account), I realized that a lot of what I learned that day was either incorrect or partial information. I learned that Eric and Dylan (if I may use their first names) did not do this simply because of bullying, or because they had been outcasts–far from it, in fact. But the lingering question, the question that has been with me ever since I first learned of the event… was why?

As I said, this is a thing that is still happening. A horrible, horrible thing. Of course, to some degree we will never be able to stop people from behaving as they will, but I still think it’s interesting and useful to examine what we can about the events and thought processes that lead up to tragedies like this one. Some of the issue may be the ready availability of guns (Eric and Dylan’s weaponry came from a gun show, which apparently at the time were able to sidestep background check regulations), but I personally feel that there are many other things in play. One thing that you’ll always hear me spout off immediately is that the stigma on mental illness is a serious problem that often prevents a) parents and their children from seeking and maintaining proper care and b) people from speaking out about behaviors that are potentially concerning. With all of this floating around in my brain, I wanted to know as much as I could about what the professionals had to say concerning Eric and Dylan’s reasoning for what they did.

For that, this book delivered. While Columbine was at times a bit too much of a dramatization for my tastes, focusing on the emotional impact and interweaving survivor’s stories with the shooters’ histories, I still felt that it was a wealth of interesting information about a significant (if terrible) event in history. There seemed to be a few clear biases, ones that I suspect the author may have been aware of. For instance, much of the blame for events seems to be pinned on one of the boys, with the other simply following along, something that I found a bit troubling considering that, in the end, both boys took lives (whatever their reasons, and pleae know that I have the utmost sympathy for their families, who we seem to forget were victims here, too).

I can’t really say that I enjoyed the book, seeing as it was a great tragedy and many of the parts were disturbing to hear and resulted in a suuuuper fun nightmare about my brother and some other neighborhood boys going on a shooting spree (next psyche I need to unravel: mine). But if you’re interested in psychology or true crime (which has similar elements to this, I think), I would say give this book a go, if you’re in for it. Personally, I instated a “not past 5pm” rule so that I could sleep, sans nightmares, but you know what you can handle. I learned a lot of interesting things about the psychology of mass shooters in general and psychopaths specifically, so all in all, I’m glad I read it.

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