Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Although 9/11 and Virginia Tech might ring a little louder in our ears in 2010, I will always remember coming home from school on April 20, 1999, turning on CNN, and trying to make sense of the footage at Columbine High School, both horrified and unable to take my eyes of the screen. Dave Cullen, a journalist for Salon and The New York Times, was one of the first people to report on the shootings, and nine years later, his book, Columbine, recounts the entire story of the murders.

Though this book is not nearly as well-written as In Cold Blood or as compelling as Helter Skelter, Columbine is a thorough account of the events leading up to the shooting, the murders themselves, and their awful aftermath. Cullen describes how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold initially planned on blowing up the school entirely; they had set nearly 100 bombs throughout the Cafeteria , in the common areas, and in their cars, which, if they had been successful, would have killed practically every person on campus. When the bombs didn't go off, Harris simply took to the top of the hill and started shooting at random. Though the spree would only last forty-five minutes, (until Harris and Klebold returned to the Library where the bodies of the ten people they murdered lay to commit suicide) that day, 15 people would die.

I, for one, didn't know about the bombs until I read this book. Cullen also recounts the myths of Christian martyrdom that flowed through Littleton, Colorado, after the murders, Cassie Bernall's being the most famous. Yes, myths. Apparently, according to eyewitness accounts and testimony from most of the kids in the Library, it was Val Schnurr, not Cassie, who answered "yes" when Harris asked her if she believed in God. Though she had been injured, she survived. Cassie, on the other hand, had no chance to say anything to Eric before he shot her in the head as she hid under the table, her hand also wounded as she tried to shield her face from the blast.

Most moving in Cullen's account is the struggle of the parents of the children murdered and injured that day. Some blame the parents of the killers, only the killers themselves, or blame no one at all. One, who had struggled with mental illness, walked into a pawn shop, asked to see a gun, and when the attendant stepped away, loaded it and shot herself in the head while her daughter was still recovering from her wounds at the hospital. Cullen also describes the Klebold's confusion and pain over Dylan's actions, and how difficult it was to bury him without an uprising from the community.

Eric Harris was a textbook psychopath. His journals indicate as such. Both he and Klebold had been arrested for theft. Harris' parents, in particular, his father, Wayne (a Marine) recognized how sick he was and tried to get him help, first through therapy, and then through a more strict, rehab-like program. He passed the program with flying colors, just a few weeks before he would go on a murderous rampage. Cullen suggests that Dylan, a depressive love-sick loner, was drawn to Eric because he offered a release from his pain.

Columbine is an engaging, impressive book of investigative journalism. Cullen does very little speculating: all the quotations in quotes in the book are actual, cited quotations, and they make up most of the dialogue. If you are looking for a compelling summer true-crime read, this is your book. But don't expect to be uplifted by it. Aside from classifying Eric as a psychopath (using the DSM IV), Cullen doesn't try to explain why he thinks Eric and Dylan did it, or attempt to "make sense" of the tragedy. Even in this thorough accounting of the events, there is no answer to the question "Why?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Summer of Literary ADD

A list of books I have begun and not finished this summer, thus far:
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Paris Trance, by Geoff Dyer
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer
The Dud Avacado, by Elaine Dundy
Bomber County, by Daniel Swift
I Was Told There'd be Cake, by Sloane Crosley
Stranger than Fiction, by Chuck Palahniuk

Of those, I will finish:
The Man Who Loved Children
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Possibly The Dud Avacado

One book I read this summer and loved:
Molly Fox's Birthday, by Dierdre Madden

One book I devoured like there was no tomorrow, then felt terrible: Columbine, by Dave Cullen

The book I have been waiting to read for several months that is finally arriving tomorrow because I had to order it overnight from Amazon because I simply cannot wait any longer: The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, by Jeffrey Meyers

Two books I am so excited about I might explode: My Prizes: An Accounting, by Thomas Bernhard, and C, by Tom McCarthy

P.S. Dear Marilyn, how the hell did you do this to your hair?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Madison Square Gaga

This is Madison Square Garden last Tuesday night a few minutes before Lady Gaga took the stage. As you can see, there are just a few people there. I bought my tickets several months ago, and the two following shows on Wednesday and Thursday were also sold-out. The premise of the show is a Wizard of Oz like journey, where Gaga and her dancer friends are trying to make their way to the "Monster Ball." Along the way, they are met with many obstacles, including the F Train (quite possibly the worst subway line in New York), darkness, a twister, and a giant piranha that eats Gaga during "Paparazzi" and spits her back up. If you are a lover of spectacle, I don't need to tell you how much you should plunk down the cash and just go see this tour.

As Gaga went through practically all of her discography, she spoke about how much she loved New York and that even though she had been through hard times (drugs, bad boyfriends) she never gave up, and neither should we. She told us never to let anyone tell us we weren't worth it. She told us to put our paws in the air and to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate freedom. While these are all vague, general incitements to the power of indiviuality, I can't think of a better role model for the group of girls sitting behind me who probably ranged from 15 to 25 in terms of age. I could hear them singing the lyrics with Gaga, and I was pleased.

The sheer force of Gaga is impressive; if you're a hater and don't understand why she's so popular, I encourage you to watch her perform live, under a battlement of heavy clothing and heels so high they are practically stilts, Gaga dances, sings, and yells like a fiend from Hell, somehow never falling down from exhaustion or losing her voice. Her strength and her confidence is simply unparalelled. It is overwhelming and inspiriational.

Gaga herself was emotional. Playing three sold out nights at MSG is no small feat, and she knew it. She shined her disco-stick on the audience saying "let me get a loook at you." Her voice broke with tears. During "Bad Romance," when Gaga jumped, the entire auditorium was set in a blaze of light, almost like lightning had struck - she was stuck in mid-air during this moment, almost as if she were ascending to heaven. It's a snapshot I'll never forget.