I drive a lot for work, so I’ve started listening to audiobooks when I get sick of music. I’ve had Columbine on my TBR list for years and since it was free on Audible, I thought maybe it might be a good choice.
‘Twas not. Now, please don’t confuse my review of the book itself with my review of the audio version. The book itself was exactly what you’ve heard: powerful, disturbing, sad, and full of new information about the Columbine High School massacre that I didn’t know before. But if you want to read this, do yourself a favor and skip the audio version.
There were a few reasons this was a bad choice: number one, this is the kind of material that you may find you need to take some breaks from once in a while. It’s deeply, deeply disturbing, and Dave Cullen doesn’t skimp on the gory details. If I’d been reading instead of listening, I could have skipped over the most graphic content, but that’s tough to do on an audiobook without losing the thread of the narrative. I could have just stopped, I guess, but it really is a pretty gripping account.
The other problem–the main problem–is the narrator. This guy’s voice was just not appropriate for the content. I would describe his voice as ideal to read aloud Jean-Claude Van Damme’s autobiography, or to narrate the type of movie trailer that starts off with the phrase, “In a world. . .” Columbine contains a significant amount of excerpts from the killers’ journals, and frankly this guy’s attempt at sounding like a dramatic teen was distracting at best, near-offensive (considering the content) at worst. Just. . . no.
But I do think Columbine is worth your time. It’s a powerful book, and scary, because it really doesn’t have any answers. There’s no single reason we can pinpoint for why the killers did what they did. They weren’t bullied, even though that was the narrative (I should point out that actually there is disagreement on whether they were bullied or not, but Cullen doesn’t believe they were). They didn’t target just jocks or Christians. One of them was a violent psychopath, and the other was suicidal and weak-minded. It was shockingly easy for them to get the weapons they wanted, and the one positive of the day of the massacre is that their homemade bombs failed to go off and kill hundreds more students. They killed 13, but that was only a fraction of their goal.
Nothing really changed after Columbine. No new gun control laws were enacted. SWAT teams changed their approach to active shooter situations (apparently for the better), but as sickened and shocked as we all were at what happened that day, we chose not to make significant changes. The gun show loophole (which helped them acquire shotguns) wasn’t closed nationwide, thanks to lobbying by the NRA (it was closed in Colorado). Columbine has faded into the background, replaced by Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Pulse Nightclub–and the scariest part is someday these places will fade too, as more massacres occur in towns that no one would ever even hear about otherwise.
I want to close with something that happened to me as I was nearing the end of the book, in a chapter that was devoted to how the killers had stockpiled their guns and bombs. I got stuck in traffic on the highway near Chicago, and suddenly I noticed the license plate of the car ahead of me:
If that’s too small to read, it says, “GUNS R US” and there’s a bumper sticker that says, “If you point a gun at a cop, your life doesn’t matter!” Two truly charming sentiments at the best of times, but considering what I was listening to, it felt meaningful. This is the path the U.S. has chosen, and we will see the consequences of that path again and again.
Rating: 5 stars for the book, 2 stars for the audio recording (just read the book)