A Look Into an American Nightmare: Dave Cullen’s “Columbine”

I’ve been absent from here, but I’m finally ready to get back to what makes this blog what it is: BOOKS.

I’ve owned this book for a couple of years. I first started it a few months back, and finally got around to finishing it last night. What follows is my review.

So often after mass shootings we hear about “politicizing” the issue. There’s nothing political anout this book, just as there’s really nothing political about combatting gun violence. It would have been easy for this book to delve into the common topics that persist after every shooting, but it did no such thing.

Dave Cullen takes you into the minds and private lives of these two muderers. He chronicles in minute detail the days, weeks, and months leading up to April 20, 1999. He details how these two kids went from fantasizing about murder to committing a massacre. He takes you into the lives of several parties after the killing had finally stopped. Parents, students, educators, law enforcement. No life is the same after such an event, and he makes it crystal clear.

There’s a part near the end of the book in which he describes how “Columbine” had become the name of a mass shooting rather than a high school, but over the years seems to have reverted back to just the name of a high school in Colorado. I’m not sure if a community can ever really love on from something like this, but based on the book this one seems to constantly try.

An phenomenal story about an unspeakable act.

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Using Real Events for a Story

I’m not talking nonfiction. And I’m not talking about simply using one’s life experience. I’m talking about particular events. Kind of like the TV show Castle. He uses real crimes (in the show) and writes books about them.

I think it’d be an interesting thing to do, but I doubt I’d ever even try it. It would lead me to ask myself why not just write nonfiction instead? If an author really wants to focus on real events, then why not REALLY focus on them?

For example, one of the most notorious crimes of my lifetime was when Andrea Yates killed her five children in Houston. I’m certain that there are plenty of books about this, but I think it’d be better to go ahead and write some true crime rather than a novel when it comes to something like that.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but I do think authors may hesitate to go from fiction to nonfiction or vice-versa if they’re already well known for one or the other. Makes sense. Don’t want to confuse readers. But what do I know, right?

Do you ever use specific events from real life in your stories? Things that didn’t necessarily happen to you.

BTK to Help Write Book

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First off, do you have any idea who BTK is? I would say most people wouldn’t. But I do. And I have for a long time. He’s a serial killer from Kansas who killed ten people between 1974 and 1991. I wrote about him during my time as an undergrad. His real name is Dennis Rader and he was apprehended by police in 2005 only after he began exchanging letters with them. Many around Wichita, Kansas had believed him to be dead or gone after more than a decade of silence.

Anyway, now Rader is helping Katherine Ramsland write a book about his crimes. And I have an issue with this. I get that high profile criminals always get books written about them. It happens. I’m sure if I do a quick Amazon search of all the serial killers I know that there will be several books about each and every one. BUT my issue is that this author is basically co-writing it with Rader. I just don’t see the point. When he was arrested he plead guilty to all ten charges and recounted in detail every murder he committed. He was subsequently sentenced to ten consecutive life sentences. There are several other books about him already published that may or may not have been written with his assistance, but they too tell the story of his crimes. In great detail. I don’t know the relationship the author maintains with anyone in Wichita, but there are plenty of individuals who know every aspect of the killings who didn’t actually commit them. I just think she could write a book about the crimes by using police interviews, court testimony, and by using the books that have already been written as reference material. But that’s just me.

Do you have any thoughts? About a serial killer who already has notoriety and several books written about him having another one in which he gets to actively contribute?

One of the reasons I have an issue with him helping with the project is the complete lack of remorse he’s displayed. If you just YouTube search his name you can find video of him in court recounting his crimes. It’s disturbing how he does so almost conversationally.