Kim's Reviews > Columbine

Columbine by Dave Cullen
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Aug 28, 10

bookshelves: mmx, contemporary, goodread-authors, gr-friend-recommendations, holy-shit, rubbernecking
Read in August, 2010

About and around 19 years ago, I used to go to TT’s in Cambridge, MA on Mondays for Stone Soup Poetry. Maurice used to read during open mike and Brother Blue would perform and after awhile you’d get to know all the ‘regulars’---There was the really cute quiet guy who totally copped the beatnik look and would madly scribble in his notebook while others performed--only to shatter on stage. I’m talking complete, make-yourself-hoarse kind of raging, spitting his words out, knocking down chairs… Quite a freakin’ sight actually. Then there was the gypsy woman who would light candles on stage and sit in lotus position and recite poems for the dead. Then there were the lumberjack brothers. (Stay with me, I’ll get to the point) They showed up each Monday, ordered whatever was on tap, and sit back to watch the show. These guys weren’t what you’d imagine coming to Stone Soup, but they were cool. They’d talk to Maurice and were encouraging. They always had their t-shirts and flannel tucked into their jeans… yeah, our own little family. Well, one night the brothers got on stage and delivered this song-poem… I wish I had it…One brother would be the human beat box, the other chanted the words… I can only remember the chorus….

Rubber neck….(ticticticpssssticticticboombaheeeeeeeeeh)rubberneck…. rubberneck….yeah. Rubberneck…. (ticticticpssssticticticboombaheeeeeeeeeh)


So, yeah… that’s what I found myself repeating while I read this book. (See? Point.) I barely registered the Columbine Shooting. I did see Elephant and Bowling for Columbine so, there’s that… I remember the CNN footage of kids streaming out of the building with their hands on their heads, the boy that pushed himself out the window. Those images are branded and pretty much sum it up for me. This book, well, I can’t express… no, I probably can… I think I just want to stop analyzing my emotions throughout this book.

Cullen’s writing is to the point, graphic when necessary, journalistic most of the time. Makes sense….Yet, he can draw out the story and plant the pictures in your head with amazing grace. You get it.
You get that you’ll never ever get it.

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist:

Factor1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
Glibness/superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Pathological lying
Cunning/manipulative
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect
Callous/lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Impulsivity
Irresponsibility
Juvenile delinquency
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release
Traits not correlated with either factor
Many short-term marital relationships
Criminal versatility

Jesus-freaking-Christ.

The list is frightening. As a mom, even more so… I can’t even imagine. Should I?? I don’t know, but I know that my heart breaks for those families. One of them quoted Shakespeare in one of the Basement Tapes (oh yeah, I googled the shit out of Columbine after reading this--rubberneck…..) “Good wombs have borne bad sons”--I can’t…. even go there.

So, I take the analytical approach. I’m uncomfortable around all the religious fervor brought on by this. I’m not saying it’s wrong or right or anything. I’m just saying that the images and words surrounding ‘God’s will’ made me squirm. Especially this line, spoken by a pastor:

He shared a vision his youth pastor had received while ministering to the Bernalls: “I saw Cassie, and I saw Jesus, hand in hand. Andy they had just gotten married. They had just celebrated their marriage ceremony. And Cassie kind of winked over at me, like, “I’d like to talk, but I’m so much in love.” Her greatest prayer was to find the right guy. Don’t you think she did?

Okay. I’m not sure that would be of comfort to me. And I’m saying that this is a subjective example of the religion kickback, this is all me---being kind of weirded out by that paragraph. Cullen does this well… plays on this. He can be snarky and he can deliver the facts...letting your own momentum carry you away. It’s creepy.

Some statistics:

83% blame the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (still)
100% of school shooters have been male (at the time the study was completed)
93% planned their attack
98% had suffered a lost or failure they perceived as serious
81% of the shooters had confided their intentions. More than half told at least two people.

I can’t recall ever being afraid of a school shooting. We didn’t have metal detectors and there were loudly announced death threats almost daily.. This just wasn’t on my radar. But, to study these two kids and the psychopath checklist and realize that so many of what was released by the media about these guys (they were loners, they were Goths, they were targeting the jocks, they had a trench coat mafia) was false… I could probably name at least two people that would qualify. Again, creepy.

In his journal, one of the guys said “ I want to leave a lasting impression on this world.” Done. But, I’m not sure in what way. I guess perplexed is another emotion that I can add to the list.
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Reading Progress

07/20/2010 page 149
36.0%
07/28/2010 page 244
59.0% "I'm investigating this 'Psychopath Checklist'"
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Thank you, Elizabeth! It exhausts me when I do that whole 'self analyzing' thing. I usually realize that I'm a cold bitch.

Anyhoo...

Did you ever get a chance to see Brother Blue perform? I just read that he died last November...Such a legend.


message 2: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Aug 29, 2010 07:05AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) Hi, Kim. Great review! This book sounds intriguing.

As an aside, I was studying psych in Vancouver and had Robert Hare as a guest lecturer during the time he was involved in the Bernardo case. Of course he didn't share any information with us directly, but the stories he did tell were pretty scary.

If you buy into the construct (and to be totally honest, I go back and forth on it; the whole notion of a 'personality disorder' label is problematic and controversial), Hare believes that for every Klebold/Harris out there whose psychopathy turns to extreme forms of violence, there are hundreds if not thousands of 'lower-grade' psychopaths (more accurately diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder) who commit lesser crimes or maybe not even crimes at all, in the technical sense, but who basically act manipulatively, aggressively, unethically and cause personal and professional damage wherever they go. As unpleasant as that is, where does the "label" stop? And once labelled, so what? The key element of the psychopath label (along with all the other personality disorders) is to identify someone whose behaviour in almost all instances cannot be modified. They can only be punished, *if* they commit and are convicted of a crime. Where does that leave us?

I never had the courage to challenge him on these issues during class 15 years ago, but the debate rages on and his work remains at the very centre of it.

In any event (and sorry for the long rant!), you might be interested in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It's a fictional examination of the very question you raise here: do bad sons come from good wombs? What IS the role of parenting in the making of a psychopath?

It doesn't address the tendency of human beings who are predisposed by religious indoctrination to believe and take comfort from the most outlandish rationalizations/explanations of events. But I sometimes wonder if the comfort we take from applying the label 'psychopathy' is not equally irrational.


message 3: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Thanks! I have come across that Shriver book and have been meaning to check it out. I agree with the labeling. It goes far beyond the psychopath decree to be honest. I do think it comforts people to categorize outside the norm. The religious aspect... I can't judge what I can't understand. If it is a comfort, then I'm happy for them.

The book mentions some 'tests' that they have done on juvenile 'psychopaths' where they rewarded them for good behaviors such as following the rules and these kids turned out to be less violent. It also says that 'psychopaths' that have had therapeutic treatment were four times as likely to commit violent crimes.

It is an interesting read... especially if you can get over the rubbernecking effect. :)


message 4: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Kimmers, can I just say that I am a Christian and that paragraph about the dead girl marrying Jesus creeped ME out! If it was my daughter and someone told me that I'd slap him...no question. It sounded utterly pervy.

On the line of school shootings, we had lots of guns and knives at school. However, not a lot of shootings or knifings relative to the number that were there, actually very few. But then, the deans and security guards on every floor between classes with their walkies and hand cuffs helped. (Welcome to an inner city H.S.) Even when there was some violence, it was only ever one kid against another for a specific reason, not one disgruntled kid out to get whoever he can manage to land a shot on! It's not the guns that are the problem, it's the kids! Parenting, bullying, video games...whatever, I'm sure it all contributes, but there has to be some underlying chemistry there!


message 5: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim What city was this, Ames? We didn't even have security guards. My daughter's high school has a padded room and periodic lock-down drills though (and this is Vermont)


Larry Bassett I am new here on Goodreads. And maybe there is a FAQ somewhere that explains this. But where do reviews like this come from? And where are they going?


message 7: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim I'm not sure I understand the question, Larry....


Larry Bassett It is more a literary question than a technical question. I read reviews (like this one) that seem so extensive and well researched and that lead to discussions that are similarly erudite that I feel like I have slipped into a world outside my normal ken. So, I wonder, "Who are these Goodreads people? Why are they writing these reviews and the ensuing banter? What am I, a regular guy, supposed to do here in this seemingly alternative universe?"


message 9: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Kim - This is a fantastic review.

I was afraid to read this book. I've had it on my "to-read" since it came out, but something always held me back. I was in 8th grade when Columbine happened, just a few weeks after a classmate killed himself. It was a time when I was acutely aware that while I was miserable at school, there were kids that had it worse than me, and what if...what if they did this at my school? What if I've offended someone to the point that they'd KILL ME?

Those same images do something altogether different to me.

Something about this review puts me at ease. I don't know how much this makes sense, but either way, thank you for writing it.


message 10: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Larry wrote: "It is more a literary question than a technical question. I read reviews (like this one) that seem so extensive and well researched and that lead to discussions that are similarly erudite that I fe..."

Goodreads reviewers, especially GREAT ONES like Kim, tend to go beyond what the book is about and more into how it makes them feel. The more intense you feel about the book the more you put into its review.

The reason we spend our time here and not other websites is specifically because GR offers interesting discussion that very often delves much deeper than the specific book or even books in general. It can seem intimidating at first, but you learn quickly that most of the people here are kind, fascinating people that enjoy stimulating conversation. Best way to engage is to just jump right in.


Larry Bassett Thanks, Jasmine. I might be out of my depth here. I must have stumbled into a pretty special subgroup of GR. Maybe I just need to listen for a while as I read my books. I like Kind and Fascinating and could definitely benefit from some Stimulation.


message 12: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Larry wrote: "Thanks, Jasmine. I might be out of my depth here. I must have stumbled into a pretty special subgroup of GR. Maybe I just need to listen for a while as I read my books. I like Kind and Fascinating ..."

The thing I love most about GR is that its reviewers help me think about the way I read books. When I first got here I didn't realize that I could take in a book and its words and meanings so differently and get so much more than just what my eyes scanned over. Now I go into each new novel with an open mind and I try to pay very close attention to what it does to me.


message 13: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Aug 31, 2010 10:35AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) Larry, I must echo Jasmine and just urge you to jump in. Send friend requests to people whose reviews or reading lists seem appealing (include a personal note, that's always a nice touch!). "Like" reviews and comment on threads, even if it's just to share your appreciation or reflect on a point that was interesting to you. Write your own reviews and comment to everyone who drops in to your thread(s). Your update feed will fill with more and more interesting stuff, and you'll feel part of the GR community in no time.

Kim, re your point about the behaviour mod, I saw a program called "Face-to-Face with a Psychopath" the other day, with Martin Bashir (whom I normally can't tolerate). Bashir interviewed serial killers and a neuroscientist who has done PET/MRI scans of serial killers' brains. He points to underdevelopment in the frontal cortex which can actually be modified with early-life dosing of a vitamin (of course, I now can't remember which one - E, K?. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Flintstones Chewables).

Gruesome show, but fascinating if you can stomach it.


message 14: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Larry wrote: "It is more a literary question than a technical question. I read reviews (like this one) that seem so extensive and well researched and that lead to discussions that are similarly erudite that I fe..."

Oh wow... I totally jumped on the defense on that one. I thought you were going to call me dumb. :/

Thank you for your kind words... there are many great reviewers on this site and I tend to bend towards the narrative types than the book report types.

I agree with Jasmine and Jennifer, Larry... it's best to jump in. I'm painfully shy and it still feels like pulling off a bandaid when I post a review. (will people care? will they like me? AM I dumb?)


message 15: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim EM, that vitamin thing frightens me... I take a lot of vitamins. :(

They had some of those fMRI thingamajigs in the book too... they discussed how psychopaths think too much and feel too little. They analyze emotion instead of expressing it. They tried to play on that aspect to help them not be violent... like 'look at this special gift you have! (now don't kill people with it)'


message 16: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Aug 31, 2010 03:31PM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) Kim wrote: "EM, that vitamin thing frightens me... I take a lot of vitamins. :(

Let me find out which one it was. Regardless, you can only be enhancing your empathy, so don't worry about it!

Kim wrote: "They had some of those fMRI thingamajigs in the book too... they discussed how psychopaths think too much and feel too little. They analyze emotion instead of expressing it. They tried to play on that aspect to help them not be violent... like 'look at this special gift you have! (now don't kill people with it)' "

That's actually insidiously clever -- play on the egomania and the core tool they use to manipulate others, and build "vicarious" empathy. But I call bullshit. I wouldn't trust a psychopath to stay true to their stated behavioural intentions. I think I'd feel better off with permanent brain chemistry change--if not vitamins, bring back lobotomies, I say!! Off with their heads!

I really need to read this book.


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