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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Talk: MEN: NOTES FROM AN ONGOING INVESTIGATION, by Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis (Facebook) (Twitter)
Henry Holt & Co. / Metropolitan Books (November 18, 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 1627791876 / 9781627791878)
Nonfiction: essays (sociology), 224 pages


This review was originally prepared for Shelf Awareness for Readers, but was not accepted for publication due to a missed deadline. Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and no additional compensation.


Book discussion on The 3 rs Blog: MEN, essays by Laura Kipnis

"The Scumbag." "The Con Man." "The Lothario." "The Critic." "Humiliation Artists." "Cheaters." These are some of the characters that Laura Kipnis (Against Love) groups into the categories "Operators," "Neurotics," "Sex Fiends," and "Haters" in the essays that comprise Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation. A survey of the table of contents might well lead the reader to wonder if Kipnis herself is one of the subjects of the last piece in the collection, "Women Who Hate Men"--too many encounters with men like these could understandably sour a woman on the opposite sex.

In fact, Kipnis comes across as far from a man-hater. She's very interested in what makes men tick, intrigued by what makes them act out against social norms and moral standards, and curious to understand why that bad behavior not only doesn't completely repel women, it sometimes draws them in. It often draws her in, at any rate, and Kipnis' analysis of her own responses to men like these is a significant component of her "ongoing investigation" into their fascinatingly flawed psyches.

Kipnis seems equally interested in fitting specific men--whether fictional characters, personal acquaintances, or public figures--into the context of the archetypes she wants to consider and in discussing the archetypes themselves and offering men who illustrate them. The essays in Men seem to originate from both perspectives, and while it might be interesting in some cases to know where the inspiration came from, it might not be terribly enlightening, and it would surely be less significant than the questions Kipnis proposes or the conclusions she reaches.

Striking a balance between the objectively academic and the deeply personal, Kipnis doesn't seem to be trying to support any particular argument with these essays as a whole. With that in mind, her characterization of these provocative, sometimes frustrating pieces as "notes" seems accurate. But as documentation of one woman's serious reflections on a reluctant attraction to "bad boys" of all sorts, Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation is a fully realized, remarkably articulate set of "notes."


Book description, from the publisher's website:
From the notoriously contrarian author of Against Love, a witty and probing examination of why badly behaved men have been her lifelong fascination, on and off the page.
It’s no secret that men often behave in intemperate ways, but in recent years we’ve witnessed so many spectacular public displays of male excess—disgraced politicians, erotically desperate professors, fallen sports icons—that we’re left to wonder whether something has come unwired in the collective male psyche.
In the essays collected here, Laura Kipnis revisits the archetypes of wayward masculinity that have captured her imagination over the years, scrutinizing men who have figured in her own life alongside more controversial public examples. Slicing through the usual clich├ęs about the differences between the sexes, Kipnis mixes intellectual rigor and wit to give us compelling survey of the affinities, jealousies, longings, and erotics that structure the male-female bond.
Excerpt from the opening, essay "The Scumbag":

"I met Hustler magazine’s obstreperous redneck publisher Larry Flynt twice, the first time before he started believing all the hype about himself and the second time after. By hype, I mean the uplifting stuff floated in Milos Forman’s mushily liberal biopic, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and dutifully parroted in the media coverage—that Flynt isn’t just a scumbag pornographer, he’s also some big First Amendment hero. I liked him better as a scumbag pornographer, though I realize this could be construed as its own form of perversity. Nevertheless, I had a certain investment in protecting my version of Flynt against Forman’s encroachments, though, as anyone can see, I was severely outgunned in this match.

"The reason we’d met in the first place was that I’d written an ambivalently admiring essay about Flynt and Hustler, which the ghostwriter of his autobiography had come across and passed on to Larry, and which he’d apparently admired in turn. The ghostwriter contacted me. I was invited to drop in on Larry the next time I was in Los Angeles, and as it happened, I had plans to be there the following month. A meeting was thus arranged. If I said that getting together for a chat with Larry Flynt was an unanticipated turn of events, this would be a vast understatement. The whole reason I’d written about him so freely was that I never expected to face him in person and could therefore imagine him in ways that gratified my conception of who he should be: a white trash savant imbued with junkyard political savvy. In truth, I found the magazine completely disgusting—as I was meant to, obviously: it had long been the most reviled instance of mass-circulation pornography around and used people like me (shame-ridden bourgeois feminists and other elites) for target practice, with excremental grossness among its weapons of choice. It was also particularly nasty to academics who in its imagination are invariably prissy and uptight—sadly I’m one of this breed too."

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's What: The Sunday Salon, November 23

The Sunday Salon on The 3 Rs Blog, 11/23/14

What I'm reading and writing


I am working my way through my podcast backlog during my daily commute after finishing my audiobook read of The Magicians trilogy. I probably won't post my thoughts on that one (those three?) until after December 1 even if I finish writing them up before that--this is still Nonfiction November, after all. After posting "revisited reviews" for that event all this past week, I have a new review scheduled for Tuesday--and after that, it may be slow around here for a few days. American Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and I suspect many of us will be doing things other than reading blogs this week!

Maybe we'll be reading books instead? I'm planning to get into my January review reading for Shelf Awareness this week. I've also started one of the books I mentioned in my "expert reading about TV" post a couple of weeks ago, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds That Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Krishin Armstrong.


What I want to tell you about


My feedback on the 2014 BEA Bloggers Conference led to an invitation to join the Advisory Board for BEA Bloggers 2015 (Wednesday, May 27, 2015). I accepted, and that's why I've been tweeting this:
In my role, I will make every possible effort to advocate for content development relevant to the interests of the book-blogging community--so please speak up and let me know what those interests are! And please take the opportunity to have direct input in the programming plan by proposing a session! Submissions must be received by January 12, 2015.

Newsy links:

  • Don't you think books make the best gifts? Tell everyone to #GiveABook this holiday season, and make Penguin Random House donate up to 25,000 books to Save the Children. You can follow the official campaign and learn more on Facebook and Twitter.

Postertext (affiliate)

  • Book-related gifts are almost as good as books themselves, and the art prints from Postertext, which are created using text from classics and contemporary books, are a nice way to decorate someone's reading nook. (Disclosure: I am a Postertext affiliate and receive a commission on sales referrals through this blog.)

  • And after the holidays are over, maybe you can make #timetoread and support literacy initiatives by participating in National Readathon Day on Saturday, January 24, 2015. (The readathon "day" is just four hours, folks--we can manage that pretty easily, can't we?)
Potentially useful writerly links:


What I want to show you


The "Gratuitous Photo of the Week" is now, and for the foreseeable future, "The Weekly Winchester." 

Gold is the Command color in Star Trek. Captain Winchester is on the bridge. (Star Trek:TOS Captain's Chair Pet Bed available at ThinkGeek.com.)
If there's any way to nerdify a dog, we're going to find it.

What are your plans for the day?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Revisited Review: SISTERHOOD, INTERRUPTED by Deborah Siegel #NonFicNov

As part of my participation in Nonfiction November, I'm digging into the blog archives and re-posting my thoughts on some of the notable nonfiction I've read during the last few years...and if I'm talking about it again, it's nonfiction I think you should read, too.


Nonfiction November book discussion repost on The 3 Rs Blog: SISTERHOOD, INTERRUPTED by Deborah Siegel

Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild
Deborah Siegel
Palgrave Macmillan (2007), First Edition, Paperback (140398204X / 9781403982049)
Nonfiction (history/gender studies), 240 pages
Source: Personal/purchased copy

(originally reviewed December 13, 2010)

“Sisterhood is powerful,” the second-wave feminists of the 1960s and ‘70s declared. I have, and am, a sister, and I believe this; my sister and I are very good friends. But we haven’t always had the easiest relationship - it’s pretty unusual to have sisterhood without sibling rivalry. In Sisterhood, Interrupted, her history of contemporary feminism and its factions and friction, Deborah Siegel considers the ways in which the sisterhood analogy has united and divided women.

Feminism may appear to be fragmented in various directions these days - because it is - but Siegel shows that even from the beginning of the second wave, feminist “sisters” never spoke with a single, unified voice. While there was agreement on the need for change to improve women’s lives, there were many opinions on what sort of changes were needed and how to go after them. Did women need to change how they saw themselves, or how society saw them? Did they want legal, economic, or sexual equality - and did they need to choose among them? Should they work for change within the system, through traditional political channels, or embrace the concept that “the personal is political” and push for radical reforms through less conventional methods? Were men the source and cause of everything that held women back, so that embracing feminism equated to rejecting men? (For some feminists, this was true, and lesbianism was one way in which they expressed that the personal and political were equal.) While the 1970s and the decades that followed saw progress made in the areas of economic and educational opportunity, personal protection, family law, and reproductive rights, the underlying debates went on.

These questions weren’t definitively answered, and in the 1980s, as the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified and society became more conservative, they became increasingly academic and debated outside mainstream awareness. A generation came of age having benefited from what the second wave did accomplish, but not always fully aware of how it was accomplished; they revived the questions, sometimes ignorant of - or indifferent to - the fact they weren’t the first to ask them, and began to raise new ones. They disagreed - with their predecessors and with one another - on whether the personal really was political, what “sisterhood” meant in an era of focus on the individual over the community, and whether the work of feminism was even still necessary.

My own answer to that last question is an unqualified yes, but because I want to keep this particular discussion focused on the book itself, I’ll save elaborating on that or another post. While Siegel essentially covers the same time period addressed by Gail Collins in When Everything Changed, her emphasis is much more specific and “inside:” her story is about what’s gone on within the feminist movement more than its effects outside it. And as fragmented as the movement is, I was very impressed by Siegel’s even-handed, balanced discussion; I didn’t get a sense that she was taking sides. The book is a “popular” history aimed at a general audience, and I found it highly accessible and fascinating reading, but with 289 endnotes to its 170 pages of text and more than 20 pages of references and additional resources, Siegel approaches it with academic discipline.Sisterhood, Interrupted is a survey, but one focused and detailed enough that I didn’t feel the author shortchanged anything important. This was an enlightening and thought-provoking read that I’m glad to have liberated from TBR Purgatory after nearly two and a half years, and that I’d recommend for all young (and young-ish) feminists.

Rating: 4/5
Book Description, from the author's website: Older and younger feminists are often depicted at odds, with elder feminists cast as relics of a bygone era and younger feminists portrayed as unaware and ungrateful of the work their mothers did. In fact, as Deborah Siegel points out in this book, younger women are not abandoning the movement, but reinventing it. With a vengeance….SISTERHOOD, INTERRUPTED is a history of feminism from the so-called bra burners to the bloggers and a compelling protest that the generations are more alike than they are different.
Opening Lines (from the Introduction): “On February 15, 1969, the day I was born, the newly formed women’s liberation movement launched its national attack on domesticity. In New York City, members of the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell - WITCH - stormed a Madison Square Garden bridal fair.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Revisited Review: THE GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, by Lynn Povich #NonFicNov

As part of my participation in Nonfiction November, I'm digging into the blog archives and re-posting my thoughts on some of the notable nonfiction I've read during the last few years...and if I'm talking about it again, it's nonfiction I think you should read, too.

Nonfiction November book discussion repost on The 3 Rs Blog: THE GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, by Lynn Povich

The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
Lynn Povich
PublicAffairs (September 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 161039173X / 9781610391733)
Nonfiction: History/Women, 288 pages
Source: ARC from publisher, obtained at Book Expo America 2012

Originally reviewed December 31, 2012

As 2013 began, 80-year-old Newsweek magazine was about to enter a new phase as an online-only publication. It wasn't the the first time that changes in the socioeconomic landscape forced it to change how it operated. Forty years earlier, the magazine was sued by almost fifty of its female employees when they didn’t see any other way out of the uncredited “research” ghetto in which any woman who wasn’t a secretary was made, by practice and policy, to dwell. In The Good Girls Revolt, Lynn Povich--one of the Newsweek women who spearheaded the lawsuit--describes the work culture that deemed that writing, reporting, and editing were men’s work, and the societal changes that drove a group of well-educated, capable women to demand that culture be changed.

The Newsweek lawsuit may not be an especially well-remembered incident in the barrier-breaking and society-reshaping years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but as the first action of its kind by women working in the media, it’s a significant one. In March 1970, Newsweek was the first major newsmagazine to do a cover story on the second-wave feminist movement--and with no women reporters or writers on staff, it had to hire a freelancer to produce it; the researchers and fact-checkers who sued to change that status announced their legal filing the same day that story was published. Change didn’t come quickly--or particularly willingly--and when internal “understanding” broke down, the women pursued further legal action.

In documenting the story of the lawsuit, Povich--who was named Newsweek's first female senior editor five years after the first filing--spoke with many of the individuals affected by the action, including those charged with implementing its mandated remedies and those who were conflicted over being involved with it at all. While they supported changing Newsweek's discriminatory practices, some of the women who joined the lawsuit didn’t personally want the opportunity to become writers or reporters or editors, and Povich treats their viewpoints as even-handedly as she does those of women for whom those opportunities couldn’t come fast enough.

Thanks to actions like the Newsweek lawsuit, gender discrimination in the workplace is officially illegal now, but that doesn’t mean it’s disappeared; it just takes more subtle forms that are more challenging to address. Those of us who were children when these groundbreaking events were occurring--and those who weren’t born until after the Equal Rights Amendment had withered from lack of passage--need to be reminded of the struggles that made things possible for us and of the matters that are still far from settled. The Good Girls Revolt is a fast-paced, engagingly written (and reported) chronicle of one of those struggles...and a good, consciousness-raising reminder.

Rating: 3.75 of 5
Book description, from the publisher’s website:  
On March 16, 1970, Newsweek magazine hit newsstands with a cover story on the fledgling feminist movement entitled "Women in Revolt." That same day, 46 Newsweek women, Lynn Povich among them, announced they'd filed an EEOC complaint charging their employer with "systematic discrimination" against them in hiring and promotion.
In The Good Girls Revolt, Povich evocatively tells the story of this dramatic turning point through the lives of several participants, showing how personal experiences and cultural shifts led a group of well-mannered, largely apolitical women, raised in the 1940s and 1950s, to stand up for their rights—and what happened after they did. For many, filing the suit was a radicalizing act that empowered them to "find themselves" and stake a claim. Others lost their way in a landscape of opportunities, pressures, discouragements, and hostilities they weren't prepared to navigate.
With warmth, humor, and perspective, the book also explores why changes in the law did not change everything for today's young women.
Opening lines (Chapter 1): “On March 16, 1970, Newsweek magazine hit the newsstands with a cover story on the fledgling feminist movement, ‘Women in Revolt.’ The bright yellow cover pictured a naked woman in red silhouette, her head thrown back, provocatively thrusting her fist through a broken blue female-sex symbol. As the first copies went on sale that Monday morning, forty-six female employees of Newsweek announced that we, too, were in revolt. We had just filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that we had been ‘systematically discriminated against in both hiring and promotion and forced to assume a subsidiary role’ simply because we were women."

Rating: 3.75/5

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Revisited Review: WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED, by Gail Collins #NonFicNov

As part of my participation in Nonfiction November, I'm digging into the blog archives and re-posting my thoughts on some of the notable nonfiction I've read during the last few years...and if I'm talking about it again, it's nonfiction I think you should read, too.

Nonfiction November book discussion repost at The 3 Rs Blog: WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED, by Gail Collins

Little, Brown and Company (2009), Hardcover/E-book (ISBN 0316059544 / 9780316059541)
Nonfiction (history/society), 480 pages

(originally reviewed January 18, 2010)

American society has changed at an amazing pace in the last fifty years, especially for women. In 1960, when Gail Collins begins the narrative of When Everything Changed, most white, middle-class women were married, stay-at-home mothers well before their thirtieth birthdays; they may have worked before they married, but their choices of acceptable careers were limited - sometimes by convention, sometimes by actual barriers to entry, including the law. It was more expected for poor women to work, even if they had children, but they were still primarily responsible for family and housekeeping as well. While the suffragists had succeeded in winning women the right to vote in 1920, progress for women in society essentially stalled after that. When it was proposed that non-discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race, be added to the Civil Rights Act, it was essentially a joke aimed at derailing the law's passage in the first place.

The Civil Rights Act passed anyway, and together with Title IX, the legal framework was put in place for women's rights and opportunities to expand dramatically. And with that framework, women's consciousness began to expand too, and they began to question and reshape the social framework as well...ultimately, by the early 21st century, bending some of it back toward where it started.

It's rather difficult to review this book fully, because it includes so much material. However, it's a relatively fast and very engaging read (if I'd had more time to spend with it, I'd have finished it sooner). There are some topics and people on which I'd have liked to spend more time, but I don't think Collins missed or shortchanged anything that really matters. The book was enlightening about so many things: the women in the civil-rights movement (whom the men wanted to keep in the background); the early triumph and ultimate defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, and its role in the rise of modern-day conservative politics (by the way, did you know that around the same time Congress originally passed the ERA, they also approved national child-care legislation? I didn't know it; if that had sustained some momentum, the lives of working moms could be so different); the perception of women as portrayed in popular culture, from That Girl to Mary Tyler Moore to Clair Huxtable, and reflected back as role models. Collins' approach embodies the "personal is political" tenet of modern feminism; much of the story here is oral history, told through women's experiences. While she spends time on plenty of prominent women - Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O'Connor, Hillary Clinton - the stories of little-known women who also spent time in the trenches and lived out the changes are equally important here.

Collins is a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, and brings her journalist's approach to the writing here - it's very straightforward and direct, with plenty of references and endnotes. I read this in ebook format, and the endnotes were actually links - it's a much more efficient approach, and one that made me much more likely to read the endnotes.

Rating: 4/5

Book description, from the publisher's websiteWhen Everything Changed begins in 1960, when most American women had to get their husbands' permission to apply for a credit card. It ends in 2008 with Hillary Clinton's historic presidential campaign. This was a time of cataclysmic change, when, after four hundred years, expectations about the lives of American women were smashed in just a generation.

A comprehensive mix of oral history and Gail Collins's keen research--covering politics, fashion, popular culture, economics, sex, families, and work--When Everything Changed is the definitive book on five crucial decades of progress. The enormous strides made since 1960 include the advent of the birth control pill, the end of "Help Wanted--Male" and "Help Wanted--Female" ads, and the lifting of quotas for women in admission to medical and law schools. Gail Collins describes what has happened in every realm of women's lives, partly through the testimonies of both those who made history and those who simply made their way.

Opening Lines (from the Introduction): "On a steamy morning in the summer of 1960, Lois Rabinowitz, a 28-year-old secretary for an oil-company executive, unwittingly became the feature story of the day in New York City when she went down to traffic court to pay her boss' speeding ticket. Wearing neatly pressed slacks and a blouse, Lois hitched a ride to the courthouse with her husband of two weeks, Irving."

(from Chapter One): "In January 1960, Mademoiselle welcomed in a new decade for America's young women by urging them to be...less boring. 'Some of you dowear a cautious face,' the editors admitted. 'But are you really - cautious, unimaginative, determined to play it safe at any price?'"




Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Salon: Sort Of Short On Substance

The Sunday Salon on The 3 Rs Blog

I suspected that the past week wouldn't be good for either reading or writing, and sadly, I was not wrong. I'm holding down the blogging fort by revisiting some book reviews from the archives for Nonfiction November; two have gone up already, and three more are lined up for this week. I'm not sure I'll get an original post done for this week's #NonFicNov "Diversity" prompt, but I did put together a short reading list of books about TV for the event's "Be/Ask/Become the Expert" topic.

CBS Television CIty Studios, Los Angeles
Speaking of TV, I took the day off from work on Thursday. Tall Paul and I were in the studio audience for two tapings of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson--one episode aired that night, and the second is scheduled for this Friday.

Honestly, it has not been a good reading week at all. I've resisted taking the nuclear option on my feed reader because there are so many Nonfiction November posts in it I want to read, so there's quite a pileup there. 

However, the bigger problem is my slow progress with a book of essays for review, which I'm thinking is a reader problem rather than a book problem. I've made the thoroughly unwelcome discovery that if I don't have the right combination of font size, print quality and proper lighting, my middle-aged eyes are finding reading physically uncomfortable, and it's been hard for me to maintain the right environment for this one. This afternoon, after I get this post written and scheduled, I'm taking the book up to the comfortable, well-lit loft--I hope to spend some productive time with it there.

Perhaps Winchester will decide to keep me company while I read. (Also speaking of TV, we decided to change Chester's name to "Winchester" in homage to those Supernatural brothers, Dean and Sam.)

Winchester, dog mascot of The 3 Rs Blog
Does Winchester know the pain of "so many books, so little time"?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Revisited Review: COLUMBINE, by Dave Cullen #NonFicNov

As part of my participation in Nonfiction November, I'm digging into the blog archives and re-posting my thoughts on some of the notable nonfiction I've read during the last few years...and if I'm talking about it again, it's nonfiction I think you should read, too.

Audiobook read by Don Leslie
Grand Central Publishing (2010), trade paper (ISBN 0446546925 / 9780446546928)
Nonfiction (current affairs), 464 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Blackstone Audio (2009), ISBN 9781433290466; Audible ASIN B0025ZAMU6)

(originally reviewed November 12, 2013)

In April of 1999, my son Chris was a freshman in a large suburban high school. Most of the students came from solidly middle-class homes, and there was a strong evangelical-Christian presence in the community. We were well over a thousand miles from Jefferson County, Colorado, but the surface similarities made it hard not to think that what happened at Columbine High could just as easily happen at Germantown. I think my cohort--parents of the classes of 1999 through 2002 at every high school in America--was particularly spooked by Columbine. As we followed the story, we hoped we’d learn that there was something unique to that place that factored into the “why” of it...and that might mean our kids, in their own high schools, would be safe.


Journalist Dave Cullen was at Columbine High School on the day of the massacre, and stayed with the story for nearly a decade. As he dug into the evidence released in the years following the shootings, researching the details of that day and what brought it about, he discovered that while early reports got most of the facts right, they spun them into erroneous, but persistent, conclusions about the killers’ backgrounds and motives. In Columbine, he pulls his findings together into a revealing, insightful, and gripping narrative that closely examines and debunks nearly all of the most prominent “myths,” including:
  • “Jocks, minorities or Christians were targeted. False.
  • “The killing went on for hours. False. It lasted 16 minutes.
  • “Eric Harris killed Dylan Klebold. False. Chapter 52, ‘Quiet,’ depicts the actual suicide, and presents the forensic evidence to back it up.
  • “Christian martyr Cassie Bernall's last act was a gunpoint profession of faith. False. Chapter 38, ‘Martyr’ describes the truth of what happened in the library, and how the confusion with another victim developed. (Other aspects of the storyline unfold in additional chapters.)
  • “The Trench Coat Mafia. Nearly everything about this barely-existent band is false. Chapter 28, ‘Media Crime,’ explains how this one emerged."
Links, scans, and indices to nearly 30,000 pages of official evidence, a selective bibliography, and other background material are posted as an “online companion” to Columbine, and it would be easy to lose days going down the rabbit hole of Cullen’s extensive research, although most readers probably won’t feel like they need--or want--to do that. The story is told pretty thoroughly in Cullen’s award-winning book. He covers the chronology of the day (sometimes in unsettlingly graphic detail), follows the police investigation, and provides detailed portraits of victims, survivors, and their families. He discusses the effects of trauma on memory and the unreliability of eyewitnesses as he explores how some of those stubborn myths took hold.


But Columbine’s greatest significance rests in its insights into the psychological makeup of teenage killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Through excerpts from both boys’ journals and the analysis of psychologists who studied them after the event, Cullen reveals that their depiction as social outcasts or victims of bullying was one of the many things the media got wrong. Klebold’s journals make it obvious that he had serious and untreated clinical depression--if he was victimized by anyone, it was himself. Meanwhile, Harris is pegged as, quite literally, a textbook psychopath* with a grandiose plan of destruction; his portrait is utterly chilling (and reminded me a lot of the title character in We Need to Talk About Kevin; that novel predates Columbine, but it makes me think Lionel Shriver must have done some pretty good research herself). 

(*There's actually a psychopathy checklist, and as FBI analysts reviewed the documents Harris left behind, they were able to check off more and more boxes on it.)

Much of what's revealed in Columbine is made public for the first time in these pages, and it makes clear that what happened at Columbine High happened because of the individuals involved, and wasn’t precipitated by anything specific to their circumstances. I’m not sure there are many larger lessons we can take away from that--none that might help us feel a little better about our kids’ safety, anyway. Readers looking for reassurance that “Columbine can’t happen here” aren’t likely to find it, but they will end with a much better understanding of what really happened there.


One of the many ways that audiobooks have improved my reading life is that they’ve helped me get to some of the books that have been hanging around my TBR collection for years. I bought Columbine when it was released in paperback in 2010...and it’s sat on the shelf ever since (surviving the Big Book Purge of 2013). I thought about finally cracking it open late last year, after the Sandy Hook school shootings, but went with the audio of a thematically-related novel that had been in TBR even longer, We Need to Talk About Kevin; instead. But as my reading preferences have been shifting more toward nonfiction lately, I decided to make Columbine my next audio read (after Sheri Fink’s Five Days At Memorial). I’m not sorry I did--I wasn’t wowed by Don Leslie’s reading, but I wasn’t bothered by it either--but the standard tag that Audible applies at the end of every recording, “Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program,” doesn’t feel right with a book like this. Columbine isn’t a book you read for “enjoyment”--you read it for insight, for context, and for stellar narrative journalism. And if those things matter to you, you should read it.


Rating: Book--4 of 5; Audio--3.75 of 5


Book description, from the publisher’s website: 
On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave "a lasting impression on the world." Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence-irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting "another Columbine."
When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window--the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris, and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal.
The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boys’ tapes and diaries, he gives the first complete account of the Columbine tragedy.

Opening lines: “He told them he loved them. Each and every one of them. He spoke without notes but chose his words carefully. Frank DeAngelis waited out the pom-pom routines, the academic awards, and the student-made videos. After an hour of revelry, the short, middle-aged man strode across the gleaming basketball court to address his student body. He took his time. He smiled as he passed the marching band, the cheerleaders, and the Rebels logo painted beneath flowing banners proclaiming recent sports victories. He faced two thousand hyped-up high school students in the wooden bleachers and they gave him their full attention. Then he told them how much they meant to him. How his heart would break to lose just one of them.”