Columbine by Dave Cullen

imgres“A terrifying affliction had infested America’s small towns and suburbs: the school shooter . . .”

Columbine is the in-depth account of the infamous Columbine High School shooting, committed in April 1999 by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. A decade in the making, Dave Cullen spent an inordinate amount of time researching all the available evidence and poring over thousands of pages of witness testimony, police reports, newspaper articles, diary entries, psychiatric opinions and theories, and any other related literature on the subject of Columbine. He also interviewed a slew of people, including many of the survivors and survivors’ families, along with police officers, FBI agents, teachers, and local pastors. He immersed himself in the tragedy.

And although many people are aware of the obvious details (two armed students killed twelve people and injured many more in a horrific school shooting), they’re unlikely to know the full story; the ins and outs of the case. And what they do know has been gleaned from multiple sources of both reliable and unreliable media. Which is where Dave Cullen comes in.

Referencing multiple sources, Cullen works to debunk many of the rumours, myths, lies, and half-truths that circulate around the tragedy. On top of that, he offers every small and relevant detail about the case; sifting through the minutiae of the killers’ lives, dragging us into their reality. He further draws the reader into the action by painting the victims and survivors as if characters in a novel, taking the reader on a journey, making us care about how it all ends. And even though the main bulk of information could be found in an hour-long documentary on YouTube, it doesn’t make Columbine any less gripping.

It’s a testament to Dave Cullen’s skills as a journalist that we join this story at the beginning and follow it through a fractured past-and-present structure, a seamless puzzle between the murders, the pre-murder, and the aftermath, locked in the entire way, wanting to know how it all ends, even though we already do know. And along this path of destruction, we learn every single detail — important and otherwise; the inside, outside, left side, all side of Columbine and what really happened that day.

The painstaking research lends credence and credulity to the book, and the writing and structure gives it the air and feel of a thriller.

Having said that, it is long, and at times laborious or depressing reading, but it’s worth every second of it. If you didn’t want to know about Columbine before, you soon will.


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Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

imgresThis book invites you to imagine the act of writing less as a special talent and more as a purposeful craft . . .”

I’ve read numerous writing manuals and how-to guides over the years and this is one of the most comprehensive I’ve come across. Many books of this ilk promise to delve into a wide variety of issues but tend to scrimp on information in order to examine a few main areas, such as plot, or characterisation or the mechanics of writing — whereas Writing Tools covers almost everything in equal depth.

Broken up into fifty sections, each chapter focuses on a different aspect of writing: from structure to procrastination to internal cliff-hangers — using, for the most part, examples from previously published works (primarily other journalists, but also novelists and poets) to solidify, explain or elaborate on the initial point. At first it appears as if the book’s aimed solely towards journalistic writing rather than novels or scripts, but there’s a clear overlap of ideas and techniques, which can be beneficial for both authors and journalists alike. And although the chapters are quite short — probably about seven or eight pages each — the book never feels stingy on information, and Roy Peter Clark dives into each subject thoroughly and with an apparent wealth of knowledge and personal experience.

This isn’t merely a quick how-to guide; it’s more like a long, informative, insightful lesson, with an engaging, clear-minded teacher.

Whether you’re a journalist, a short story writer, a novelist, or a screenwriter, I highly recommend this book. It has a little something for everybody.


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