Thursday, July 21, 2016

One Post: Three Very Different Books

How ridiculous is this? 

Yes, I read more slowly these days than I used to, but this is nuts. These have all been in the finished stack for weeks, and it was my trying to find the right words for the final book in this column that kept me even more hung up. I think you'll understand when you get there. 

Y'all know I adore Ace Atkins, and although it's his Quinn Colson novels that are my favorites I have really enjoyed the Spenser Novels he has written with the blessing of the estate of the late Robert B. Parker. Slow Burn is, as the others have been, a quick read peppered with wonderful banter between characters who tend to be so well drawn you can see the pores on their faces. For my money, this one was a little more serious and had a little more depth than some of the others, and that is not a bad thing. It involves arson, and firefighters and  folks who are fans of both those things. While there was a certain level of predictability, when it's done as well at Atkins does it, who cares?  


Here's true confession time: I have been frustrated for months that my local library does not have this on their shelves, although most of the others are. There's nothing like loving the first novel in a series and not being able to get your hands on the second one! I actually stepped into the local Books-a-Million to buy a copy, and they didn't have it, either (and only a couple of the others). I couldn't find anyone there to help me, and left after working my way through what felt like dozens of displays with movie tie-in products and gee-gaws. So I did something I swore I'd never do:  I downloaded this onto an e-reader, and yes, I did so from the Evil Empire. 

Well, the first thing I have to say is that I learned that I really do not like anything about reading a book in this way save for one thing: not having to find a slip of paper and pen to make a note about the story while in progress. Typically I keep a little notebook and pen close at hand, or jot something down on whatever I'm using as a bookmark, but it does happen that those aren't always available. Will I e-read again? Maybe, if there seems to be a compelling reason to do so; but it will always be -- as it was this time -- a last resort. 

And the story itself? Just as delightful as expected!


We all remember where we were when the events at Columbine High School were unfolding in front of our eyes. We remember watching in real time law enforcement surrounding the school and the interminable wait for them to enter because there was so much confusion about what was going on in there. And then we got the horrific news that two teenage gunmen, wearing black trench coats, were responsible for the rampage and the nightmare within the walls of that school. 

Before the bodies of the dead were even removed, we were getting details about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, and being told about conversations that had taken place between these murderers and their prey. We knew that our kids would never do such a thing because clearly both of these boys were utterly deranged and driven to mass homicide because they'd watched Natural Born Killers and Basketball Diaries too many times, and their parents were absentee and aloof, and, obviously, the boys must have been true loners with no friends, and the victims of bullying. 

It was only years after these events that the truth of all of it emerged, as detailed in Dan Cullen's fine book Columbine.  Most of what we thought we knew about the events of that day and the people whose names became household names was just wrong. Even worse, much of what we thought we knew for true was a construct of the media, who exchanged fact-finding for rumor-mongering and narrative-building in order to garner ratings. 

Sue Klebold has done a magnificently brave thing with her book: she has faced every ugly and hard truth about her son's devolution, and shared those with us. She hopes to throw open a national dialogue about mental illness (which she posits should be called "brain illness," in order to lesson the stigma) and suicide.. But further, she wants us to have a conversation about the role media continues to play in glorifying the violence by creating anti-heroes of perpetrators, something that feeds into the psyche of those on the edge who not only want to die, but who want to go out in a blaze of glory. 

There is a clear distinction between a person citing a reason for something and making an excuse for it, and Ms. Klebold keeps that distinction front and center. Her heart has always been, and still is, with the victims of her son's act. She is overwhelmed by those who have reached out to her with kindness, and holds no grudge against those who have met her with anger. She understands. And she grieves for the son she raised, whom she loved and enjoyed, and for whom she had every reason to dream big dreams. 

A Mother's Reckoning deserves your attention.