Nonfiction November: Be the Expert, Ask the Expert, Become the Expert

Hello friends! It is Week 4 of #NonFicNov and I am really thankful for this little blogging event. I am mostly thankful because it has ACTUALLY made me better at regularly posting! I typically post at least once a month, which is terrible, but this has inspired me to post more regularly, and for that I am sincerely grateful.

The prompt for this week is “Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert, and it is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey (I just typed out Dewing Dewey, and I can’t even. It’s a Thursday that feels like a Friday, y’all). Every week of this challenge I have stated in some way, shape, or form, that I am not a nonfiction expert. It’s just not my preferred genre. This challenge has been great because it’s asking me to think in a nonfiction mindset: I am looking at books I would never have considered and thinking deeply about those nonfiction books I have already read! It’s been great. That being said, I realized in my pondering that I haven’t become an expert on that many things in the nonfiction realm. I used to participate in National History Day (State Qualifier five years in a row, what’s up?) and I read a lot of nonfiction informational books when I participated. Those categories included the Orphan Train, the Romanov Murders and Russian Revolution, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, and Nellie Bly and the Mental Health Reform. I am single-handedly obsessed with the Romanovs (have been from an embarrassingly young age) but I don’t remember these nonfiction texts very well. I looked, instead, to my trusty Goodreads page and found that I had read significantly on the tragedy of Columbine, so I guess these are the books I will recommend!

The Books

Originally, I was going to write that this all began when I read Dave Cullen’s massive and horrifyingly informative book Columbine. Before I had my son, I was a secondary educator, and this book just broke me. I was fascinated by the information Cullen was able to glean from those who suffered and survived the attacks, whether that survival be a firsthand connection or survival of an emotional toll for those who were directly there but felt the impact of the violence. I’ve hesitantly recommended it many times, hesitating simply because I’m not sure it’s information everyone would be able to handle. It’s hard, and it’s heartbreaking. I do think you should read it, The effect of violence is far-reaching, and this book does a beautiful job demonstrating that.

While this is the most recent book to set off my information binge, I think it actually started when I was in middle school and read She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. This was a really popular book for the Christian teenager, and I wasn’t an exception. As an uptight and obedient middle school student, there were elements that horrified me (the devil worship, diaries discussing Cassie’s dark desires to harm her parents, etc.) but I found the overall story inspirational– she found Christ, and that made a difference. Please note, though, that reading Cullen’s Columbine will absolutely change the way you think of this story. In the years to follow the tragedy, it appeared that the actual situation that inspired the book was false; another student was the one who actually said “yes.” This doesn’t make Cassie’s story any less important, but it does change the accuracy of the angle from which her mother wrote the book.

I read Rachel’s Tears: The Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott shortly after reading She Said Yes. It’s been awhile since I read these two, but I remember having a slight preference for Rachel’s Tears. At the time, I remember thinking that this was better spiritually; it seemed to provide a more expansive account of who Rachel was; that’s what I particularly cared about reading. I do believe that Rachel’s father (who wrote this book) and Misty Bernall both wrote the depictions of their children’s lives as a way to make sense of and cope with the death of their children. That doesn’t mean that the books are not important for certain reasons; it does mean, however, that if you are looking for purely unbiased, informational, almost journalistic pursuits of this tragedy, these are probably not the best picks.

Another book we have to examine from the lens of bias is A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. I so appreciate what Sue Klebold did with this book. If you have never read or heard anything about Columbine, it’s important to know that Dylan Klebold (Sue’s son) was one of the shooters and died by suicide during the event. Can you imagine the humility and vulnerability it would take for someone in her position to write this? I’m stunned. I listened to it on audio, and it was very good. I definitely do recommend this, as long as you’re aware that the Dylan Sue knew was not the Dylan that most of the world was exposed to. She was his mother; she grieved not only for the loss of her child but also the lives that her child played a major role in taking.

Another book that I think is good to consider reading in the light of this topic would be Dave Cullen’s second book, Parkland. This is not about Columbine, but here is why I think it’s important. Early on, Cullen explains the trauma that he felt after writing Columbine and how difficult it was for him to emotionally deal with the information he accumulated. So, when he writes on the Parkland story, he writes about the kids and their own actions following the tragedy. He does not write about the shooters, and writes only briefly about the actual shooting. Instead, he chooses to bring light to the students and how they chose to pursue action in the wake of this horrible incident. They wanted to make good from their pain and their own trauma. I think it’s really inspirational to read this after you have considered the sheer pain involved in all of this, to see good come from something so genuinely abhorrent and heartbreaking. I briefly review Parkland in my June Reading Wrap-Up, if you are eager for more information.

I don’t really like discussing this content, because, frankly, it terrifies me. I majored in education, I worked in a high school for three years, my husband is currently an educator. For goodness sake, as I write this a news banner came across my homepage that another school shooting occurred just this morning in California. Our schools have become targets, and it’s simply unfathomable to me. But I do believe that the only true combatant for fear is knowledge, and so it brings me small comfort to have more information about this; why are these things happening, and how can I help keep the America my son knows from being one where children are hunted in their own places of learning? These questions remain unanswered.

Educate Me!

Because I’m an Enneagram 5 and I have an addiction to knowing things, I have a few topics I’d love to know more about. If you’ve read any books about these things, drop a recommendation in the comments!

  • Whale captivity and the illegal obtaining of whales
  • Anything related to the Romanovs or Russian Royalty in general (please let it be interesting; I’ve slogged through many books on this topic that have been quite challenging to complete)
  • The Blue Fugates of Kentucky (you can thank my most recent fiction read, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek) for that one
  • Anything about Judy Garland or her films

That’s all I can think of for now.

Until next time, happy reading!

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