Book Review: Columbine

Columbine
Hatchette Book Group, NY: 2010; 2016
by Dave Cullen
Book Review by Marty Rheaume
Available at the Croswell Library

Columbine haunts us with sobbing teenagers, grieving parents, and dead students who endure in our collective consciousness.  April 20, 1999 wasn’t the first school shooting but it is the one that created a cult of theatrical violence preaching terror and narcissistic loathing. Astonishingly, acolytes embraced the sermon and spread it, wreaking havoc for the next couple of decades, while the rest of us wonder why the nihilistic message appeals to so many.

Cullen uses 400 plus pages to illuminate that day and the deranged minds that orchestrated it. After being one of the first reporters on the scene, he spent the following ten years on the book. With a well-paced narrative, he alternates between the years leading up to that day and the fallout that resulted from it. We meet the victims, their families, the killers, their parents, and the overmatched law enforcement officials trying to make sense of it. Poignant moments of strength and forgiveness abound but this is no feel-good book.

Columbine is most gripping when it explores clinical psychopathy through the twisted mind of Eric Harris along with Dylan Klebold’s sycophantic relationship with him. Harris’s calculating cruelty is so foreign to the empathetic reader, it’s impossible not to be intrigued by his alien thought process. Meanwhile, examining Klebold’s tortured soul gives the reader a different feeling. His relatability lends some humanity to the pair and makes him the more tragic figure.

The juxtaposition of the two perpetrators gives the book a dynamic energy that keeps the pages turning and the mind searching for answers. Harris wanted to watch the world burn. Moreover, he wanted to light the match. Klebold was a disillusioned young man whose frustration with a fallen world led to violent outbursts. We watch their relationship develop into a runaway train fueled by animosity, resentfulness, and spite. Cullen frustrates us by illustrating various opportunities local authorities had to derail that hate train. Most gut-wrenching was an affidavit to search Harris’s house that inexplicably slipped through the cracks, despite linking him to a homemade pipe bomb found in the neighborhood. The results were fifteen dead, a nation scarred, and a darker world.

Twenty years later, we must admit that Eric Harris won. He got everything he wanted: terror, infamy, a legacy of fans, and copycat killers. He let an evil genie out of the bottle and now he’s laughing in Hell as we blame each other for the destruction.

Book Review: The Lone Wolverine

The Lone Wolverine: Tracking Michigan’s Most Elusive Animal
Elizabeth Philips Shaw & Jeff Ford
University of Michigan Press: 2012
Available at the Croswell Library
Review by Marty Rheaume

Michigan is the Wolverine State. It’s been our unofficial state motto since our southern neighbors discovered that we were the ugliest, meanest, fiercest creatures of the North. Rather than hide from the insult, we embraced it as a symbol of northern toughness. Curiously though, no living wolverine had ever been documented in Michigan. For almost 200 years, we had been the Wolverine State without proof of a wild wolverine ever stepping foot on our soil until one winter day in 2004 in the most unlikely of places.

Of course, there had been “sightings” of wolverines in Michigan, along with UFOs, Bigfoot, and Elvis in Kalamazoo. As the first calls of a wolverine sighting came into the DNR office on that cold February morning, the conservation officer took it about that seriously. Eyewitness testimony is slightly better than useless, except when it’s worse. People mistake raccoons for bears, dogs for wolves, and housecats for cougars. It’s easy to imagine the officer patiently rolling his eyes as the first call came in and becoming annoyed as the phone kept ringing but when the call came claiming the wolverine had been treed a few miles south of Bad Axe, it could no longer be ignored. The DNR got there just in time to officially document the first wolverine sighting in the history of the Wolverine State.

This mysterious wolverine sighting in Michigan’s Thumb provoked more questions than answers. For Deckerville science teacher and track coach Jeff Ford, the mystery became an obsession. After surviving a family tragedy as a young child, Ford developed an intense bond with the rhythms of the natural world. The solitude and the potential for discovery and connection animated his youth, while allowing his psychological trauma to scar over. He continued to be an avid outdoorsman as an adult, publishing his writings in various outdoor magazines. By 2010, he had earned the title, “The Wolverine Guy” for his work documenting the story of the Michigan Wolverine.

How did a wolverine end up in the heart of Thumb, hundreds of miles from the nearest known population? “The Lone Wolverine” tells of Ford’s relentless search for the answer. He pursued it through muck and snow and pushed his ailing heart to the limit. He paid the price for the obsession with time, debt, and familial strain.  For six years, he haunted the Minden City Swamp in search of its most famous resident; tracking her, photographing her, collecting DNA samples, and ultimately falling in love with his “pretty gal,” the lone Michigan Wolverine. We’re all richer because of it. Thank you, Mr. Ford.

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy
J.D. Vance
Published by Harper Collins in 2016
Book available at Aitkin Library
Discussion to take place Thursday, March 29 at 2:30 pm at Aitkin Library

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance documents his cultural migration from an impoverished Appalachian Hillbilly in southeastern Ohio to a law student in the hallowed halls of Yale. Having one foot in each of those worlds puts him in a unique position to elegize the cultural ecology from which hillbillies spring. He chronicles poverty and addiction, honor and obligations, and the troubled heart of rural America. Credited for having his fingers on the pulse of the Trump phenomenon, Vance wrote one of 2017’s most celebrated books.

Opioid epidemics, unemployment, broken homes and despair plague shrinking towns and cities of the Rust Belt from Appalachia to the Great Lakes. It wasn’t always this way. For years, the American Dream was within reach for people with little formal education. People migrated from agricultural jobs in the South to industrial jobs in the North and made a proud living. Americans soon took this Post-War industrial boom as our birthright until globalization and automation interrupted our blue collar prosperity. CEOs shipped jobs to Mexico as they discovered Mexicans are also capable of working hard jobs but at a fraction of the wages. Robots work twice as hard and complain half as much. Politicians from Bill Clinton, to Barrack Obama to Donald Trump tell us they can solve our problems. We’ll put tariffs on the countries that are ripping us off. We’ll raise the minimum wage so fast food workers can support their families. We’ll make drugs illegal so people stop doing them… On and on they promise as the Rust Belt gets rustier and health and financial trends that had been on an upward trajectory for centuries are now on the downhill slope of the race to the bottom.

Against this narrative backdrop, Vance shines the spotlight on rural culture. How did the culture of people who developed a reputation for hard work become a victimhood culture of learned helplessness? How is it the government’s fault that husbands are leaving their wives and single mothers are smoking meth? How can schools educate kids who subsist on Coke and Pop Tarts? How can people be trained to work if they’re unwilling to clean up their yards, brush their teeth or take care of their own dogs?  Unlike the politicians with their promises, Vance doesn’t talk about grand solutions. He doesn’t suggest an easy trade war to solve the problems or more government spending. It’s not about Left versus Right. It’s not a self-help book either. There are no step by step solutions to getting us out of poverty but getting our own houses in order is a fine place to start.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
by Sebastian Junger
Published by Hatchett Book Group (134 pages)
Available at Aitkin Library in hardcover and  downloadable audiobook
Book Review by Marty Rheaume

In Tribe, Junger explores the social phenomenon of tribal membership. By diving into our psychological need for belonging, Junger discovers our most horrific experiences have a mysterious allure. In the aftermath of adversity, war, and national disaster, people look back nostalgically at the bonds they built and the intensity of being alive in the midst of threatening environments. This observation provides the canvas to trace these paradoxical feelings back to our tribal roots and show how our lack of connection and purpose manifest themselves in neurotic and pathological behavior.

Many of us suffer the ennui of modern life. Our basic needs are met with little direct connection to our daily tasks, so it can be hard to find meaning in our work. Families are spread out across the state, country, and globe disrupting familial bonds. Our human interactions are often reduced to social media and work, leaving people dissatisfied, lonely, and empty.  Ironically, when fate interrupts and we’re put in a position of survival where we work with a small group of people, we find these experiences enrich our lives with meaning, despite the trauma we also experience.

Viewed through the perspective Junger provides, so many of our curious modern conditions make sense. The partisan bickering, racist resentment, addiction, depression, mass shootings, suicide and everything else can be viewed as failures in man’s search for meaning. People are looking for their tribe and looking for meaning.  Even though societal affluence grows, we’re afflicted with alienation and angst, because our instincts and muscle memory are telling us to search for something that’s rapidly disappearing.

The allure for connection and meaning still has immense pull on our psyches. It helps explain human fascination with war. War acts as a pressure cooker for creating meaning and intimate bonds. As horrific as it can be, those who go through war can develop an attachment or even addiction to the intimacy, adrenaline, and sense of purpose war offers.  Returning veterans are challenged with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a struggle to assimilate back into civilian life.  As horrible as war is, at least they had a purpose and each other.

Junger uses his own experience, studies, anecdotes and statistics to support his observations. His narrative makes intuitive sense to the reader. Most of us can remember the camaraderie of a sports team, along with the feelings of pride we held after our collective suffering or the impromptu barbeques after a big storm when the power goes out. We’ve witnessed this in our own lives, and he makes it easy for us to extrapolate these observations onto society. He doesn’t provide us with any answers, but he holds up a mirror, so we can observe our intense search for meaning and connection. Maybe it’ll help us form our own tribes.

Ourselves in Concert

Ourselves in Concert
Sweet and Sour Irish Love Songs
Aitkin Library Donovan Room
Tuesday, October 3 at 6 pm

We’re excited to present Ourselves in an acoustic concert event in the Donovan Room. You’ll hear sweet and sour Irish love songs. Get in the spirit and tap your feet and sing along to the upbeat folky sounds from the Trio. Ourselves features local musicians Lynn Surbrook, along with Walt and Tom Schlicting.

The Force by Don Winslow

The Force
Don Winslow
Harper Collins Publishers, 2017
Available at Aitkin Memorial District Library
Book review by Marty Rheaume

In our America of 2017, tensions between the police and African American Community are as tight as they’ve been since Rodney King. Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter groups are at each other’s throats, white nationalists are marching in Virginia. Every day brings us headlines highlighting disturbing racial animosity stubbornly refusing to bury itself, and we all wonder if this is really happening. When suffering through this surreal and anachronistic reality, fiction is the only place we can turn. In “The Force” we view the complexities and ironies of the current racial conflagration through the eyes of an elite NYPD cop whose love/hate relationship with New York City and its Harlem residents moves him to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in order to save the city from itself, but who’s going to save the city from him and “Da Force?”

Sergeant detective Denny Malone is the baddest cop in New York City. He made his way to the top by breaking all the rules. He follows his own code, not the code written by bureaucrats in New York, Albany, Washington, or anywhere else. As long as he kept making New York Times caliber busts and putting criminals behind bars (or in coffins), they closed their eyes, but his own code is getting harder to define. He could justify cutting corners to make a bust or lying to get a warrant, but breaking the rules to enrich himself has left him disillusioned. Through flashbacks from a jail cell, we follow him step-by-step as he crosses lines from being an idealistic cop to a dirty cop to a filthy cop. At rock bottom and long beyond redemption, he’s plotting to go out in a sacrificial blaze of glory to prevent the rest of the city from burning to the ground.

Winslow reigns as king of epic crime fiction. His 2015 work, “The Cartel,” examined the brutal lives of Mexican Narcos and the people who sell their souls to fight them. “The Force” returns to our side of the border to explore the relationships between the police, the (mostly black) inner-city denizens whom they protect and serve, and the politicians who view both sides as a means to an end. Once again, Winslow captures the Zeitgeist, bringing the headlines to life. This novel is so strikingly topical, it’s hard to believe he’s been researching it for 5 years, but his willingness to put in work doing the research is what separates him from other crime writers. While making allowances for a larger than life anti-hero in Malone, the rest of the book is saturated in gritty realism. It’s a street level view of the messy complexities and contradictions of race relations, and a deep exploration into the human heart in conflict with itself.

Parks & Paths 5K Route

CASH PRIZES for top 3 males and top three females
1st Place: $100
2nd Place: $50
3rd Place: $25
Medals will also be earned by top finishers, and many other prizes from local businesses will be awarded after the race.

Join us May 20th for the 1st annual Croswell Library Parks and Paths 5K run and 2 Mile walk. This unique 5k course will follow a bike path around the giant Michigan Sugar plant on the outksirts of scenic downtown Croswell, and then cut through the heart of the small city in order to cross the Black River and take a wide loop through the famous Swinging Bridge Park before returning to the finish line. The 5k loop includes running on grass paths and dirt trails along with the paved bike path. The 2 mile walk sticks to the paved bike path.

Starting line is at the Truman Street Park near the Cannery Village Apartments (15 Truman St.) in Croswell. Parking will be available at Croswell City Light and Power (120 E. Sanborn), along city streets, and public parking is available in a number of locations downtown a few hundred yards from the starting line (so you can get a good warm-up before the race!). No parking in the apartment complex near the starting line.

Essential Oils Make and Take

Aitkin Memorial District Library's portrait.Essential Oils Make and Take
February 20th at 5:30 pm
The cost is $10 per person
Sign up and pay at the library to reserve  your spot!

Back by popular demand is the Make and Take! Winter is a great time to treat yourself by caring for your body and skin with essential oils. We’ll be creating a body powder deodorant, anti-wrinkle cream, and night time body butter. Most story bought beauty products have chemicals and other irritants in them. Using essential oils we’ll be crafting revitalizing beauty products, and you’ll know exactly what’s in them!

Impressionist Watercolor Class

On Saturday, March 25th at 10 am we’ll be hosting a watercolor class! Professional artist Suzanne Boeck will led us step by step in creating a winter landscape masterpiece! It’ll be an 11″ by 14″ painting done on high quality 100% rag paper! All skill levels are welcome, and supplies will be provided. Be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time as classes fill up quickly! The cost for the class is $20.