Tales of fathers, psycho killers, bulimic swimmers and non-believers



CONCENTRATED EVIL: I used to drive past the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building a couple times a week when I lived in Oklahoma. When terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed it in 1995, he killed 168 people in the building, but he wounded a whole country.

That was two years after the fiery siege of cult leader David Koresh’s religious compound and four years before two schoolboys shot up some classmates and a teacher in Littleton, Colo.

All of these events happened the same time of year, right around April 20, the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

Some of my Oklahoma friends still won’t go near any sort of Federal building – even a post office – that time of year. It’s the time of concentrated evil.

So this year, we all held our breath for the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. We made it through it, and now it’s time to consider Columbine without tears.

Dave Cullen's Columbine (Twelve Books, $26.99) is a masterwork of journalism. Since the heady days of New Journalism in the 1960s (Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, etc.) that style they pioneered – no longer “new,” it’s called Literary Journalism -- has sometimes been suspect. One of the tenets of journalism is that it’s true. So many authors try to blend fact and fiction and “re-imagine” things that happened … things that they cannot verify as truth. So a lot of stuff that is fiction has been published under the aegis of Literary Journalism. (Which raises another question: Is anything ever over the aegis?)

All that is by way of saying that Dave Cullen might single-handedly give Literary Journalism back its good name. Much like the moment-by-moment telling of the 9-11 attacks – Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn's 102 Minutes – this book looks unflinchingly at that which is the most horrifying part of human capability.

Lots of great, heart-tugging stories emerged from the Columbine massacre. Some of them weren’t true. Some storytellers never let truth get in the way, but Cullen sifts through the mythology and delivers the truth. Cullen has done a magnificent job of burrowing into the dark souls of the teen-age assassins, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

In press releases, the publisher compares Columbine to Capote’s In Cold Blood. That story of a multiple murder and its consequences is carved into the Literary Journalism Rushmore.

Maybe we need to start carving Columbine into that mountain. It not only deserves the comparison with Capote. It sets a new standard.

[image-2]INSPIRATION, Part 1: Everybody loves a comeback story. Watching Dara Torres in the last Olympics was inspiration to even the most loathsome couch potato. At 41, with a new baby, retired from swimming, she got back in the pool and earned three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Age is Just a Number (Broadway Books, $24.95) is a biography with a purpose. Torres’s life hasn’t been easy and she has struggled with bulimia and other tribulations. Her memoir is inspiring and remarkably frank. Torres excelled at the University of Florida, but Gator administrators have to cringe at this line in Torres’ book, where she describes how she made the decision to go to school in Gainesville: “At the time, the University of Florida, the University of Texas and Stanford University were the best swimming schools in the country I ruled out Stanford – too academic. Between Texas and Florida, I chose Florida.”

Oh well. UF swim coach Randy Reese demanded much of his team and a chance encounter with another Gator athlete – not a swimmer – made Torres think that puking up every meal might make her the lean-and-mean machine Reese wanted his swimmers to be. Thus began her long battle.

Age is Just a Number is an effective sports memoir on a number of levels and Torres (and her collaborator, Elizabeth Weil) have a good story to tell. For anyone suffering an eating disorder, this is a guidebook for a return to health. And for old fucks like me, it's truly inspirational. Soon as I'm done here, I'm hopping into the pool.

INSPIRATION, Part 2: Or maybe that should be “inspiration, lack of.” Losing My Religion (Collins, $25.99 by William Lobdell traces a classic odyssey for a journalist. My friends who begin their careers as sportswriters often find that after a few years they have come to hate the sports they cover.


Same thing happened to Lobdell, though instead of sport, it was religion. Lobdell covered religion for the Los Angeles Times and gradually lost his faith.

This might be good for an oh yeah at most, but Lobdell is such a good writer and with such a strong sense of self-awareness that his journey fascinates us. Even if you are strong in your faith, this book should be a good read. Lobdell has no interest in evangelizing against God. This is, simply, one man’s story. And, since Lobdell is a superior reporter, the story is meticulously reported and movingly told.

COMING TO INKWOOD: Novelist Todd Shimoda signs his new book, Oh! A Mystery of Mon No Aware (Chin Music, $$22.50) at 6 p.m. on June 10 at Inkwood Books, 216 S. Armenia Ave., in Tampa. The book is is described as “a compelling and fast-paced illustrated mystery of a young Japanese-American’s self-discovery through Japanese suicide clubs, underground poetry, and the aesthetic of mono no aware (the sadness in beauty).”

COMING TO HASLAM’S: Novelist Wendy Wax signs Accidental Bestseller (Berkley, $15) at 3 p.m. on June 13 at Haslam’s Book Store, 2025 Central Ave, St. Petersburg.

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the acclaimed Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist, now available in paperback.

FATHER ALONG: Nobody knows how to be a parent. When people enter adulthood and see the rest of life yawning ahead, they look at this parenthood thing and cringe. How the fuck am I supposed to do that? A young friend once said he thought he might not be a good parent because wasn’t very good with his dog. I didn’t say anything, but I thought, “Dude – trust me. It’s different.”

I’m a father of seven and I’m still trying to figure out this shit. No. 7 is just as perplexing as No. 1. What worked for No. 2 doesn’t faze No. 5 at all.

But one thing I’m pretty sure about: You only begin to understand the profound depth of love when you become a parent. At least, it was that way for me.

And it seems like it was that way for Michael Lewis too, based on Home Game (W.W. Norton, $23.95). Lewis sees himself as a Yuppie curmudgeon and was dragged kicking and screaming by his wife – former MTVer Tabitha Soren – into life as a daddy. Once he joined the club, there was anger, resentment and self-pity. But then he seemed to get it.

That ideal family of television situation comedies does not exist. Families are complex organisms and parenthood ain’t pretty. The best we can do is try and certainly it’s a parent’s duty to protect children and let them be children as long as they can.

Lewis has the usual neuroses and then some. The majority of parents probably fall in love with their child at first sight (if they haven’t already loved the idea of the child in utero).

In Lewis’s case, the first baby arrived and . . . nothing. Or, at least, next to nothing. He doesn’t feel the overwhelming wallop of emotion he’s been told to expect.

So Home Game is sort of a running diary of growing into love. No one will accuse Lewis of being overly sentimental, but he does achieve a cumulative, deep resonance of love in this book.

There’s a holiday coming up on June 21 that honors fathers. This might be a great gift for the old man. If he isn’t much of a reader, it’s cool; Home Game clocks in at just under 200 pages, and it has pictures. Oh – and did we mention that Michael Lewis is a brilliant writer? He’ll get pop over the hump.

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