Going Postal, Post-Virginia Tech • 30 April 2007 • The SnowBlog
Going Postal, Post-Virginia Tech
What does a publisher do when a book one believes to be deeply important is also suddenly, tragically relevant? We were at the London Book Fair on April 16th when news started to arrive of the shootings at Virginia Tech. Two months before, we had published Mark Ames' Going Postal, a powerful and polemical look at school and workplace massacres in the US.
A natural reaction is to wish to downplay such a connection, to avoid ghoulishness - or pseud's corner - and to tread carefully in the wake of such an event. But as we quickly saw, Mark's book would not allow such niceties. It's a hard-hitting work, and its message is one that needs to be heard, as proved by the reactions of the media, of ordinary people, and of the critics, in the days and weeks following the shooting. One of my first meetings after hearing of the shooting was with an Australian publisher of Asian extraction. She commented, almost immediately, how shocked she was that an Asian kid could do such a thing. Yet this is one of the most common misconceptions about such rage massacres, as Mark terms them. There is no profile for rage murderers. Going Postal documents a number of cases involving Asian American kids - including one at the author's own high school, which expelled an Asian American student for bringing a 'hit list' of intended targets to class. It also documents many other cases, and cites Secret Service and FBI reports which have tried, and failed, to explain them as wholly individual actions, unrelated to the pressures surrounding them.
The headlines, too, told the same story: the words 'evil', 'psycho', 'crazy', 'hatred' - even 'racism' - bandied about without any real investigation of a complex situation, or any of the usual caution when approaching a subject which smacks so strongly of mental illness and personal anguish.
When it was first published, The Observer carried a long and somewhat critical review of Going Postal, which failed to find in Mark's argument any justification for the acts documented in the book (it also made a false comparison with the Dunblane massacre, which readers of the book will find does not belong in the same discussion as Mark's 'rage massacres'). Readers should form their own opinions as to whether Mark is attempting to justify such killings or simply, as so many others have tried to do, to understand and - crucially - to contextualise them.
We would have liked to see more reviewers engaging with the book, and now we do: hundreds upon hundreds of bloggers have picked up on the story and carried their own reviews and recommendations of the book. Abe Books, the largest online retailer after Amazon, just published a lengthy interview with Mark on their site (and on their blog). Lenin's Tomb, one of the highest-ranked (and occasionally most controversial) British blogs, carries a lengthy and excellent review. Daily Kos, an extremely popular US political blog, also carries a new review.
Mark has written a follow-up piece for Alternet, directly about the Virginia Tech massacre. In it, he picks apart the mainstream media's reaction to the killings, repeats a number of the case studies and reports cited in the book, and reiterates one of the core insistences of the book: it's not the kids who need to be profiled, but the schools, universities and workplaces.
I urge you to read this book - not only because it delves deeper than any other source into a phenomenon that many see as exemplary of a certain element of American culture, but because it urges us to look harder into all aspects of a media-simplified, politically-spun world. As Mark says in his Alternet article: "Blaming "evil" has worked wonders for President Bush in Iraq, and it's working wonders for Americans in understanding and stopping these massacres." The reality, as ever, is far more complex, and far more important.