It's the instant experts of Media Zoo who are crazy. Jared Lee Loughner's list of favorite books is a principal fixation in their ill-informed psychoanalysis of the alleged perpetrator of the Tucson horrors.
Pontificators on every point of the spectral periphery find evidence in the books Loughner liked to support their own prejudices about what motivated his terrible actions.
I was struck by the fact that most of the books on Loughner's list were also on the favorite books list of my oldest grandson, dead now for five years. My grandson's list was longer and broader than Loughners: he was so avid a reader that his mourners established an online library as a memorial to him.
Logan was 23 when he died. He had risen early on his day off to help cook food for the homeless of the Florida city where he lived. Then he drove his battered old minivan around town delivering it to parks and shelters, to tent-towns behind bilboards and to nasty neighborhood where Whitey wasn't welcome. He spent the evening at a long and sometimes contentious meeting of groups opposed to war, to plan an upcoming anti-war demonstration.
They discussed speeches, guerrilla theater and readings. Logan cautioned that their arguments be low-key, factual and intellectually persuasive -- like the letters to the editor he wrote to newspapers all over Florida.
I am struck by the similarities between Logan and Loughner: their ages, the book list, their mutual interest in atheism, their disgust with our government. Logan abhorred guns, wanted all of them beaten into plowshares. Loughner, friends said, had no interest in guns until last November, when he abruptly purchased not just a gun, but a weapon of mass destruction with a 33-shot magazine. Logan dropped out of junior college for financial and family reasons; Loughner was booted out. Both were angry. Both believed that their anger was justified. Logan's was rooted in Howard Zinn's view of American history, with its emphasis on the officially sanctioned brutalization of minorities beginning with the Original Americans themselves. The bases of Loughner's anger have been described as disjointed and obtuse.
If the book list led Loughner anywhere, it was to the shopping mall where he is alleged to have committed mass murder, and to the jail cell where he awaits trial on charges that could lead to an execution chamber.
Logan's book list led him to help the homeless, the disadvantaged, the troubled; to vow to return to school and become a teacher of history; and to preach peace. The authorities speculated that after his long, hard last day he dozed at the wheel on his way home, struck a median strip and rolled his vehicle. He had neglected to fasten the seat belt. Hundreds attended his memorial service on a beach from which his ashes were scattered into the sea he loved. His boss shed tears for a wise yet fun-loving young man who always had a surprise up his sleeve -- and who always provoked his elders to think about "things" in new and different ways. "I didn't always agree with him," the boss said,"but he sure made me think and see things in a new light and I loved him for that." His fellow war resisters described a passionate young man who hated war and violence and injustice. A succession of young men in their late teens and early adulthood spoke lovingly of a powerful force who reached out to them in their troubles, made sense to them, mentored them, gave them a shoulder to cry on and a hand to pull them up. They used the phrase, "He saved my life," time and again.
There was a faint, fine line between Jared Lee Loughner, 22, and Logan David Brooks, 23.
Yet one saved lives and one took lives.
Perhaps, Media Mouths, we should look not at book lists, but inside ourselves.