Page One: Inside the New York Times is a 2011 documentary that gives viewers an unprecedented look into the New York Times newsroom. In the Digital age, the future of print journalism is uncertain – Page One sets out to illuminate the struggle between traditional and modern information-sharing. That is, until in walks addict-turned-journalist David Carr , whose wise-cracking, quick-witted awareness outshines the story of struggling newspaper.
The name sounded familiar, and a quick Google search came up with a memoir – one whose cover looked familiar. Turns out that, a few years ago, I’d bought a remaindered copy of The Night of the Gun and forgotten about it. As happens when your collection of books threatens to overwhelm your life, I let this gem of a book fall to the bottom of an alarmingly large stack of unread books.
I’ll admit right now, this was a mistake on my part.
In broad terms, Carr’s story has been told before – addict hits rock bottom, redeems himself at the last moment. What makes Gun so remarkable isn’t necessarily the narrative itself – it is Carr’s approach, investigative journalism at its best. As he says:
When I set out to write a memoir, I decided to fact-check my life using the prosaic tools of journalism. For the past thirty years, give or take time served as a drunk and a lunatic, I have used those tools with alacrity. I decided to go back and ask the people who were there: the dealers I worked for, the friends I had, the women I dated, the bosses I screwed over. There would be police reports, mug shots from my career as a crook, and some medical records from my serial treatments.
With this framework in place, Gun becomes equal parts cautionary tale and philosophical reflection on the nature of memory: basically, we all want to rework history to be the hero of our own narrative. Case in point, The Night of the Gun is titled after a particular incident which Carr remembers as a close friend having pulled a gun on him; decades later, he learns that it was actually he who drew the gun on his friend.
I’ll admit, Carr is far more engaging as a three-dimensional person than a narrative voice – his presence on screen (in my case, computer screen; thank you, Internet) renders the book a little dimmer in light of the swaggering, bitter old man with a cigarette between his lips. But it’s still an incredible story, told more honestly than other, more famous books of the genre.