The Night of the Gun08 Apr 2015
David Carr was a man who left an impression. I never met him, but he has left an impression on me. I recently started working at the New York Times, in the newsroom. He passed away in my second week there. It was abundantly clear that he left an impression on scores of people there. His descriptions of the place so far match my take on it. There’s an unspoken agreement around the newsroom that everyone will constantly try to make the Times a better institution. David Carr seemed to embody some of that same spirit. Maybe he didn’t grow into it until the second half of his life, but he wanted deeply engage with things.
Carr’s descriptions of New York also match my take on the city. “The trick of enjoying New York is to not be so busy grinding your way to the center of the earth that you fail to notice the sparkle of the place, a scale and a kind of wonder that put all human endeavors in their proper place.” I’ve tried my best to build my life in New York in this way.
Besides these commonalities - our backgrounds as Midwesterners (he born, I adopted), New York City, the Times, among others - Carr’s writing and life grabbed me in other ways too. There’s nothing about him that comes off as distantly genius. Instead, he might be described as earthly genius. The intellect, the insight, the wisdom all seems not god-given but attained through experience, thoughtful meditation and a refusal to settle on any simple answer. This is most clearly embodied in his choice to thoroughly vet and document his memories via interviews and document analysis. Carr put in sweat and tears to construct this memoir. He put in sweat and tears to become one of the world’s leading technology and media columnists. He put in sweat and tears to mentor a future generation of world-class journalists like Brian Stelter and Tanehisi Coates. Nothing about his life seemed gifted, everything was a grind. I find myself feeling that way at times. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been blessed in more ways than I can count, but I would describe myself as having average cognitive ability. Whatever intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, creativity I can muster, all feels like the result of a grind.
Perhaps, that’s what all true intelligence, knowledge, creativity, wisdom really is. Pulled out of a quicksand that would rather swallow it into darkness. Perhaps some people just make it seem like they divine their knowledge from the gods. If that is the case, I’m thankful that Carr did both - he muscled through the knowledge and then he made it clear that his peers and followers can do the same if we commit to the grind too.
If I could take exception with anything about this book, it would be the structure of the chapters. They were too short and abrupt. Clearly written by a journalist who spent years writing and editing in newspaper formats. Books, to state the obvious, are a different medium from newspapers and require a different structure.