I haven't read New York Times culture writer and business columnist David Carr's new memoir, The Night of the Gun yet (early reviews are good), and I haven't even gotten to the based-on-the-book piece he did in the Times magazine either. But what's caught my attention, and has been creating interest among those who watch developments in the creative nonfiction and memoir world is this: The longtime journalist treated his subject (himself) and the events described (his descent into and bootstrap rise out of drug addiction) as if he were writing for the eyes of his Times editors. You know the kind, who insist on fact checking and corroboration, who care if the words on the page are accurate, true and verifiable.
Carr is so unambiguous on where he stands on the unfortunate truth-bending trend in what he himself calls "junkie memoirs," he dug deep into his own past, notebook and video camera in hand, interviewing former associates, and checking records, and even hired a former journalism colleague to help search public records and interview those who knew Carr during the drug-addled years. He's not the first among journalists, or even among memoirists, who've researched themselves with rigor. But it's rare enough.
So, is this a positive sign for memoirs? Or does it portend a time when the personal memories of ethical nonfiction writers will be discounted unless they can be indisputably fact-checked and verified? Would that help or hinder the reader? Will it make much difference to the book buying public? Is this the antidote to the Frey-and-Seltzer blight? Or would any memoir written by a current NYTimes columnist automatically pass the truth-in-nonfiction test anyway?