Like many of us in the journalism dodge, Dan Barry has spent much of his career piecing together the shards of wrecked lives, sidling up to tragedy and then retailing it to the rest of the world, as if such casual intimacy with mortality would somehow inoculate us against its inevitable toll. Yet the more reporters learn about others, the less it seems we know about ourselves, or perhaps the less we want to know. The private lives of journalists are strewn with sad testimony to that cultivated habit of avoidance.
Barry, now a columnist for the New York Times, recognized this trap early in his career, while working at a small newspaper in Connecticut. His moment of insight came when a young newsroom colleague was murdered.
“All those afternoons and nights spent in the newsroom, waiting for the telephone to ring with a good story-a good murder, as reporters like to say-so that I could find diversion from my petty woes,” Barry writes in Pull Me Up, his poignant new memoir. “After all, what is a stranger’s death to a reporter but material for a solemn yarn that explores, yet again, the fragility of our existence? That allows us to cluck and memorialize and find cheap context? Now the gods of journalism had granted my request. Here you go, they had said-asshole. I could barely breathe.”
The episode seems to shock Barry into an awareness of the nearness of death; then life does the rest. His mother...