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All That You Leave Behind by Erin Lee Carr

All That You Leave Behind


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Erin Lee Carr, on your first book!

by Erin Lee Carr

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Quick take

A young filmmaker learns to make sense of the world, and her place in it, through her correspondence with her father.

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A celebrated journalist, best-selling author, and recovering addict, David Carr was in the prime of his career when he collapsed in the newsroom of The New York Times in 2015. Shattered by his death, his daughter Erin Lee Carr, an up-and-coming documentary filmmaker at age twenty-seven, began combing through the entirety of their shared correspondence—1,936 items in total.

What started as an exercise in grief quickly grew into an active investigation: Did her father's writings contain the answers to the questions of how to move forward in life and work without your biggest champion by your side? How could she fill the space left behind by a man who had come to embody journalistic integrity, rigor, and hard reporting, whose mentorship meant everything not just to her, but to the many who served alongside him?

In All That You Leave Behind, David Carr's legacy is a lens through which Erin comes to understand her own workplace missteps, existential crises, relationship fails, and toxic relationship with alcohol. Featuring photographs and emails from the author's personal collection, this coming-of-age memoir unpacks the complex relationship between a daughter and her father, their mutual addictions and challenges with sobriety, and the powerful sense of work and family that comes to define them.

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All That You Leave Behind


The Blue House

When I think back to my early childhood home in Minneapolis, my brain conjures up a dim outline of a blue house on Pillsbury Avenue. While it is hard to remember the exact details of the house, the memories of its inhabitants come quite easily. I can picture my hands on the furniture, always trying to spread my mess out onto our sparse belongings. I see my dad putting one of our purple tutus on his head and declaring to no one in particular, “I am TUTU MONSTER,” as he scoops my sister and me up in his arms while we shriek and try to scramble out of his grasp, giggling the whole time. He had a gift for creating worlds.

Our parents shape and create our reality. For a long time we have no sense outside of their worldview. A while back I spent some serious time digitizing hundreds of decades-old photos tucked away in ancient red photo albums so that I could pull them up in a moment’s notice. The images tell a familiar tale. Two little girls encased in baby buckets, looking up at the bad hair and fashions of the 1980s. Sometimes we are smiling in the photos. More often, though, we are not. We were born without so much as a wisp of hair, so naturally my grandma JoJo took to scotch-taping bows on our heads. She needed people to know that we were baby girls, not boys.

My mother is absent from these photos. It’s just a flurry of aunts and uncles and Mountain Dew cans. My arms are chubby, and I am often reaching out for more. There is no baby book that recounts my first words or steps, but when I asked my dad in my teendom what my first utterance was, you better bet he said DaDa.

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Why I love it

I met David Carr when I was 23 years old. I still lived with my parents, and they were the only adults who had ever really expressed faith in me (just enough that I had made a low-budget film that was then premiering at a film festival). David was slipped the DVD, watched in his hotel room, and then texted to ask if I could meet in 20 minutes. Soon I was sitting across from a loud, physically imposing and highly specific man as he ate nachos and orated about the film business. I felt like I was being shown a secret doorway. He later revealed he’d only gotten through half of the film before he demanded my company.

When David died I was in my trailer on the set of a TV show I was guest acting in. It was network. It was drama. I was nervous and didn’t know anybody. I got a text—a tweet forwarded from a semi-friend. A frowny face to tell me that my beloved friend and champion of exactly five years was dead. I moved like a zombie, the pain radiating out and touching anyone who knew him, which was everyone.

I could tell you about the well-attended memorial. I could tell you about learning more about someone you love in their death, and seeking the advice they left behind in your life. But my friend Erin Lee Carr has already done that, and she’s better qualified: She’s his daughter.

If I thought David was unique, then I had another thing coming. Erin is highly unusual. She’s precise yet messy, funny yet heavy, sober yet punk. She’s the least afraid person I’ve ever known. She’s exactly the child her father made, and in this book, All That You Leave Behind, we experience the terror and beauty of that. Wild fathers make powerful daughters. Erin’s story is about love. It’s about grief. It’s about addiction and anger and betrayal and pain and loss. It’s the only spiritual use of email excerpts I’ve found (oh, those emails). It will force you to question your own history, goals, dreams, and beliefs, but you will also be freed to experience the love in your life while it’s happening, however complex. What a gift of a book. What a gift of a girl. What a special way to honor a man who loved women in the ways that count, demanded more from art and commerce, and never ever left well enough alone. I miss you, D.

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Member ratings (1,898)

  • Jane B.

    Dallas, TX

    I mostly read nonfiction and memoir so this was right up my alley. I’d also read Carr’s father’s book The Night of the Gun, which made her story even more compelling. Emotional, sad, still uplifting.

  • Morgan H.

    Linn Creek, MO

    Erin Carr makes self-pity, personal struggles, and grief relatable in a way that I didn’t think possible! This is the first memoir I’ve ever read and it’s safe to say it will remain one of the best.

  • Erica M.

    Greensboro, NC

    I like memoirs, but don’t normally find myself engrossed in one. This one had me hooked from chapter one. Carr’s father would be so proud of this work! It was raw, relatable, brave, and powerful.

  • Jocelyn T.

    Phoenix, AZ

    The story of Erin's struggles as an adult as well as her struggle with alcoholism, grief following her father's death really hit home. I enjoyed this book. Once I picked it up I couldn't put it down!

  • Amanda M.

    Oak Grove , MN

    This was my first memoir I’ve read, but it won’t be my last! I loved how open and vulnerable Erin was telling her story and honoring her dad. Dad daughter relationships are the best. So relatable!

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