What We Keep–150 people share stories of personal objects that define them

Review by C.J. Bunce

Over the holidays you may have received a gift, an item you will look back to fondly one day, or maybe something that will even survive that your descendants may keep and treasure a century from now.  If you were asked to participate in an old-fashioned show and tell, what physical object has meaning for you that you would talk about?  That’s in essence the question asked of hundreds of people interviewed by writers Bill Shapiro and Naomi Wax in the book What We Keep: 150 People Share the One Object that Brings Them Joy, Magic, Meaning.  Many people have many such objects–after all, humans are by their very nature collectors of things.  Narrowing it down to one object is difficult, yet for others it may be simple.

For movie director and writer Joss Whedon, it’s a straw hat from his school days in England.  For author James Patterson, it’s a photograph of President Clinton holding one of the books he had written, read for pleasure by the President in the middle of his carrying out of government business, carried as he walked down the stairway from a helicopter at Camp David.  For a former money counterfeit artist, it’s the paint brush she used to paint with in prison.  For another, it was a paper bill with a holes ripped through it from being shot years ago.

The objects are often obscure, many ugly, but all hold some kind of unique meaning to their owners.  The intrinsic value of most of the items highlighted is nothing or next to nothing.  Yet their owners value these things not for their monetary worth.  A rock, an awl, a document, a watch.  Most inspired (and still inspire) their owners, and remind them of how they were at their very best, like a flute carried into space by astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

Shapiro and Wax interviewed far more than is included in their book.  The selection of people and objects begs the question of why these were the final candidates they decided to feature.  The over-arching theme is one of bittersweet memories, of days gone by, opportunities lost, the hard-fought journey from there to here.  Only a few of the 150 stories are from celebrities, most are from people from all walks of the life from a homeless man to business entrepreneurs.

More intriguing in What We Keep is what each reader brings to the book–the memories each reader will have, what objects from their own pasts come to mind inspired by each image and corresponding story.

Here are some pages from What We Keep, courtesy of publisher Running Press:

Available in a hardcover edition with full color photographs, What We Keep: 150 People Share the One Object that Brings Them Joy, Magic, Meaning is available now here at Amazon.


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