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Artist's Voice: What Do You Keep?

El Segundo’s community read for 2020 is a collection of essays called What We Keep, about the personal objects people hold sacred. What’s yours?

By Natalie Strong

Following last year’s successful Book to Action Grant community read, Tommy Orange’s There, There, the El Segundo Public Library applied again and was again awarded the grant for the community read What We Keep: 150 People Share the One Object That Brings Them Joy, Magic, and Meaning, by Bill Shapiro with Naomi Wax. In our modern, disposable, KonMari’d world of things we let go without a second thought, we all have that thing or things that we would never part with under any circumstance, the thing we grab as we run out of a burning building. I feel certain that your something has already popped into your mind while reading these two sentences; if it hasn’t, reading this book will help jog your memory.

What We Keep assembles essays from people of all ages, origins, and socioeconomic situations and reminds us that to love a thing is part of what it is to be human, regardless of our personal details.

Introduced by the El Segundo Public Library at the end of its February book-club meeting, the book has already made its way into the community. Additional copies will be available at the library when it reopens its doors. What We Keep is also available for digital download and can be ordered from various online booksellers. As you self-isolate, consider taking a trip through this delightful collection of essays.

Library programs inspired by What We Keep and funded by the Book to Action Grant, to be rescheduled in the not-so-distant future, will include Grown-Up Show and Tell as a Library After Dark event, during which adults of all generations will be invited to share their sacred items as we remember doing in preschool and Kindergarten. Other programs will be determined at a later date.

The author's treasured personal item

My item, which lives in my box of nail polish bottles for a reason not even I know, is the paper onto which a young man wrote his phone number when he asked me out for the first time on Halloween 2001. I realize that keeping such a precious item (the young man is now my husband, but you figured that out, of course) in a box of flammable nail polish will make rescuing it from a burning building difficult, but I am afraid to move it because I might lose it if it doesn’t stay where it’s always been.

Honestly, I don’t know why I first put it there—to me it is as much an heirloom as anything else I own, a relic of a time when things went right without my knowing it was coming, and a piece of evidence that reminds me that life turns on a dime, sometimes for the better. It has no monetary value, and yet to me it is priceless. According to the thesis of What We Keep, this humble piece of paper checks all of the boxes.

As for your item, please share on Instagram using #ElSegundoPublicLibrary and #WhatWeKeep and to the editor at

Natalie Strong is an artist, writer, and parent of two in El Segundo.

This column appears in the April 2020 issue of The El Segundo Scene.

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