A compendium of the many ways that people memorialize their own stories and those of their loved ones.
Groft’s (Artichokes & City Chicken, 2015, etc.) latest nonfiction work asks simple questions: Wouldn’t it be nice if one could carry a piece of luggage that contained reminders of the tangible and intangible things that matter most in life? What would that “Joy Chest” look like, and how would one decide what to put in it? To provide answers to these hypotheticals, she assembles dozens of stories of real people at different points in their lives deciding what to put in their own Joy Chests. These items include a congratulatory telegram from a father, saved for half a century; samples of a mother’s forthright signature before she started suffering from dementia; a wooden nickel obtained during a daring cross-country drive; a treasured copy of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, and so on. The concept of the Joy Chest extends to larger items saved for sentimental reasons, such as a pair of dining-room chairs and a prized, framed painting. In a series of short, epigrammatic chapters, Groft creates a rounded and highly encouraging inducement for readers to pay attention to truly important things, and she memorializes her various subjects with contagiously happy storytelling. Probably inevitably, a good many of the anecdotes feel a bit sanded-down and simplistic; the book’s more general chapters about the concept of drawing strength from memories may leave the most lasting impressions. Still, she offers clear and warmly optimistic prose throughout, as when she writes: “No matter its form, the beauty of the Joy Chest, like a tender heart, is that which spills out of it—gratitude, memories, inspiration, a precious moment in time, connections to people and places loved and remembered.”
A richly anecdotal look at what people choose to cherish and remember.