We've got the answers from Cheryl Strayed, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Joss Whedon

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What object means the most to you?

So many of us have that one item that we hold close, no matter where we move or change. And it can say a lot about us. That fact is what drove Bill Shapiro, former editor of LIFE magazine, to ask this of 150 people — from anonymous folks to some of our very favorite writers — for his new book, What We Keep.

“From the start, we wanted to cast a wide net and talk with all kinds of people, you know, capture a wide variety of life experiences,” Shapiro tells EW. “We didn’t expect that talking about these ordinary-looking objects would lead them to talk about their vulnerable sides, about emotional aspects of their past that they don’t often share.” Some people told stories to Shapiro they hadn’t even told their spouses.

Shapiro’s favorite stories, largely, stem less from the celebrities and more from everyday people with amazing backstories. “I kind of can’t believe that we have a Syrian banknote that was pierced by shrapnel,” he says. “It happened during an explosion, and shrapnel went through this woman’s clothes — through the money in her pocket — and into her leg. She’s now in Clarkston, Georgia and carries the banknote to remind her of her homeland and of her relatives who are still there.”

EW has obtained snippets of the tales three beloved writers told Shapiro. Read on below, and to read their full stories (as well as many others’), check out What We Keep, which is now available for purchase.

Joss Whedon: Straw hat (or “strat” for short)

Part of his uniform at Winchester, the 600-year-old boarding school he attended, the hat is a “tangible reminder… I lived through this crazy experience of being dropped into a hermetically sealed time capsule.”

Cheryl Strayed: Murex seashell

“It was about…venturing out in the world and in a far-off place,” says the Wild author. Now the shell reminds her of “who I wanted to be and what kind of life I wanted to live.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Pocket atlas signed by President Obama

Obama gave it to Coates’ son. The inscription reads “To Samori — Dream big dreams…the world is big and full of challenges, but it’s still yours to shape!”