The Things That Matter by Nate Berkus
The rule in my home when it comes to decorating is this: If I donít love it, I donít buy it. That may mean that I live without the right piece of furniture for a while. It might even mean a wall remains black for four years (ahem). But Iím not a Kirklandís fan. Iím not going to buy something just to buy. The result is a very ďmeĒ home. Itís certainly not to everyoneís taste, Iím sure, but I love it. The downside of all those meaningful objects? Well, all that meaning. Makes even cleaning out the closet very difficult.
When I first heard about Nate Berkusís new book, The Things That Matter, I instantly loved the title. Then, when he was a surprise guest at the Random House Reader event during BEA last year, I was (ask Lori or Tara) ridiculously excited. Like, trembling. When they finally convinced me to go up and talk to him and take a picture, I felt like I was floating Ė partly because heís Nate Berkus, and partly because when he talked about treasuring the things around him, I felt he was talking directly to me.
I was the little girl who lay awake at night thinking about which route I would take if my house was suddenly on fire. Yes, I would get my family out, but I had my belongings strategically placed so that I could stuff them in my pillowcase and run. The only thing that worried me was my dollhouse. How to lug that sucker out the window?
(In answer to your unasked question, I actually did have a stomach ulcer in high school. Stress related.)
At times Iíve felt badly about this relevance I give to my belongings. Does that make me materialistic? I knew that was not likely. Iíve never had much money and certainly havenít been wasteful. And here was Nate Berkus, a true force in the design world, telling me that a home should reflect its owner, not the decorator. As silly as it may sound, that was powerful for me.
My sister bought me Things That Matter for Christmas, and I waited until a quiet evening to pore over it. It was unexpectedly delightful. Not that I didnít think it would be good, but as most coffee table books go, I thought it would be heavy on pictures, light on text. What I found, instead, was a lovely tribute to the things with which we surround ourselves. The book is broken up into its introduction, which Nate delivers and that had me tearing up within 12 pages as he discussed coming out to his family and later, the death of his partner. After the introduction, Nate focuses on the interesting, well-cultivated spaces of his friends. It ends with his own current space and his reflections on how he got to the place he calls home now.
Aside from Nateís own story, the most poignant was Dr. Ruth Westheimerís. The famous radio sex talk show host left her family home in Germany as a young girl, never to see her family again. She learned later, both of her parents died in the Holocaust. When she asked Nate to take a look at her place, she told him she wouldnít get rid of anything. Challenged, he went to learn more about her and her things, and he shared some of the most meaningful pieces and how he crafted her space to highlight them. His reverence for her objects and her memories was touching and lovely.
At the same time, Nate also touches on the beauty of editing, and this is the heart of good design, in my opinion. Editing a room is also the reason I never feel fully pleased with a space. Itís never quite right, but as insane as that sounds, the tweaking is part of the enjoyment for someone like me, and as he talked about his own tweaking, I felt the joy he gets from crafting his house, as itís much the same as my own joy. To physically be able to touch and move my grandmotherís sofa, to glance over at my other grandmotherís typewriter or my auntís paintings, books from a particular trip Ė these are all important to me.
The things that matter. For you, it might be something seemingly insignificant. But there is a beauty there, regardless.
If you love design or things, Iíd highly recommend The Things That Matter.
Ellen Meets a 6-Year-Old Science Podcaster
Nate Butkus doesn't shy away from challenging interviews. He hosts marine biologists, evolutionary scientists, and even a Harvard geneticist. In his podcast succinctly titled "The Show About Science," Butkus delves into subjects ranging from fruit flies to physics, not shying away from anything that pops into his brain. He's been interested in science for over half of his life, a fact he proudly admits. Nate's father works as a digital media producer at the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But ask him his favorite moment from the 28 episodes so far, and it has to be when he belched during a taping.
stand your ground a novel
The Show About Scienceís tracks
Podcasts dealing with the wonders of science are many, varied and increasingly popular. Nate got some hands-on training, and Eric's contacts in the medical world helped nurture his son's love for science. The podcast started out in humble fashion. The first guest was Nate's mum - who took part in a three-minute discussion on the importance of science. After a few episodes, however, the podcast took it up a level. Typically Nate picked a topic he wanted to discuss, and his Dad then found the perfect guest to be quizzed. But as the show has grown in stature, it's started to work the other way.
Ken is a professor at Northwestern University where he designs experiments that can provide insights into memory and our conscious experiences. On this episode, he visits The Show About Science Studios to talk about his article, cognitive neuroscience, memory, and how sleep affects our brains. Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, and author working to protect the ocean and its wildlife. This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at Fort Mason in San Francisco on September 15, Click here to refresh the feed. At age sixteen, he left home to live and work on a communal farm in Austin, Texas, where he stayed for ten years and met his future wife, Jeanne. Today, Verd lives on a little farm called Middlefork with Jeanne and family.