Ten years ago this month a small sound studio opened in Grand Central Terminal in New York. Its purpose: to collect the stories of ordinary Americans. The idea for the StoryCorps project was simple. People would spend 40 minutes recording an interview with the most important person in their lives. Nearly 100,000 people have participated. The stories are archived at the Library of Congress and some have been broadcast as part of NPR’s Morning Edition.
To mark StoryCorps’ 10-year anniversary, the project is releasing Ties That Bind, the fourth installment in a growing series of StoryCorps books. Previously, StoryCorps published a collection on the project’s five-year anniversary, a collection of stories on mothers and last year’s Valentine’s Day collection of love stories. The latest collection focuses on the people we count as family.
Like the previous works, the newest book is made up of a number of conversations that StoryCorps recorded. Each story starts with the names of the interviewer and interviewee and their relationship. There are conversations between friends, siblings and parents and children as well as more unexpected pairs: a teacher and her former student, a doctor and his longtime patient, and a mother and the man who killed her only son. Their edited conversations follow. No story lasts more than a few pages. A picture of the interviewee and interview finish the story.
There are stories about a man who became friends with his wife’s ex-husband, about a couple that raises their niece after a car crash kills her mother and about a woman with short-term memory loss who runs a marathon with her boyfriend. In one story, a mother and daughter, both soldiers, talk about growing closer when they are deployed to Iraq together. In another, siblings, one transgender and the other gay, talk about how they’ve supported each other.
Given that the book is a 10-year anniversary collection, it might have been nice to include the first story the project recorded, or at least one from the first day. As it is, the stories date back only to 2007. Still, what’s included is sweet and sad, heartwarming and watery-eye inducing. It’s the kind of book that gives you the urge to call up someone important in your life, just to say hi.