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When you see the name Joanna Gaines, it's often alongside Chip Gaines, her husband and co-owner and co-founder of Magnolia. Chip and Jo are both New York Times bestselling authors, and she is also Editor-in-Chief of Magnolia Journal. And while Chip and their kids are of course a part of Joanna's brand-new memoir, The Stories We Tell, at its core, the deeply personal book is all about Jo. In fact, as she said at an intimate press luncheon on Monday held in honor of the book's launch, the book was really "written for my six-year-old self, who walked into rooms and knew that she mattered." That's why, when you pull back the book jacket, you'll see her childhood photo underneath her present-day author headshot.
"There is something that resonates with me about going back," Gaines said in answer to her friend and moderator Sam Ponder's question about the inspiration behind the new book. "There is magic to going back... How do I recapture some of that? The older I get, I want these things to matter. These grounding moments, places where I feel safe. For the longest time, I let fear lead my decision-making. Now I'm constantly rewriting these thoughts, so that I'm walking in who I am."
She spoke about the process for her book, saying in some ways it's similar to working on an old house, uncovering the bones. "I get excited about unearthing all these things to see what was once there," she says. As someone who's always journaled, the original intent was really just to look back on the whirlwind last 10 years, Gaines explains. "There have been different periods of my life where I've had the instinct to write down, to look back. There was something in me that said, 'write.'" She says the first book she ever wrote, which "no one will ever read," was when she moved to New York City in her early 20s and had this inkling. "Twenty years later, something told me to write again," she reveals of how The Stories We Tell came to be.
"This isn't this big 'tell all,'" Gaines emphasizes. "This is my process and my journey," but "that's not the point," she says. "I want to value other people's story in a way where they feel honored and respected."
That's what is unique about The Stories We Tell as a celebrity memoir: the "we." In each chapter, Gaines brings it back to the reader, to their own story. This is something she stressed in discussing the book as well. She expressed the hope that readers can relate to some of the reoccurring themes — such as childhood insecurities shaping the way she approached life into adulthood and addressing the "things in your life that haven't been dealt with or healed properly" — or, that they would finish the book and say, I want to evaluate my own life, I want to journal, I want to write down my own story. It's about, "How do you end with gratitude? How do you end with grace?" Gaines says.
There is a lot of retrospection in the book — it is a memoir, after all — but it's also about looking to the future. Gaines writes about the theory called the "happiness U-curve," and a study that showed happiness rises after middle age as people gain a newfound determination to "enjoy life as it is, to enjoy ourselves as we are." While Gaines slowed down to take stock and reflect, as we all have during the pandemic, she's definitely not stopping any time soon. "When you let go, you have the capacity to hold more of what matters," she says.
"I want to continue to evolve and surprise myself. I don't want to be put in a box. I want to continue to grow and learn and be surprised by life," she says, mentioning how this is made easier "with Chip as my cheerleader, and a lot of ways my coach."
If you've ever wondered what she might be doing had she never gone into interior design, Gaines says, "I have these dreams of being an accountant, sitting in a cubicle — I love working numbers. Maybe in another life," she laughs. For right now, this one seems pretty darn good.
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