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Collections of Nothing by William Davies…

Collections of Nothing (2008)

by William Davies King

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William Davies King writes well. He turns a clever phrase in a way that is a delight to read, and would be more delightful yet were he writing about something other than nothing. ( )
  muumi | May 31, 2015 |
This was a very interesting book--basically about this man's collection of stuff that no one else finds valuable. It was a bit dry for me, and not very well organized. When I finished the book, I wondered what the point of it was (maybe that's what he was trying to accomplish, since it's called "Collections of Nothing"?). ( )
  goet0095 | Mar 27, 2014 |
This book trace William Davies King's obsession with accumulating "stuff" over the years of his childhood and adulthood. He traces the need to have something private in his life, which he shares only upon occasion. This countervalances his love of theater which is very public. This texture of collecting gives his life an idiosyncratic twist, which makes me want to think about my compulsion with collecting public timetables. And to support this collecting with a vast array of maps and data extracted from the Census and other staitisical sources. I probably have over 30,000 timetables and 6,000 maps, so I am definitely in this other camp. ( )
  vpfluke | Jan 14, 2012 |
“To collect is to write a life.”

Collections of Nothing is a very odd book, part prose-poetry, part memoir, part self-analysis, part exorcism. The author, William Davies King, collects (as he puts it) nothing. And boy does he collect a lot of it. To give a sense of what that means, his collection includes more than 18,000 labels – labels from candy bars and canned soup, shampoo and toothpaste, bottled water and cat food. And that’s just one small (and growing) part of King’s collection. He collects valueless things no one wants, he collects to make an autonomous world. He collects like a cancer grows.

I’ll use his own words to try and describe just why he collects so much nothing: “Collecting, like art, is a way of coming to terms with the strangeness of the world.” “The widely shared impulse to collect comes [...] partly from a wound that many of us feel in our personal histories. Collecting may not be the most direct means of healing those wounds, but it serves well enough.”

King tells of the personal tragedies that propelled him into collecting, the trauma of an older sister with cerebral palsy and “mental insufficiencies” who became so imbalanced she had to be institutionalized, and wreckage that experience makes of himself and his family.

He explains, re-explains, and re-re-explains his compulsion to collect, interspersed with a roughly chronological account of his life. To quote again, this time from a book of astrology King owns: “His style is picturesque, vivid, often dramatic; and he continues to deliver and redeliver his message, changing and adapting its form while preserving its essence, until he succeeds in arousing the attention of his audience and kindling its enthusiasm.”

This book certainly isn’t for everyone. Some may throw it across the room in frustration with King’s self-absorption. Some will be puzzled by its discursions on cereal boxes. Some may simply find it boring. I liked it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a writer so intently – and desperately -- trying to reach me as a reader and as a person. It created a fascinating, if uncomfortable, sense of having William Davies King in the room with me as I turned the pages.

As he puts it: “The book says: here is the collection, here is the collector. What’s missing is the reader, which leads me to turn away from the ponderous things and from the vanishing self to you. Hesitantly the book wants to know where it is going, and I need to find you to know—you, a reader so kind as to collect me.” ( )
1 vote ElizabethChapman | Apr 17, 2010 |
There's a lot that's compelling, even fascinating in this memoir, and yet somehow it falls short. How can it be that such a slender volume feels so terribly overwritten? Long sections of this short book ramble over the same territory again and again, adding nothing new. Even worse, other sections are basically the author rambling about what he should write about! Which could conceivably work if it involved deeply self-reflective observations, but I feel like the author here is constantly skimming the surface of his psyche: why he collects, why anyone collects, how the hell is he going to fill an entire book about his collections. For all that he talks about the years he has spent in therapy, he never comes close to any deep insight about his/our compulsions. ( )
  amydross | Feb 14, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0226437000, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, December 2008: One of the oddest memoirs of the year may well be the best. William Davies King is a theater professor who over his fifty-plus years has gathered, in countless binders and boxes, a vast collection of things nobody else wants: cat-food labels, chain letters, skeleton keys, cereal boxes, chopstick wrappers, the "Place Stamp Here" squares from the corners of envelopes. It's an obsession you might think was inexplicable--least of all by the one obsessed--but in Collections of Nothing King makes his mania seem nearly rational, and the personal drama of it wryly fascinating. (Imagine if Henry Darger had written witty, self-aware essays that analyzed his obsessions without puncturing their mystery.) King is an academic and he's been through therapy, but he writes free of the clots and cliches of both of those disciplines, contemplating what he calls "the cumbersummation of me" with the myopic elegance of Nicholson Baker and a moving understanding that this strange, apparently worthless collection--and now this lovely and wise book about it--are what he has to offer the world. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:15 -0400)

Nearly everyone collects something, even those who don?t think of themselves as collectors. William Davies King, on the other hand, has devoted decades to collecting nothing?and a lot of it. With Collections of Nothing, he takes a hard look at this habitual hoarding to see what truths it can reveal about the impulse to accumulate. Part memoir, part reflection on the mania of acquisition, Collections of Nothing begins with the stamp collection that King was given as a boy. In the following years, rather than rarity or pedigree, he found himself searching out the lowly and the lost, the cast-off and the undesired: objects that, merely by gathering and retaining them, he could imbue with meaning, even value. As he relates the story of his burgeoning collections, King also offers a fascinating meditation on the human urge to collect. This wry, funny, even touching appreciation and dissection of the collector?s art as seen through the life of a most unusual specimen will appeal to anyone who has ever felt the unappeasable power of that acquisitive fever.… (more)

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