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Collections of Nothing

3.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226437002
ISBN-10: 0226437000
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From The New Yorker

King, a professor at Santa Barbara, has spent decades collecting things that nobody else would want: food packages and labels (he has about eighteen thousand), illustrations snipped from old dictionaries (seven thousand), linings of "security" envelopes (eight hundred patterns), "the mute, meager, practically valueless object, like a sea-washed spigot, its mouth stoppered by a stone." What makes this book, bred of a midlife crisis, extraordinary is the way King weaves his autobiography into the account of his collection, deftly demonstrating that the two stories are essentially one. "I lost and found myself in remote topical aisles of scholarship-wreck," he says of his hours in Yale’s library, reading the most obscure books he could find. His hard-won self-awareness gives his disclosures an intensity that will likely resonate with all readers, even those whose collections of nothing contain nothing at all.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (July 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226437000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226437002
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,442,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anne Merle Bryant on September 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
From that dreadful, yet witty opening garage scene to the bittersweet account of King and his daughters carefully laying out those 1500 cereal boxes on stage, I was touched deeply by a complex mix of reactions: dread, tears, outright laughter, quiet smiles. How masterfully the author delves beneath the tarnished surfaces and worn edges of his prized collections of nothing to reveal a powerful story of the lasting imprint of family dynamics, social interactions, self-perceptions and the ultimate meanings of a life.

Indeed I discovered valuable insights and a palpable connection to King's personal explanation of his assemblages of things, people and life learnings.

Despite his sometimes rambling close to the book, he clearly made his point: each individual's ongoing search and inevitable ups and downs of intellectual, creative and emotional fulfillment is a unique, irreplaceable collection of emptiness and satiety, fear and faith, hurt and healing. It's how we treat and care for these experiences, and how we choose to store and display them that determines the richness of our lives.

King has offered up a treasure in his "Collections of Nothing."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Davies King is a collector. It practically defines him. In fact, that is how he normally describes himself. "I'm a collector," he says several times in his book, but it's not a boast, more of a rueful admission that he picks up this and that. You can see why he might want to play down his collecting. He collects what most people would consider trash: old discarded keys, cereal boxes, labels from cans of tuna, the stickers showing when your next oil change is due.

His collections take a lot of space and a fair amount of time, both amassing and curating. It would be easy to dismiss King's collecting as an unhealthy obsession. And yet it doesn't seem to interfere with his life, not in any serious way. Yes, he has trouble with relationships in the course of his memoir, but the collecting seems to be a symptom of his insecurities, not a cause. Not at all like Simon Garfield's resumption of stamp collecting in midlife in The Error World: An Affair with Stamps, another memoir that features collecting. Garfield spends more money than he has on stamps and is obsessed with completing his collection. His hobby causes him more grief than pleasure. This is not the case with King, at least as he tells his story.

Collections of Nothing is a book that is not easy to categorize. It's partly a memoir, although I found the memoir parts of it the least interesting, and the Freudian connections unpleasant. What fascinated me was the exploration of the phenomenon of collecting. Nearly everyone collects something at some stage of their life, usually as a child. Many continue their childhood collections into adulthood or start new collections.
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Format: Paperback
King is a collector. He has collected things since he was a little boy.

What does he collect? Worthless things, he says. Labels from boxes and cans, for the most part. But he also has several other, equally useless collections. King thinks about his collecting and puts it into context by revealing the events of his life and the larger world.

I can't really see someone going out and purchasing this book. It leaves you with a sense of having wasted your time reading it, with King dwelling on the meaninglessness of his collecting and of his life. He seems to find some meaning in the meaninglessness of everything, but that is way too philosophical for me.
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Format: Hardcover
... hey, what a metaphor.

Either this book is really pretentious, or I am not its intended audience. Or, I suppose, both.

The author spends a lot of the book circling back to analytical thoughts about his collecting habit. I can tell you what it boils down to: "objects have no inherent value above what we assign to them. Also, if what you are is lonely, then you need people, not objects." There, now you don't have to read the whole book.

It's puzzling to me, because obviously this author can write. There is a really excellent sestina in here, and a paragraph riffing on the word "putter" in such a subtle way that I didn't figure out until the end of the paragraph what he was doing. There are more puns and riffing. There is some simple concrete discussion of the author's life that was easy to read. (what he wore, what people said, what the landscape was like, etc.)

But always there is the crushingly going-nowhere analysis. Also a lot of words on "how my habit is totally not hoarding" and "how my habit is totally different from other collectors". I think the author knows that these are defensive thoughts and left them in to be revealing, but it didn't work for me.

I just didn't care by the time I got to the end and read how the author's life is so much better now.

Amazon had marked this one of its best books for December 2008 and that's why I picked it up. I say: obviously someone has a different taste from me.
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