Collections of Nothing

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Overview

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...

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Collections of Nothing

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Overview

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.

"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. . . . 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."—New Yorker

"King's extraordinary book is a memoir served up on the backs of all things he collects. . . . His story starts out sounding odd and singular—who is this guy?—but by the end, you recognize yourself in a lot of what he does."—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

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Editorial Reviews

Art Talk Chicago
A wonderful little book.

— Dawoud Bey

Books & Culture
This is one nice writer. . . . We have been treated to a fine and funny, charmingly written and deeply felt portrayal of the human heart. King's is a masterful collection of the different kinds of longing that we know, his world one full of albums waiting to be pasted into, containers wanting something to contain.

— Linda McCullough Moore

Literary Review
Collections of Nothing appears on its surface to be a quirky, diverting and playful essay (influenced by Brautigan, Tzara and Joyce), but its autobiographical aspects are anguished in places, and for all its jauntiness of style there can be no happy ending. It is, however, immaculately written and a real pleasure to read.

— David Profumo

New York Times Book Review
Part memoir and part disquisition on the psychological impulses behind the urge to accumulate, Collections of Nothing is a wonderfully frank and engaging look at one man’s detritus-fueled pathology. . . . King emerges by book’s end a flawed but truly lovable eccentric—an ‘antimonk, carefully preserving and sustaining a vital darkness, heavy with various glues, through a forbidding period of enlightenment.’ May this darkness reign.”

— Henry Alford

New Yorker

"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. . . . 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."
Times Higher Education Supplement
Through a discussion of the objects he has collected, King portrays what it is to be human, to be confused, to be lonely, to make mistakes, and to try to fix them. At the core of his collecting is the thrill of finding something (or someone) to care about; how one's impulse to label or contain it (or them) is a way of imposing order on the chaos of existence.”

— Erika Marie Bsumek

Chicago Tribune
King's extraordinary book is a memoir served up on the backs of all things he collects. . . . His story starts out sounding odd and singular—who is this guy?—but by the end, you recognize yourself in a lot of what he does.

— Julia Keller

Jas Elsner

Collections of Nothing is a terrific book. Wonderful and touching, it is informed by a deep sense of emptiness at the heart of materialism that echoes behind the text. It is not an academic book or an argument, but rather a strange hybrid, oscillating between memoir and meditation on collecting. Collectors will understand and empathize with William Davies King, who speaks to and of them.”

Times Higher Education Supplement - Erika Marie Bsumek
“Through a discussion of the objects he has collected, King portrays what it is to be human, to be confused, to be lonely, to make mistakes, and to try to fix them. At the core of his collecting is the thrill of finding something (or someone) to care about; how one's impulse to label or contain it (or them) is a way of imposing order on the chaos of existence.”
New York Times Book Review - Henry Alford

“Part memoir and part disquisition on the psychological impulses behind the urge to accumulate, Collections of Nothing is a wonderfully frank and engaging look at one man’s detritus-fueled pathology. . . . King emerges by book’s end a flawed but truly lovable eccentric--an ‘antimonk, carefully preserving and sustaining a vital darkness, heavy with various glues, through a forbidding period of enlightenment.’ May this darkness reign.”
Books & Culture - Linda McCullough Moore

"This is one nice writer. . . . We have been treated to a fine and funny, charmingly written and deeply felt portrayal of the human heart. King's is a masterful collection of the different kinds of longing that we know, his world one full of albums waiting to be pasted into, containers wanting something to contain."
Literary Review - David Profumo

"Collections of Nothing appears on its surface to be a quirky, diverting and playful essay (influenced by Brautigan, Tzara and Joyce), but its autobiographical aspects are anguished in places, and for all its jauntiness of style there can be no happy ending. It is, however, immaculately written and a real pleasure to read."
Art Talk Chicago - Dawoud Bey

"A wonderful little book."
Rosellen Brown

Collections of Nothing is a wonderful work of creative nonfiction, a memoir combined with a brilliant dissection of the psychological and consumerist motivations and contexts for collecting (and collecting and collecting) everyday objects. Compellingly self-aware and beautifully written, it marries a well-told analysis of personal, eccentric behavior and an intricate inteweave of larger theories about the drive to accumulate and possess. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Stanley Kauffmann

“King’s book is absolutely fascinating. At first I was wary. Was this going to be only a gnarled wry exegesis of a nutty preoccupation? But, rather quickly, he made the collecting an avenue into himself, his life, his world. It finishes as a unique autobiography, in a way quite endearing. And like all the best autobiographies, it is in some measure about the reader himself. The writing is very taking, almost as if it were fashioned by a fine craftsman yet with no sense of effort. Witty, especially perceptive, candid yet with an attractive humility.”

Chicago Tribune - Julia Keller

"King's extraordinary book is a memoir served up on the backs of all things he collects. . . . His story starts out sounding odd and singular--who is this guy?--but by the end, you recognize yourself in a lot of what he does."
Henry Alford
Part memoir and part disquisition on the psychological impulses behind the urge to accumulate, Collections of Nothing is a wonderfully frank and engaging look at one man's detritus-fueled pathology. King's honesty and ambivalence about his pastime only increases his emotional connection to the reader. I wanted, by turns, to breast-feed and strangle him.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226437019
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,024,960
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William Davies King has explored numerous odd corners of theater history in books and articles, including Henry Irving’s “Waterloo”, which won the Joe A. Calloway Prize. He is professor in the Department of Theater and Dance at University of California, Santa Barbara.

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