Collections of Nothing
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Collections of Nothing

2.91 of 5 stars 2.91  ·  rating details  ·  148 ratings  ·  61 reviews
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 o...more
Hardcover, 163 pages
Published July 25th 2008 by University Of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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Oh god, you don't know how it pains me to give this book two stars. The cover is beautiful and the subject matter fascinating. I know that William Davies King is a kindred spirit, a fellow collector-obsessive, but that doesn't change the fact that I feel, after finishing this book, like someone just threw up on me.

If you want to write a book about your weird habits, so that I can admire and respect them, please do. If you want to write a book and talk circularly and melodramatically about how y...more
Feb 01, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: the New Yorker
Shelves: memoir
In some ways this memoir strikes me as the most naked kind of confessional, as if the author, instead of being a collector, were a professional masturbator, or someone who wove carpets from the hair of all the women he dated. It is a memoir steeped in shame and pathology, yet also normalness, since the type of collecting and acquiring done here is both an attempt to fill emptiness and compensate for emotional wounds, and a path to self-definition - "a way of sketching the world and my place in i...more
Brent Legault
I was with King for the first few chapters, in spite of the occasional cornball line. (I thought he might collect those, too.) And I'm sympathetic to anyone who devotes the hours and days and years to such impractical activity. But about halfway through (on page 94, to be precise), King lost me with his therepyphilia.

I can't stand the idea of therepy (except, perhaps, for people who have lived through some genuine tragedy or abuse) and I don't have time for anyone who looks to writing as a sour...more
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 excell...more
Nov 29, 2008 Christina rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Christina by: amazon
If you want to read an autobiography of a collector, this is a good place to start. King talks about his collection habits and how they have changed during his life and had an influence in it. In some ways, this is the typical tale of the negative image of an collector - he collects because he lacks something in his life and collecting takes overe, ruins relationsships and the like. King also has the typical thoughts about what will happen with his collection after he is no longer here and how i...more
I had really high hopes for this book, and there were moments that were everything I'd hoped for, but mostly I found the whole thing rather dull, almost shockingly so. And sometimes quite repetitive. Ultimately, Davies can't seem to decide whether what he's doing is perfectly reasonable and no big deal or whether he wants us all to see how absolutely cool and strange he is. Also, although he alludes to having had therapy and seems quite well-read, he never addresses, in a meaningful way, the ext...more
Some parts are wonderfully written, some parts are too much. My general sense of Dave King is that he is a genius, but that I would hate him. I like the idea paying attention and finding value in mundane things, such as security envelopes (see cover), which isn't exactly what he is saying, but that's what I am taking to my life. His treatment of personal relationships and horrible cruelty about his sister were very offputting, which is why I didn't give 5 stars. I bet that a lot of people will f...more
I liked the way this book started out. While reading this book I found myself alternately wanting to collect some obscure thing (the waxed inter packing of cereal and other food boxes?)or getting a dump box and throwing out every item in my house I no longer use. The later part of the book where King tries to come to terms with his collecting I found cumbersome. As if the over abundance of objects in his world resulted in an over abundance of words. The final chapter does wrap in up in a way th...more
I agree with everyone who was disappointed in this book. Fascinating topic, dull and self-absorbed treatment by William Davies King. I don't see how anyone could enjoy spending time inside what apparently is a rather sparsely furnished mind. If you want to read a fabulous book (biography rather than autobiography, though) about someone with a mania for collecting peculiar detritus, read Deborah Solomon's UTOPIA PARKWAY, a life of Joseph Cornell. It has the added attraction of being about a geniu...more
Really more an autobiography in very academic language which is not what I expected.
I enjoyed King's book a great deal, though it bears the unfortunate burden of falling into that category of academic books that are difficult to "use." The book itself is a sort of auto-ethnography (though he never classifies it as such), detailing King's obsessive collecting of both everything and (as his title suggests) nothing. King collects all sorts of obscure items: patterns from the inside of envelopes, stickers from the outside of fruit, boulders from Santa Barbara's beaches, metal from...more
Skuli Saeland
Höfundurinn William Davies King lýsir hér ævi sinni sem forfallinn safnari sem safnar öllu - sem er verðlaust og einskis nýtt. Af því dregur bókin nafn sitt Collections of Nothing. Hann gerir heiðarlega og ítarlega tilraun til þess að skilgreina sjálfan sig og þörf sína fyrir að safna hlutum og dregur þannig fram í dagsljósið erfiða barnæsku, skilnað og sjálfsskömm sem líklegar ástæður um leið og hann segir frá söfnum sínum og annarra um leið og hann gerir greinarmun á sinni áráttu og öðrum söfn...more
I collect nothing, but I collect some things too. I collect cameras. I have thirty or so. I have used more than half of them. Some of the cameras require special film that, while still produced, is only available through places on the internet. I collect mini things: anything that is diminutive in size. Mini-cameras are one good example of a marriage of my favorite things to collect. Oh and I collect friends. I have a lot of friends. Brent thinks it must take a lot of energy to stay in contact w...more
If I dog ear pages and underline passages, no matter the weaknesses of the book - and this has plent yof weaknesses - there is something in it that struck me. I don't think I would like the author as a human being but his collection is insane and fascinating - 621 cereal boxes, labels from canned beans, toothpaste boxes etc. 2 tons of paper ephemera. It may not surprise you but he is divorced. As a packrat and collecter of snippets and useless junk, I found a common ground here, including his wo...more
Nov 02, 2013 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: aspiring collectors, scavengers
Recommended to Kate by: Feinberg
Shelves: ischool
"Of making many books there is no end."

"I was, in my early twenties, a member of a visionary, progressive food co-op, the sort of place where you begin your membership by listening to a lengthy Marxist lecture in the basement (rough draft of the manager’s poli-sci dissertation). Four or five sidewalk sofas, discolored plaid, bare lightbulb overhead, Danish schoolbags, slightly damp from the afternoon drizzle, cigarette butts in coffee mugs—that was the décor set by the bored, proto-Gramscian co-...more
I was attracted to this book by both the title and the cover, which looked like squares of textile designs. Actually squares from the inside of security envelopes, they are part of King's "collections of nothing" that reflect the vast amounds of THINGS produced by late 20th century consumer culture.

Having spent 8 years in analysis, he over-interprets this urge to accumulate in my opinion, connecting it too heavily to his family life, especially his sister's illness, and his own self-doubt. But a...more
I wish I could give it one-and-a-half stars - that seems more appropriate.

King has some fascinating thoughts on collecting/collection and its relation to identity and the construction of a narrative of self, a performance - ideas that are central to my academic work. However, the whole book reads like a self-indulgent prologue to a book that examines the intersection of conspicuous consumption, collection and the self in a rigorous and and academic way, never quite getting to the meat of the iss...more
Heather Halliday
I thought Collections of Nothing had a lot to offer.
It covers an topic that's interesting to me: hoarding. As an author, Davies King has a unique point-of-view: that of an intelligent insightful hoarder who is at least partially aware of the excess of what he is doing every obsessive step of the way. Davies King worked in an archive in college and teaches theater at a California university today. He even spent his early life in the same part of Ohio I grew up in. These are all things that intri...more
This autobiography is mainly a telling of the hoarding of the author: how it started, what he collects (nothing, as he says in the title, by which he means objects that have no value whatsoever, like labels of food-cans or empty cereal boxes)and what this collecting means to him and to other people.
I had thought I would have found this book very interesting, but this was not the case. It is well written, but I feel it lacks something, although I couldn't say what exactly. Perhaps I would have li...more
I liked King better in the beginning of the book, reflecting on his collecting through his childhood, and the meanings of collections generally. I saw myself in the writing and the idea of creating an identity around the things you acquire and give meaning to in your life. In the middle he talked of his collections of nothing (including labels and envelopes) which had pictures and some particular interest and the end ground down into a memoir of his current day life. A memoir with too much talki...more
There are sections of this book that make for good reading aloud. The author is playful with words. I think he's really dealing at times more in documenting aspects of his life than in collecting. He makes no attempt to portray himself as personally likeable. This book is in the form of a long essay in parts. I was surprised at the bad proof-reading for a book published by a university press (e.g., "castille" for "castile," "McVitti's" for "McVities" or "McVitie's," etc.). I did enjoy this slend...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
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 m...more
wow! so I managed to ready one 159 page book in one month. That would be a little more than 6 pages a day! Wow!

i don't really know what to say about this book here. I appreciated it to an extent but i wish there was more memoir and less talk of cereal box collecting. if i met william davies king, i'm sure i'd hate him. I Can't tell if he takes himself really seriously or his humor is just THAT dry and I'm THAT dumb that I don't get it. One thing that stood out in this book is that King, in colle...more
This book is less a memoir of collecting than it is the pitiful, masturbatory (sometimes literally) meditations of a middle-aged man who still feels emotionally damaged from growing up with a sister with cerebral palsy and not getting laid enough in his early 20s. King admits that he started writing this book as a way of replacing professional counseling, and the sense of the book as a process of self-analysis is evident in its abrupt transitions. I was relieved when it ended on a happy note --...more
Mary Alice
Well, I must confess to not having finished this book. I've spend a good 2 months trying to get through it which is pretty sad given that it's only 163 pages long, but enough is enough. I was given this book as a gift because of my collector mentality, and I had great hopes of reading the thoughts of a fellow collector, but at page 139 I quit. I could care less about his further thoughts and experiences. This could have been an interesting essay in the New Yorker, but instead it's a sort of stre...more
Another book abused from the public library. Read this one on a road trip to pass the time. William Davies Kings exhaustive discussion of collecting can be found on just about every single page. Does give some insight into the nature of humans and why we collect. Extensive self-absorbed psychology dominates the pages that aren't about collecting. The highlights of this book are present outside the realm of collecting, the disadvantageous moments in Kings life that are very personal and full of d...more
Gary Lang
The Times was right. And I would say that the film version of the urges expressed in here could be found in Allan Zweig's "Vinyl (2000)". About 3 years ago I was strolling near Montmartre and ran across a street median where street vendors sold collections of random "stuff" being sold. Seeing it all displayed on the concrete of the median made me wonder what made these people want to collect this stuff in the first place. King provides some essential insight into those people's urges.

The best thing about this book was the cover, which is revealed to be a selection of examples of envelope linings collected into a giant book, carefully arranged in 2-inch squares on notebook paper. I love the idea of that book, and the effort that went into it for some compulsive and unknowable purpose, and the lightness of those little squares like laundry on a line. Unfortunately, the bulk of this tiny book is pompous self-absorption and not enough of the grisly details of King's insane colle...more
It's not the writing -- the author can craft a better than decent sentence -- that earned *Collections of Nothing* only a two-star rating from me. It's repetitive. It's indulgent -- not in a warm, nostalgic way, but in a sad, pathetic way. Then again, the sadness, the pathos, these just may be kind of the point, in which case the author is smart. He does seem self-aware, so I imagine that is the intent. But though this may be quite smart, it just wasn't an enjoyable read for me.
I got this book at a book swap, and read it only because I happened to have it. In general, I don't find any way to relate -- a good narrative tends to draw me in regardless -- so the book feels contrived and self-indulgent (publish or perish for this UCSB prof?). In a memoir, I guess I can accept that. And, the last chapter (the actual last one, not the one the author keeps naming as the last) redeems the rest of the narrative for me, at least a bit.
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Professor of theater at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
More about William Davies King...
Another Part of a Long Story: Literary Traces of Eugene O'Neill and Agnes Boulton Henry Irving's "Waterloo": Theatrical Engagements with Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, Edward Gordon Craig, Late-Victorian Culture, ... Assorted Ghosts, Old Men, War, and History Part of a Long Story: Eugene O'Neill as a Young Man in Love Long Day's Journey Into Night Part of a Long Story: "Eugene O'Neill as a Young Man in Love"

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