July 3, 2009

Collections of Nothing

I've decided to have a real summer, complete with summer reading (besides my Slicer compadres--it seems we've all relaxed down a notch, beginning with the tale of Tracey's stay at the beach , Juliann's thoughtful notion about being intentional about summer plans, and Lisa's reading on a rainy day--a perfect way to begin a summer). My sister runs a book review website for me, my three sisters and my mother, encouraging us to read and share our thoughts. So here's my thoughts on my most recent book.

Let's start off with the review from the 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."

Collections of Nothing, by William Davies King is small book, with his collection of envelope liners on the dust jacket, one of his quirky collections. He's collected cereal boxes, stamps, keys, dictionary pictures, food labels, and gears among other things, a vast collection that ended up in his garage where his soon-t0-be ex-wife deposited them. And that's how the book opens.

A verifiable collector of collections myself, I found many things reverberated with me in this little tome. Some notable quotes:
The essence of most collecting is to have the world in miniature, and I was determined to be a King (11).

Collecting is a constant reassertion of the power to own, an exercise in controlling otherness, and finally a kind of monument building to isure survival after death. For this reason, you can often read the collector in his or her collection, if not in the objects themselves, then in the business of acquiring, maintaining, and displaying them. To collect is to write a life (38).

"To have and to hold" is a resonant phrase for a collector. Ever object that comes into a collection experiences that wedding ceremony. . . . We are born wanting to be had and held, born collectible, and with a little luck we never stop being prized possessions (74).

Life marches on, while collectors trail behind, carrying a shovel and a sack (145).

Only one chapter was slightly boring to me, where he speaks of his senior thesis and quotes one of his villanelles; plow through this chapter and you'll find the rest of book an interesting dialogue between him, his collections and the reader.

It is published by The University of Chicago Press, and is a quick read, but a book you could dive into again and again.

1 comment:

  1. An excerpt from Collections of Nothing by William Davies King is available on the University of Chicago Press website.