book review: Collections of Nothing

Collections of Nothing
by William Davies King

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 with all of these people, but because I am an extrovert, I get energy from talking to everyone…but I digress. My collections of nothing include random items.

When I lived with my friend Nicole in law school we moved, or she helped me move, twice. I can pack clothes, I can pack towels, and kitchen items. What I have problems with is my collection of nothing. It is the detritus that has overtaken your junk drawer in your kitchen. Things that may or may not ever be useful again, but that you are not ready to part with. Randomly acquired items that remind me of a moment, a movie, a date. These items currently compete with my yearning for order in my home. I keep my nothing in various containers, in my desk, in giant plastic bins hidden under our stairway. These little objects remind me of places or people. The stuff makes me happy when I go through it.

Mr. King actively collects nothing. His nothing is different than my nothing, but I think it has a similar meaning: his collection makes him happy.

My nothing defies categorization, while his nothing is well organized and catalogued. For example in the book we learn that he has hundreds of cereal boxes from years gone by. He has many tuna can labels. If you were a PhD student in advertising, you would want to go to his collection because in his collection you could trace the changes in language used to catch consumer’s eyes as they shopped.

The book is part self-examination and part confession. What does it mean to collect such things, to basically collect trash?

I had not realized that I too collect trash until I read his book.

What is a collection? This question is at the heart of the book. His conundrum lies as to whether you can collect or hold a collection if the collection has no monetary value. Further, because his collection is so large and well organized, it may have become valuable. Therefore, while he started collecting because of his own feelings of inadequacy, or lack of value, his collecting may have in turn given him value.

The book serves not only as a meditation on his collection but as a memoir about his family. He uses his family history to explore where his collection compulsion comes from.

There was a sense of voyeurism in reading his book. I wanted to know more about what kinds of strange things he has? Where it all comes from? Where the stuff all resides now? I wanted to see pictures and hear stories about how awkward his collection made his life. I am interested in the strangeness of his collecting.

The book did not satisfy these yearnings. I feel like he is a professor, with a hobby, and a complicated family not that different from my own. And at the end of the book I was left to contemplate my own collections and what these collections mean to me.

1 comment:

SAHM said...

Very intriguing! You have me perplexed as well. To note, I don't collect much. I am always trying to get rid of things. I don't have things displayed anywhere (other than family photos); however, sometimes I wish I had a special interest that I could add items to. Mmmmm . . . perhaps, though, my stash of craft supplies could be considered a collection -I am always game for a good deal on craft supplies with grand ideas of what I might be able to use it for.