The Morning News

Reading Collections of Nothing

Book Digest I suppose one might be amazed at the subjects that fill the hundreds of thousands of books published each year—and though I don’t want to sound jaded, I must say that I am no longer. Though, of course, many books give me pause for a lingering inspection of the cover, a quick flip through the index, a cursory glance at the table of contents, and perhaps a peek at the author’s note or acknowledgment—and even a sample of the introduction or first chapter. Collections of Nothing by William Davies King is just such a book. Here, from the first chapter, entitled “Nothing Lost,” Davies King provides a concise and descriptive context:
Middle-Class Life is itself a collection: a spouse, a house, a brace of children, a suitable car, a respectable career, cuddly pets, photos of grinning relatives, toys for all ages and hours, coffee and coffee pots, coffee cups and spoons, coffee tables and coffee table books about coffee and about coffee tables. I had the set, and then I had another set—boxes and binders and closets full of stuff no one needs:
Fifty-three Cheez-It boxes, empty
Thirty-four old dictionaries
Three dozen rusted skeleton keys, found as a cluster in the woods
A mound of used airmail envelopes, most culled from mailroom trash
A pipe tobacco tin chock full of smooth pebbles
My neighbor’s library card from the 1960’s, before he became a felon
Family snapshots of people unknown to me
Plastic cauliflower bags (many), all mimicking the sphericity of a cauliflower head
Business cards of business card printers, though I had no business card
Cigar ribbons though I did not smoke…
Added to the droll humor (“brace of children”) and linguistic playfulness (“sphericity”), Collections of Nothing does more than a commendable and enjoyable job of meditating on the impulse to accumulate. It is also a thoughtful and jargon-free rumination on existence and human interaction. I would quote the book’s last sentence—but I am leaving you the pleasure of discovering it. —

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