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Geoff Nicholson: Hunters and Gatherers

Nicholson is off again, bashing obsessive collectors. Steve Geddes is a not very successful writer who is going to write a book called The Collectors,”a serious but good-humoured, off-beat non-fiction work about people who collect things.” Geddes is not a collector himself; indeed, he tries to avoid clutter, as he calls it, of all kind, but he wonders why people have a collecting mania, not of important works of art but of ephemera such as Elvis memorabilia or football programmes. He starts off his book by interviewing Ted Langley who has the world’s largest collection of jokes, 527,345, to be precise, arranged by subject and by quality. Of course, we can see that Nicholson is poking fun at obsessive fanatics as he has done in his other books. Langley, for example, can only see humour as a collection of jokes and cannot understand comedians doing monologues. Indeed, he has never heard of Lenny Bruce. Geddes moves on to other collectors – sports cars, teapots, jelly moulds and so on. He meets a beer can collector who does not drink beer and maybe does not even have a beer can collection. At the same time he becomes interested in the American writer, Thornton McCain (Thornton Wilder meets James M. Cain?), who now lives in Scotland. And Geddes, who despises obsession, soon starts an obsession with McCain.

Steve’s best friend is Jim, who works for the interestingly named Killer Kars and who buys, from Elaine, a door-to-door saleswoman, an unusual encyclopedia, called The Books of Power, which is”going to change his life”. He starts off learning the obvious, such as the kings and queens of England. When Geddes checks out the books, he finds that this not your regular encyclopedia, written in a casual, offhand manner. Other characters are set upon by Elaine to buy The Books of Power.

Of course, the collecting, McCain and The Books of Power are going to coincide and Nicholson is going to have his fun at the expense of door-to-door encyclopedia sellers, collectors, writers and everyone else in the business of trying to put a pattern on their life. As usual, Nicholson is funny but dark, smart but iconoclastic. And you are going to see yourself in his book.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Hodder and Stoughton