Friday, December 12, 2008

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan

When writer Michael Pollan decided to plant a garden, the result was an award-winning treatise on the borders between nature and contemporary life, the acclaimed bestseller Second Nature. Now Pollan turns his sharp insight to the craft of a building, as he recounts the process of designing and constructing a small one-room structure on his rural Connecticut property - a place in which he hoped to read, write, and daydream, built with his own two unhandy hands.

Invoking the titans of architecture, literature, and philosophy, from Vitruvius to Thoreau, from the Chinese masters of feng shui to the revolutionary Frank Lloyd Wright, Pollan brilliantly chronicles a realm of blueprints, joints, and trusses as he peers into the ephemeral nature of "houseness" itself. From the spark of an idea to the search for a perfect site to the raising of a ridgepole, Pollan revels in the infinitely detailed, complex process of creating a finished structure. At once superbly written, informative, and enormously entertaining, A Place of My Own is for anyone who has ever wondered how the walls around us take shape - and how we might shape them ourselves.

I'd forgotten how reading a Pollan was more of a spring Sunday afternoon stroll type of read, rather than a brisk walk in the crisp autumn air. But, it was quite an enjoyable stroll, if rather dense on architectural and literary references. I have to admit that, at times, I felt like it would take me just as long to read the book as it took him to build the building!

Throughout reading the book I felt that it is one of those books that really needs to be read out loud - preferably by the author - to get the full richness of it. It's just so much more substantial read aloud.

The book also really made me begin to dislike architects. They're more artists than actual creators of "homes". They don't really seem to have a clue about how people really live in their homes. Like the residents are ruining their creations by living in them, which is so bizarre and arrogant! Sort of like those people who create delicate chairs that were obviously never meant to actually be sat on!

One thing that bothered me about the little house's foundation was that it is simply posts in the corners set on stones. That means that there is an air space under there! I can only imagine what sorts of creepy crawlies gather under there! Ick!

Also, the author tended to refer to the little house as his "hut", while the architect called it the "Writer's Place". It's lovely to have a name like that.

Here are my favorite passages from the book:

"I remember as a teenager reading that Marshall McLuhan had likened opening the Sunday paper to settling into a warm bath. The metaphor delivered a tiny jolt of recognition, because I too found reading - reading almost anything - to be a vaguely sensual, slightly indulgent pleasure, and one that had very little to do with the acquisition of information. Rather than a means to an end, the deep piles of words on the page comprised for me a kind of soothing environment, a plush cushion into which sometimes I could barely wait to sink me head. More often than not, I could remember almost nothing the moment I lifted myself out of the newspaper or magazine or paperback in which I'd been immersed. Not that I usually bothered to try. Mostly I just let the print wash over me, as if it were indeed warm water, destined to swirl down the drain of my forgetfulness."

"I am petrified by chain saws, a phobia I don't regard as irrational or neurotic in the least. It is in fact scientific, being grounded in the laws of probability and the empirical fact of my innate clumsiness and haste in dealing with the physical world. The way I see it, there is only a fixed number of times - unknowable, but certainly not large - that I can expect to use a chain saw before I become the victim of a blood-spurting and possibly life-threatening accident."

This one is a definite seven stars. Another book this month that I liked, but didn't love. It was like a Lake Champlain chocolate, significantly better than Hershey's, but not a Godiva truffle.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆


Post a Comment