Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book Review: A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan

Title: A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder
Author: Michael Pollan
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible
Content Alert: minimal swearing

Did you ever have a friend who kind of bugged you, who you thought was pretentious and a little annoying, but you felt compelled to spend as much time as possible with regardless? That's kind of how I feel about Michael Pollan. He drives me a little bit crazy, in his complicated schemes and seemingly endless free time, but I'm drawn to him like a moth to flame.

A Place of My Own is one of his early works, before his focus turned to food and politics. As a writer and editor, he wasn't especially versed in wielding tools, and therefore decided to document his experience building a "writing house" on his property in northwestern Connecticut (he started the house because he needed a place where he could think and write after his son was born). He chronicles the process, from site selection, to working with an architect, to building the foundation, framing, and finishing the building. Each chapter, built around part of the building process, expounds not just on his experience, but also on the larger experience with, let's say, windows (talking about how windows have been used throughout the history of architecture).

I was completely captivated by the early, dreaming chapters of the book, in which Pollan is obsessive about choosing a space and conceiving of the building. As I was listening, I even conceived of my own "writing house" (the situating of which would be much simpler because there's only one space in which it would fit-- the former chicken coop area), and listened while I daydreamed of my own daybed and desk and pitched roof. Although Pollan does an excellent job creating characters in his architect and the guy he hires to help him build the structure, the later chapters, when he's actually constructing the building, don't have the same power. Still, it's a fascinating book, especially for someone like me, who could easily have become an architect if my life had taken a different path.

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