A room of one's own: is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words over until they'd assumed a habitable shape?
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 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 two own unhandy hands.
Invoking the titans of architecture, literature and philosophy, from Vitrivius 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.
A Place of My Own recounts his two-and-a-half-year journey of discovery in an absorbing narrative that deftly weaves the day-to-day work of design and building--from siting to blueprint, from the pouring of foundations to finish carpentry--with reflections on everything form the power of place to shape our lives to the question of what constitutes "real work" in a technological society.
A book about craft that is itself beautifully crafted, linking the world of the body and material things with the realm of mind, heart, and spirit, A Place of My Own has received extraordinary praise.
Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.
Each time I go on an extended vacation where I have lots of time to read, it seems there's one stand-out book from the 3-4 that I consume...one book that potentially changes my life, or at least my understanding of what I want life to be.
This book, unquestionably was the one standout from my current hiatus from real life. I can't even begin to say why. It seems like a book about building a place to work would be a touch boring, but Pollan had me hooked from the first page forward...some times I literally couldn't put it down.
In the book he talks about being someone who loves writing, not because of the transfer of information, but because a good read envelops him and is like warm soothing bathwater...Pollan truly is this purveyer of bathwater, in the best and most comforting sense of the word.
But don't get me wrong...this is not a book to consume and then send down the drain when it's all used up. It's one I will revisit many times over because it's honest, inspiring, and a true call, in so many ways, to leave the fast paced, multimedia driven world and to return to a place where we can contribute something solid to the world around us...a place of our own starts as an idea, and he has truly sparked this idea in me with the first read of this amazing work.
“Unlike any other form of thought, daydreaming is its own reward.” ― Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder
It took me a bit longer to come back and review this.
I adore Michael Pollan. Sometimes he comes across as a bit too foodie-East Coast-hipster, but his writing and perspectives keep pulling me back. His writing all seems to contain the same germ or basic theme. Whether he is writing about food, gardening, cooking, or building a house/writing room, Pollan gravitates towards simplicity and sustainability. It is like having a quirky, Jewish Zen-master show you how to build a house or cook a meal.
Pollan is the Jenna Jameson of hipster porn. I WANT to build my own cabin on family land in Idaho. I want to buy all my food in local, Saturday neighborhood markets. I want to tramp around the woods looking for mushrooms and figure out a way to feed my family in a sustainable and healthy way EVERYDAY. But most days reality just sits on me and I grab some canned crap from Walmart, maybe get my veggies from Sprouts and Fresh and Easy (or as my wife calls it Cheap and Sleazy) and go back to my suburban tract home. Pollen gives me room to fantasize about what part of my brain wants to, but isn't totally able to do -- escape, simplify, and double down on the urban, lumbersexual hipster hiding inside of me. I can't build a small outdoor cabin in my backyard, but I can fantasize about it for a couple hours while I read Pollan in the dark. And maybe, one day, I can pick up that hammer, eat that shroom, and start BANGIN'.
I like Michael Pollan. I think he's a wonderful writer, and every so often I am amazed at a sentence he writes. Unfortunately, this book stretches my tolerance for self-indulgence beyond its limits. Seriously, the only thing more more unbearable than being the kind of person who needs a "writing cabin" is being the kind of person who writes a book about needing, and building, that writing cabin.
My father-in-law is a prolific reader and doesn't seem to mind the length or breadth of any subject. So when he told me he found this book to be a bit wordy, I knew I was in for a bit of a marathon when I picked it up. As much as I have enjoyed Pollan's other books ( Omnivore's Dilemmna and Botany of Desire), I did find this one to be a bit winded and in need of a good editor to cut out about 60 pages. Perhaps if I had approached the book as a condensed history of architecture, I wouldn't have been as surprised by the dryness of the content.
That all being said, I did find a quote by Ruskin that resonated with me.
No good work what ever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.
My goal each time I sit down to sew a quilt is perfection, as taught to me by my mother. Any error along the way, lends itself to sometimes major flaws at the end (as I have experienced oft times myself). But what I am often drawn to in quilts of ole, are the slight flaws; the evidence that a human hand created that piece of art. So while I still strive for perfection each time I sit down to sew, I am better at embracing my imperfections knowing that I am actually trying to create a piece of art; evidence of an imperfect human trying to create something beautiful.
The version I listened to has a different title (A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Dreams). Anyway, I admit I expected this book to focus more on the impulse behind building a place of retreat ("dreams"), rather than a step by step guide (or so it seemed) to building the shed ("architecture"). The time, energy, and expense spent on this retreat . . . er . . . this folly were amazing to me. Surely castles have been built with less fanfare and drama. I was troubled by Pollan's attitude towards the workers (Joe the carpenter, Charlie the architect, Fred the electrician), which came across to me as condescending, especially the sneering descriptions of their clothes, hair, weight, mannerisms. Maybe some readers find these descriptions funny, but I found them trite and even cruel. And his wife seems a mere shadowy, personality-free character, drifting about the main house pregnant and barefoot. Pollan's thoughts and research on architecture are interesting, but overall the book was just a bit too self indulgent for me.
If more architecture textbooks were as thoughtful, thorough, and accessible as Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own, I would have kept studying architecture. While the premise of the book is simple—a writer making his own writing hut—Pollan brings the story to life by connecting our everyday experiences of shelter to deeper musings on architecture, nature, literature, culture, and the history of building. It was a witty, insightful read that got me daydreaming.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has dreamt of having a room their own, anyone who longs to create and build with their own hands, anyone who seeks solitude, anyone who likes to think about how we inhabit the world, and anyone who writes.
2,5/5. Not really what I was looking for. if you're looking for a book about architecture, home made building and lot of description about the process, from choosing the right place and why based on what and quoting some people here and there, a lot of Thoreau quotes, well you might like it, it isn't a bad book. But for me the long description of analysis and factual process was way too long and boring for me. I was hoping for me thoughts about why he do it, the thinking behind that but on a psychological or philosophical perspective, not just factual and architectural aspects. It depends on what you're looking for!
There's a great review for this book here on goodreads wherein the reviewer makes the point that the only thing more unbearable than a guy who feels he needs to build himself a writing cabin is a guy who writes an entire book about needing and building a writing cabin. Not much more to say. That pretty much covers it. 2 stars.
Ostensibly, about the design and construction of a 13' x 8' "writing house" in the authors back yard, this books deals more with the author's need to find a balance in his life between a career stringing sentences together to producing a more tangible object. In this, the author's second book, he comes to terms with this neglected aspect of his life, and we come along for the ride. The book was actually very easy to read and had many entertaining moments, while still covering some complex topics.
Non-fiction account of a man building a small shed in his backyard. That’s the book.
I’ll say it was more interesting than you might expect, as the author explores each new step of building (foundations, framing, etc) with cleverness and contagious curiosity.
But overall the account was held back by often eye-roll inducing pretentiousness: “with every hammer stroke I commune with the trees who gave their lives for this floorboard” bla bla bla. Ok it’s a SHED here buddy
The problem with Michael Pollan’s books is that they are very, very hard to put down. Even on the topic of architecture, which is not one I ostensibly care about, he sucked me in from page 1. This is a wonderful, engaging, interesting book, addressing a slew of topics from man’s relationship to nature (Pollan’s recurring theme) to the timeless, bitter enmity between architects and carpenters (same applies to designers and engineers in any discipline, I think).
My favorite passages were his reiterations on the importance of presence and experience over information and representation. One of the reasons he wanted to build the building himself was to explore experiences outside his identity as a “symbolic analyst” (aka writer and magazine editor). He comes back to this frequently, in his contemplations on the significance (maybe the wrong word) of space itself, emphasizing that places can be special, that they “are not mute,” regardless of history or culture. It actually reminded me of Annie Dillard’s description of an artist trying to make a model of a pine tree, and how the infinitude of detail, both present and experienced, could never be captured in representation.
It’s also fun because Pollan is fun. Reading about his nerdly love of words, and his constant attempts to couch every single little aspect of the process in a literary, theoretical, or at least considered frame is both fascinating and hilarious, especially in a book where he sets out to escape such tendencies. There’s also some irony in knowing that he eventually moved away from the house to Berkeley. Maybe his family still owns the property? I don’t know.
In A Place of My Own, Michael Pollan builds a writing hut. Technically, he hires an architect to design a writing hut and then he hires a carpenter to help him build it. Over the course of the book, he talks about architecture, postmodernism, the philosophical meaning of windows, and more. Although I enjoy Pollan's comprehensive digressions as much as anyone, I'll admit that there were times when even I thought "you stop thinking about work and get back to building your hut." For those readers who do find sections of this memoir too dry, do skip ahead to the final section, which provides a history of the study.
I listened to an audio production of A Place of My Own, which was read by the author. I recommend it.
Update 2022. Upon re-reading this work, I was most impressed by how much influence literary theory has had on architecture. I also found the tension between the architect, the carpenter, and the client interesting. The architect designed the house. The carpenter built it. The owner lives in it. Whose house is it?
i think michael pollan is an exceptionally good writer... i hung in there with him writing about building his little hut for 221/301 pages. it's just that he got so philosophical about this little place. he put so much deep spiritual meaning into his hut and the building of it that i just did not understand. i guess i have always thought that things are things. i am not an architect and i haven't built anything more than a table in shop class in high school, and maybe that's what it takes to understand his attachment to this particular thing. i kept on thinking about his newborn baby growing up while he was out there bonding with his hut. i love my home, but i just didnt get this kind of love!
Despite Pollan being typically overly self-deprecating, the construction/design portion of this book is interesting and worthwhile. However, the discussion of architectural movements was too theoretical for me. Seeing as Pollan's writing house was made by hand, using local materials and aided by local artisans (and thus a rather traditional construction process), it's an odd choice to spend the bulk of the book analyzing modernism v. post-modernism. Pollan has a tendency to spend much of his work talking about his topics on a very abstract level, which is interesting up to a point, but leaves you with little to take away. Wish this book had been more about the history/techniques of hand-building and less about the architectural theory of unrelated movements.
"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." -- Dorothy Parker
A story about how a husband/father left his wife to drown in baby responsibilities while he pursued an expensive, pretentious, wildly-inflated hobby project. Oh goody, more pompous male entitlement -- just what the world needs more of. I still marvel that he had the temerity to appropriate Woolf's title for this text.
Пътят към изпълнението на една идея - да имаш място за себе си и мечтите си. "Да мечтаеш означава да култивираш себе си отвъд определенията на другите”, пише Полън. Започва без предвратилени умения или опит, защото намира в това някакъв вид връщане към основите - да гради с ръцете си. В сърцето си текста е всъщност разказ за универсалния процес по проектиране и конструиране – как идеите се превръщат в дизайн и чертежи, които след това се превръщат в дърво, камък и стъкло, за да заемат накрая своето място в осезаемият свят. В A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams Полън подхожда както бих подходила аз (особено като човек, на който околната среда му влияе мега много) - търси дълбочина и смисъл първо с много теория и опознаване на различни гледни точки от различни сфери, за да си създаде своя визия и подход. Започвайки с Витрувий, минавайки през идеите на Алберти, Ложие, Франк Лойд Райт и Льо Корбюзие за архитектурата, та стигайки до съвсем философски разсъждения и идеи за свободата, природата и създаването. Прави паралели с текстове като A Room of One's Own на Улф, Уолдън на Торо, Poetics of Space на Башлар, изследва източните практики за това как трябва да бъде подреден един дом или в каква посока да гледат прозорците му. Хареса ми ума на Полън. Това беше първата ми негова книга, мисля да продължавам да го чета. Конкретно тази беше като някаква форма на медитация. А четенето - нарочно много бавно.
En författare i New England dagdrömmer om en liten Thoreaustuga i en avlägsen skogsslänt i en ände av trädgården. Där ska finnas ett skrivbord, en stol, en dagbädd, en liten kamin och det ska vara fulla bokhyllor längs väggarna...
"... a fairly detailed little daydream about the place, in which I followed myself walking down the garden path on a dewy summer morning with a cup of coffee in my hand"
En soulmate, alltså. Hur kunde den då bli liggandes i nästan ett år. Jo, jag tror att texten fått fel form. En kortare essä, ett reportage eller t.o.m. en YouTube-tutorial med ritningar hade varit att önska. Nu blir det bara för mycket med 50 sidor vardera om grunden, taket, fönstren etc. och samtliga begrepp lingvistiskt och filosofiskt dekonstruerade.
Älskar förstås att Thoreau är så närvarande, nästan på varje sida. Pollan diskuterar även visionerna bakom Fallingwater - dit jag också en gång pilgrimsvandrat i Pennsylvania. Soulmate, sade jag ju.
Där jag befinner mig nu, en kaffekopp-i-handen-trädgårdspromenad bort från mitt eget arty guteshed var det lätt att ta itu med denna littslatt.
I accidentally highlighted basically every sentence in this book. I found it to be a beautiful story about the struggles and rewards of building something tangible for yourself, with a lot of thoughtful reflections on what it means to build. Pollan talks about the linguistic/semiotic/postmodern turn in architecture, about the humanism of Christopher Alexander, about the purpose and the status of the architectural profession, (and the fraught relationship between the people who build and the people who draw), about how to make a watertight window. It's incredibly self-indulgent, yes -- I mean it's literally a book about a writer building a writing hut for himself which was itself written in said writing hut! -- but after a year of being in the architecture ivory tower this was 100% what I was looking for.
Also the anecdote about Peter Eisenman making up a rumor himself that his building had induced nausea in its visitors was gold lmao.
I'm always a fan of Michael Pollan's prose, and this early Pollan book is on a topic that has interested me for awhile, without my being able to name it or fit it into an academic discipline. I've been calling it "the experience of place," but I didn't know who else thought or wrote about such things, if anyone. Turns out Michael Pollan does, among others. The book is about his experience designing and building a small building in which to write. He deals with the relationship between architecture and landscape and, as always, between humans and nature. I appreciated his giving me a vocabulary and some references for further exploring how our perceptions of the spaces we inhabit affect us, the subject that haunts much of my thinking these days. For anyone who has ever been frustrated and depressed by the clear-cut, strip-mall, cookie-cutter-subdivision development patterns that have come to dominate the U.S. landscape since World War II, this book is a welcome antidote.
To be sure, you have to put aside creeping irritation at the privilege documented here, as Pollan describes several years spent with an architect and a carpenter at his disposal, on his expansive personal property, building his own, just-the-way-he-wants-it, perfect-in-every-way, $125,000+ shack. But he does so as thoughtfully as anyone can, dispensing knowledge and worthy meditations along the way.
I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Pollan himself. Although it allowed me to walk through my own local landscape while listening, on the merits I probably would have preferred reading the print version. When he gets into some of the more technical details, I needed to be able to pause to envision them, or go back a bit to re-read. My listening device didn't allow for that. What's more, were I his director, I'd have urged Pollan to slow way down. He reads at a bright clip that doesn't match his involved prose. I can hear the mentors who gave me advice on lecturing saying, "Slow DOWN. WAY past what feels natural." Pollan would have been well-advised to do the same. (Less his fault, but my own nit-pickiness: I also would have preferred a voice with a bit more contemplative gravitas, to better match the thoughtfulness of the prose themselves. But if feels unfair to fault a person's voice.)
The architecture of daydreams is the subtitle, and I found myself daydreaming of the authors writing house described as two bookshelves holding up a roof. I daydreamed about learning to work with wood, although I have little interest in that, but mostly about space and the way we inhabit it. The incarnation of space. How our homes (usually) and offices make up the way we move and then respond to the way we move. The absurdity of modern architecture’s decent into art, as opposed to historical architecture’s accent into art. The ancient art of architecture is making a shelter beautiful, so that the protection of the body against the elements is a protection and edification of the spirit as well. Architecture should be judged by the usefulness of the interiors coupled with the feeling one gets when inside. Pollan quietly shames many of the premier modern architects, exposing their follys of pristine and newfangled materials and shapes that shelter little and quickly decay visually although the produced plastics and metals may live on for millennium. He also exposes his own Folly, detailing his slightly obsessive creation, by his own hand of a stunningly planned, exquisitely expensive hut. He resists naming it a folly, but sweet folly it is, however useful a desk it turns out to be. Such a beautifully written book, researched with thoughtful discernment and obviously lived. It makes me want to visit Falling Water, House VI, the Writing House and many, many old barns and saltboxes in New England. It reminds me of my own esthetic which many years ago I described as “Primitive Modern”, with clean lines and utility paramount but constructed with the earthy materials of wood and stone, an occasional polish of metal adornment, no lucite or chrome to bounce the unflattering brightness of glare. Each material inviting to the hand as well as the eye, the years wearing but as a good story wears, not to decay but to growth. The characters so thoughtfully depicted as to make we want to meet them and work with them, Charlie and Joe and Jim, as well as Michael himself, fantastically masculine in the most ordinary and yet uplifting of ways. Their small tests of hierarchy and rank and sovereignty an interesting insight into the inner life of modern men.
The ultimate diy might just be the construction of a shelter, which Michael Pollan writes compellingly about in A Place of My Own. Being somewhat more accustomed to the tools of pen and The Chicago Manual of Style than to a hammer and nail at the start of his project, he was somewhat apprehensive about his sudden compulsion to build himself a treehouse-library in the woods up the hill from his home. We can see what the studio did for his work: The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, two of his more well-known works, were written after its construction. Pollan treats his subjects with extreme scrutiny, surprising you with the depth of his research; in choosing the site for his building he referenced everyone from Vitruvius in the first century B.C. to the Romantic painters of the 18th century. Most interesting was how his examination of construction carried over universally to all crafts; especially relevant seemed the bit where he described how a wordsmith like himself could be overcome by a desire to make a structure with his own hands to cure the ‘sense of living at too great a remove from the things of this world…’. He soon realizes that this notion is a bit romantic, especially as he doesn’t quite know how to hold a hammer, but like most of us who have made something he perseveres and the resulting studio (and book) is well worth the effort.
Michael Pollan'ı bu kitabıyla daha da sevdim. Mimari ve kendi kulübe inşaatı deneyimi üzerinden insan/ doğa / kültür kesişimlerini öykü tadında anlatıyor. Bana çok yakın olan mimari / tasarım konularının ayrıntılı tartışılmasından çok zevk aldım. Öyle ki; mimarlık eğitimlerinin başında olan ya da mimarlarla birlikte çalışacaklar için zorunlu tutulabilir. Ama bir kulübe yapmak isteyenler uzak dursun. Bu alanlara ilgi duymayanların nasıl algılayacağından emin değilim, merak ediyorum. Herkesi ilgilendiren "yemek" konusundaki diğer kitapları, ilgi mazeretini de ortadan kaldırır. Okuyalım, okutalım. Charlie "bu tamamen romantik bir fikir," dedi; "ama aynı zamanda muhteşem. Bir barınağın dört köşesini oluşturmak için kendilerini bize teslim eden dört tane ağacın resmi, insanla doğa arasında mükemmel bir evliliğin hayali." Sayfa 113.
I am a little embarrassed to admit I read this book. Now, it did take me a couple of YEARS to do it, but still...I just kept thinking it would get better or there would be a takehome message for the ages found at the end. No and no. And I felt slimy every time I put it down. Every paragraph oozes pretentiousness from this self-absorbed schmuck. I imagine a conversation he had with himself. "I have run out of things to say but I have bills to pay so what can I do? Well, I am thinking about building a shed. So...why don't I write about that? I can include lots of esoteric details about muntins and plate glass and how cool I am to be doing this and the little people who will help me. Perfect! My devoted followers will lap this up!" As for me, this one is going in the trashcan and I won't read another of his offerings.
This is a very introspective, philosophical book about building a small, one-room structure. I guess I enjoy reading about construction and woodworking, because despite the gory details, the book held my interest throughout. For me, the highlight of the book is the contrast in approach between the architect and the contractor/carpenter. Despite pleas to "keep the construction simple", the architect deliberately designed something that is different, and sometimes these differences led to difficulties in practical construction. "The devil is in the details" is the architect's mantra, and that certainly is the case, in this story. Very well written, as are all of Michael Pollan's books.
Suffered through 60 pages of this bit of gassy self-indulgence before abandoning ship. If I had a hammer, I'd nail this one shut. Pollan needs focus and an editor. His unload-the-contents-of-your-brain approach doesn't work for me. I easily read 50 pages of a novel after closing this one, which tells me I should have jumped sooner. And, there are ample photos of Pollan's writing house on the web for the curious.
So boring. I think I was hoping for a funny, self-deprecating tale in the spirit of Bill Bryson or Sarah Vowel. Instead it was like being trapped in a really boring conversation with one of my dads friends ho loooooooved quoting obscure philosophers. Could have been a good (short!) article, but not a whole book. I like his food writing but would advise others to stay away from this.
Michael Pollan’s second book is chronicled in this, his search for a writing refuge. What’s it about? Getting up from the desk and doing physical labor, architecture, history, design, writing, family, woodworking, honesty, weather, accomplishments, philosophy, craft and writing-the-second-book. For a start.
This is a leisurely read, a slow one, to be savored. Extensive chapter endnotes and a bibliography of the many books mentioned are part of the backmatter, and much appreciated for those of us who want to explore more.
The story begins with the pending arrival of a first baby: the recently remodeled home Judith and Michael Pollan share will be too small to accommodate his writing area, her art studio and a nursery. They had a good experience with the architect (even though the delays and finances of remodeling are topics he ‘still won’t discuss’) so he’s engaged to draw up plans for a writing shed.
He recalls the discussions in detail, the back-and-forth of getting to a design that works on the site, that works in a practical way, and that pleases aesthetically. The architect’s character is drawn so well that I feel I know him. The same happens later with the builder, and the battles between those two are constant.
This might seem like a straightforward story – idea, design, build it – but in the telling of the tale, Pollan takes us on a journey through history. He’s a self-described researcher (I could relate to this immediately), someone who turns to books or articles when presented with a question. So he reads in that meandering way one does, getting lost in research and discovery, one volume mentioning another thinker or designer, then that person’s work must be investigated. Pollan shares all of this. An example of how he thinks:
Daydreaming does not enjoy tremendous prestige in our culture, which tends to regard it as unproductive thought. Writers perhaps appreciate its importance better than most, since a fair amount of what they call work consists of little more than daydreaming edited. Yet anyone who reads for pleasure should prize it too, for what is reading a good book but a daydream at second hand? Unlike any other form of thought, daydreaming is its own reward. For regardless of the result (if any), the very process of daydreaming is pleasurable. And, I would guess, is probably a psychological necessity. For isn’t it in our daydreams that we acquire some sense of what we are about?
If I found the first part of the book slow-going, it was because I didn’t accept his rhythm. Once I figured it out and settled in, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. It’s not an action story, and if that’s what you want, then stay away from this book.
On the other hand, if you like to wonder, ponder and imagine, then this is for you.