A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder

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Overview

"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 ...

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A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder

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Overview

"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 livesto 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: —>

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Pollan, a freelance writer, columnist (House & Garden) and editor (Harper's) with no knowledge or experience as a carpenter or builder, decided he wanted a place of his own to write inDan elegant "hut" with electricity but without plumbing to be built somewhere behind his house in rural ConnecticutDand he would build it himself. His aim was "to get away from words," and he signed on a sympathetic professional architect from Harvard Square and a not always patient carpenter. His account of the adventure, which in fact is very involved with words, follows the project from its theoretical stage, choosing the exact site (which characteristically included research into classical Roman, Ming dynasty Chinese, 18th-century British and contemporary "scientific" concepts of site selection), drawing the plans (something of a crash course in contemporary architectural theory) andDfinally leaving theory in the dustDdigging the footings, raising the uprights, laying the roof (perhaps the most entertaining section), cutting in windows and threading the electrical wires. Pollan has a self-admitted weakness for overanalysis, but it is a human failing that should appeal to anyone drawn to his book in the first place. Thoreau gets mentioned a lot, as do Jefferson and Frank Lloyd Wright, but as the project moves toward completionDmore expensively, of course, than he ever expectedDPollan comes to appreciate some very nontheoretical distinctions, such as the difference between windows that swing inward and ones that swing outward. The result is a very special armchair adventure. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Wanting to have a place of his own where he could think and write, Pollan decided to erect a small structure in the woods behind his house. Fancying himself a modern-day Thoreau, he wanted to build his "dream hut" with his own hands, even though he had no carpentry skills or experience. We learn very little about how to build a small structure; the majority of this book is devoted to Pollan's pretentious musings about a variety of architectural theories and about his interaction with the architect and carpenter who helped him (wasn't this supposed to be a simple structure?). Although it cost Pollan $125 per square foot and took him two and one-half years to build, ultimately it is the reader who works the hardest. Libraries serving those with a strong interest in architecture will want this title; other libraries should skip this book.-Jonathan Hershey, Akron-Summit Cty. P.L., Ohio
Scott Veale
This personal and practical meditation on do-it-yourselfism...is as much about soul-searching as it is about hammering nails. "Sagacity abounds in this book," Verlyn Klinkenborg said. -- Scott Veale, The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An editor at Harper's magazine, Pollan (Second Nature, 1991) spent two and a half years of Saturday afternoons building a "writing house" in the backyard of his northwestern Connecticut home.

"I wanted not only a room of my own," he writes, "but a room of my own making." A "radically unhandy man," he sought the guidance of two "Virgils": architect Charles Myer and handyman/carpenter Joe Benney. Pollan wanted a building custom- suited to his needs as a writer, beginning with the site itself. He found pertinent advice in the works of 18th-century writers such as Pope, Walpole, and Addison, but also made serious study of feng shui, a Chinese art of spiritual landscape. He settled on a site next to a large bolder, overlooking his house and pond. Myer's design, "basically a pair of bookshelves holding up a room," provided for an 8-by-13 hut with computer, fax machine, CD player, printer, and stove all within easy reach of Pollan's writing desk. There was tension from the start between the builder and the architect, with Benney making remarks about architects with their heads "in the clouds, if not someplace worse." As the two lead him through the process, from site location to blueprint and from pouring the footers to framing and setting the roof, Pollan muses on philosophy and architecture, with observations on everyone from Roman architect Vitruvius to Hannah Arendt and Frank Lloyd Wright. When the building is done, he's built "a good place to spend the day . . . between two walls of books in front of a big window overlooking life."

An engrossing, charming enterprise, but after all his poetic waxing for "a place of solitude a few steps off the beaten track," Pollan inexplicably denies himself and the reader a payoff passage that finds him comfortably seated at desk, pen in hand, ready for writing.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385319904
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is the author of the award-winning Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, which received the QPB New Visions prize in 1991. He is editor at large of Harper's Magazine and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. Pollan lives in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut, with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer, and their son, Isaac. His e-mail address is: pollan@aol.com.

Biography

Few writers have done more to revitalize our national conversation about food and eating than Michael Pollan, an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose witty, offbeat nonfiction shines an illuminating spotlight on various aspects of agriculture, the food chain, and man's place in the natural world.

Pollan's first book, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (1991), was selected by the American Horticultural Society as one of the 75 best books ever written about gardening. But it was Botany of Desire, published a full decade later, that put him on the map. A fascinating look at the interconnected evolution of plants and people, Botany was one of the surprise bestsellers of 2001. Five years later, Pollan produced The Omnivore's Dilemma, a delightful, compulsively readable "ecology of eating" that was named one the ten best books of the year by The New York Times and Washington Post.

A professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, Pollan is a former executive editor for Harper's and a contributing writer for The New York Times, where he continues to examine the fascinating intersections between science and culture.

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    1. Hometown:
      San Francisco Bay Area, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 6, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Long Island, New York
    1. Education:
      Bennington College, Oxford University, and Columbia University
    2. Website:

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