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A PLACE OF MY OWN by Michael Pollan


The Education of an Amateur Builder

by Michael Pollan

Pub Date: March 17th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-41532-7
Publisher: Random House

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. (illustrations)