I just finished a second reading of this book over the course of a couple of months of 10-20 minute sessions in the evenings.
Despite myself, I have to admit: I like it very much. Even though the author’s concerns and way of seeing the world are very different from mine, it was fun and interesting to follow along with him on a meandering and -dare I say- slightly self indulgent journey through the process of building a little writing cottage in the woods on his property in Connecticut.
The meandering path Pollan takes you on, through various historical texts, architectural trends, and social changes, can be slow going in places but, depending on your point of view, it’s a rather luxurious as well. So much writing is trying to get to some kind of “point” these days, it seems. Most of one’s reading can consist of internet listicles with straight-to-the-point, SEO-optimized headlines. Even very good technical nonfiction can become a bit of a drag at times. It’s nice to spend a few hours walking along a scenic and sometimes semi-circular path with an erudite, friendly, and self effacing (if almost absurdly bourgeois) host like Pollan.
The literary excursions are interspersed with tales of Pollan’s interactions with his architect and a local carpenter that he hires to help him with his project. These scenes are the most enjoyable ones to read, in my view. The things that stand out to me are Pollan’s way of seeing other people with a kindness and tolerance of their foibles that I found endearing.
A final note: if you didn’t already know that architecture as a field is just plain off-the-rails crazy, you will once you’ve finished reading this book. It might be worth reading just for that.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars.