There are morning reads and there are other reads. Other reads can be read in the morning, but morning reads don’t want to be experienced except in the early hours of the day when your mind is freshest, most philosophical and most optimistic. Preferably also you have a cup of coffee in hand and a block of uninterrupted time set aside.
“A Place of My Own” by Michael Pollan has been my morning read for the last couple months. I take in only a handful of pages at each sitting — this is all you need of a morning read. The book is the story of Pollan building himself a writing house in the woods of his large property in Connecticut. But also, says Pollan, it “looks at the art of architecture and the work of building through the lens of nature.” It’s no simple telling of the steps of drawing blueprints to framing to roofing. “A Place of My Own” ponders why we build shelters, why we use cedar for shingles, why architects and carpenters don’t love each other, why Pollan feels the need to get his own hands dirty instead of just hiring the work out. There are digressions about the challenges of designing inswinging windows, the limits of modernist architectural styles, and how trim around a window is like a transitional phrase in a narrative. The book is a building of words as much as words about a building.
I tried to read “A Place of My Own” in the evening once and it went nowhere. My late-day mind kept skimming over sentences that included words like declension, belvedere, and fenestration. And when Pollan began to talk of “Modernism’s program of psychological hygiene” I was done for. These are things I might care to read about in the morning, only in the morning. I do my learning and my philosophizing best in the morning — I do my writing in the morning. The rest of the day I do my doing.
Yet thank God for morning reads because when you need deliberately chosen words, attempts at creative narrative structure, and deep thinking, you need them. You need a Pollan to have written “A Place of My Own.”by