May 2018: Second Nature by Michael Pollan
For years I have enjoyed reading Michael Pollan's books on the food industry. He's completely revolutionized the way I eat and think about food. I had heard that his first book was about gardening - something people usually mentioned with an off-handed shrug, so I never really thought much about it. Until that book landed in my lap this past holiday season. A gift from my mother who is happiest either in the garden or a labyrinthine bookshop. I take her book suggestions very seriously because they are always excellent.
After reading this book I cannot untangle Pollan's name from the great nature writers of past generations. In fact, I think he is much better. As he did with food, his writing has reshaped the way I think about wilderness and my relationship to it. BUT, unlike Muir, Thoreau, and all the rest, he doesn't consider our relationship with Nature from the perspective of man immersed in the wilderness; he does it from the standpoint of a humble gardener - which I found fascinating, patently more revealing, and representative of the nuances that riddle contemporary wilderness and development issues.
A cautionary note: This is his first book, and at times while reading you will be able to tell. He will make an excellent point and then continue to ramble on. He can also verge on the over-cerebral with excessive quoting of Walt Whitman and Greek thinkers. But stick with it. One of the reasons I love his writing is that he weaves a complex tapestry throughout, each chapter all the richer because of the one that preceded it.
I will also add that this book was a breath of fresh air in that it provided a different perspective and set of observations not common to nature writing. I love Thoreau, Muir, and Whitman, but I've grown weary of their most popular quotes on t-shirts being the extent of popular outdoor discussion lately. I was also surprised to come across what felt like such a fresh perspective from a book published in 1991.
Lastly, only Michael Pollan could use topics such as the culture and politics of old roses, "compost and its moral imperatives", a formal comparison of modern seed catalogs, and the history of the American lawn to comment with humor, eloquence, and intelligence on one of the most pressing topics of our time: humans and their relationship to nature. This is hardly just a book about gardening, as it is so often billed.
I'd offer to let you borrow mine, but it's so dog-eared, water-rumpled, and beat up that I couldn't bare to part with it...
I'd love to hear your comments and remarks about this! Feel free to loop me into your discussion using #greenleafblueberrybooks