After a Hard Day’s Writing, Michael Pollan Likes to Unwind With a Novel

“Getting to read fiction purely for pleasure is the carrot I hold out for myself as a reward for the work of reporting and writing,” says the author, whose new book is “This Is Your Mind on Plants.”

What books are on your night stand?

It’s a hodgepodge of titles, to be read, or skimmed, for a variety of purposes. For work, I’m reading Carl Hart’s “Drug Use for Grown Ups,” a galley of the neuroscientist Anil Seth’s “Being You,” Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and Alice Waters’s new manifesto, “We Are What We Eat.” For pleasure, I’m reading Mark Edmundson’s book on Whitman and democracy, “Song of Ourselves”; Orville Schell’s first novel, “My Old Home”; “The Committed,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and, partly for the upper body workout, Louis Menand’s “The Free World.”

What’s the last great book you read?

“The Overstory,” by Richard Powers, is a book that, the further I am from reading it, looms larger and larger in my imagination. My über-subject as a writer is our species’ engagement with nature, and in “The Overstory” Powers has done something no one else has done (outside of science fiction): Displace the human in favor of other species in a realistic narrative about people and the natural world.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

Yes! “Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin. My mother recommended it, and I was astonished by how powerful it is. And by how a prominent Black writer could claim the freedom to write a novel in which race doesn’t figure at all. Could that happen now?

Read the whole interview here: