World Book Night 2014

World Book Night was a blast. I gave out copies of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. (This is my second favorite Pollan novel, preceded only by The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)


The book is sectioned into four topics: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. During the giveaway, we served snacks themed according to the book. Potato salad, apple juice, and caramel apple pie cookies. All that good stuff.

I re-read the passage about potatoes and the epilogue earlier this morning. I wanted to share a quote from the epilogue here:

“Sooner or later your fingers close on that one moist-cold spud that the spade has accidentally sliced clean through, shining wetly white and giving off the most unearthly of earthly aromas. It’s the smell of fresh soil in the spring, but fresh soil somehow distilled or improved upon, as if that wild, primordial scene had been refined and bottled: eau de pomme de terre. You can smell the cold inhuman earth in it, but there’s the cozy kitchen too, for the smell of potatoes is, at least by now, to us, the smell of comfort itself, a smell as blankly welcoming as spud flesh, a whiteness that takes up memories and sentiments as easily as flavors. To smell a raw potato is to stand on the very threshold of the domestic and the wild.”

Pollan’s book could be considered an inspirational tool for the average gardener. (Last year, when I was angry at my corn for shading my squash, this would have been a good book to read. An anecdote for the frustrated or tired.) This book makes me think about our distinctions between wilderness vs. nature and the Apollonian vs. the Dionysian. The way The Botany of Desire speaks in conversation with literature alone is in itself enough to keep me reading and returning to Pollan’s work.


Check out World Book Night if you haven’t before! A number of my friends were givers this year, and I have loved reading the blog entries and social networking updates today about the strange and fulfilling encounters people have had while emptying out their giver’s box.

Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire Writing Prompts

– Michael Pollan’s subtitle for The Botany of Desire is “A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” Write a short piece of fiction or poetry from the perspective of a plant. You may use one of the plants mentioned in Pollan’s novel (apples, tulips, marijuana, or potatoes) or choose your own.

– Pollan spends a large portion of the first chapter discussing the tale of Johnny Appleseed. Using the Johnny Appleseed legend as a model, write a similar story involving either tulips, marijuana, or potatoes.

– The third chapter of the novel begins begins by comparing the Genesis account of the apple’s “forbidden knowledge” with the contemporary forbidden nature of marijuana. Pollan concludes this first section with a method of questioning:

“Why in the world should this be sowhy should evolution yield plants possessing such magic? What makes these so irrestible to us (and to many other creatures), when the cost of using them can be so high? Just what is the knowledge held out by a plant such as cannabisand why is it forbidden?”

Write an essay comparing two forbidden topics, practices, objects, etc. while performing a social critique. (Or take two ordinarily accepted practices and make them forbidden.) The social critique should unfold naturally in your writing. Use Pollan’s questions to help guide the essay.

To those who asked for prompts, I hope these are somewhat profitable. I want to extend my gratitude to all who helped make World Book Night a success in Clarksville. Happy reading and writing, folks!


  1. D. Eaton · April 24, 2014

    “… when the cost of using them can be so high?”

    Get it?! High!?

  2. LAMarcom · April 24, 2014

    Ok… I am intrigued.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Great post.

  3. Marcia Strykowski · April 24, 2014

    I gave out BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA this year. A fun worthwhile program!

  4. thecuriousbum · April 28, 2014

    I enjoy your passion :)

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