Writer, blogger, philosopher and self-described “interestingness hunter-gatherer” Maria Popova explains Brain Pickings, a delightfully-insightful website where she reflects on everything from literature and physics to astronomy and art.
Maria tells Nerdette hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen about her rigorous daily diet of reading, writing, tweeting, and reflecting, as well as her newest guilty pleasure: Playing bridge. “I have to say,” she said, “I have card dreams now.”
Maria on how she finds the material for Brain Pickings
For a long time, I’ve said literature is the original internet. Any book you read, whenever there’s a footnote, a citation, a passing allusion, that’s a hyperlink to another book, another text. And for me now at this point 10 years in — I’ve been doing this for 10 years — I would say the vast majority of what I read, which is what I think about and consequently what I write about, comes from this semi-serendipitous hyperlinking, starting with things that I’m already enjoying and know and love. They lead me further and further out to these new frontiers of disciplines and thinkers that I’m yet to discover.
Maria on exploring her grandmother’s house full of encyclopedias
The most delightful thing in encyclopedias to me is that you pull this book off the shelf, you open on a random page and you learn about pottery in Bolivia. And then next to it you learn about Japanese music of the 16th century. Which is to say you discover things that are wonderful that you were not looking for. And on the internet, you don’t really get to do that. Most of it is search driven, so most of it is finding only what we look for. I think it’s so wonderful to have that opposite experience.
Maria on her most popular posts and why she does what she does
I still write it for me. It’s still kind of my record of my growth and my learning and the things that move me and animate me, so I don’t look at stats … I have more of an anecdotal sense of what resonates most because I get a lot of letters from readers. But some things I think become popular by a combination of their inherent meaning or interestingness.
One example more recently: I had written about this woman, Lise Meitner, who was a physicist a long, long time ago before women could go to university. She discovered nuclear fission and was subsequently excluded from the Nobel Prize for the discovery that she herself had made.
I had done a fairly long piece on this obscure person — very scientific, very historical-biographical — and it really resonated with people. And I think it’s because we’re coming to terms with the systemic exclusion of women from recognition for cultural contributions that we’ve made over the decades and centuries and, perhaps, millennia.
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