Blogger Interview 10: Maria Popova (Brain Pickings)

  • This Summer we present a series of short interviews here on The Pop-Up City. We invited a number of our favorite bloggers to answer six questions not only about their passion for blogging, but also their city, work experience and inspiration. The result is a collection of stories on blogs and the people behind them. Number 10 in this series is a story on Brain Pickings, the brain child of Brooklyn-based cultural curator Maria Popova. She describes her blog as “a discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are”.

    When and why did you start blogging?
    “Depends on how we define ‘blogging’. Content-wise, Brain Pickings — the idea, the approach, the editorial vision — started in 2005 as a tiny text-only newsletter going out to 8 people. As they began forwarding it to friends, I thought there was a larger intellectual market for it and decided it was time to take it online, so I taught myself code and built a simple HTML page that I updated manually every Friday.

    Platform-wise, it started in 2007, when I moved the content to WordPress. All throughout, the reason I started is the same reason I still keep going — my belief that creativity is combinatorial, that we create by combining and recombining existing pieces of knowledge and insight and information that we gather over the course of our lives, and that our capacity for creativity hinges on the breadth, diversity and richness of that mental pool of resources. Brain Pickings is, and has always been, about enriching that pool with diverse, cross-disciplinary building blocks for creativity.”

    How would you label yourself?
    “I’ve been called an ‘interestingness curator’ and have, somewhat reluctantly, appropriated that term, for lack of a better, less fluffy descriptor of what I do. But, in truth, I’m merely a curious mind at large — everything else is a byproduct of my own curiosity.”

    What does your typical day look like?
    “Here is a play-by-play breakdown, if you can stomach it.”

    Which spot(s) would you recommend to a first-time visitor of your city?
    Well, given I’ve just recently moved to New York, it’s hardly ‘my city’ yet — though I’m actively working on it. But for a sure bet, the High Line park won’t disappoint — an oasis of peace and greenery amidst the hustle-and-bustle of otherwise chaotic Chelsea, and a fantastic feat of urban design, built with remarkable attention to even the tiniest detail.

    What is your top 3 of favorite online sources of inspiration?
    “That’s tough, because my media diet is extremely omnivorous and eclectic. I go from reading a science journal to browsing a design portfolio to catching up with MIT’s latest. This being said, I love Open Culture — Dan Colman, who heads Stanford’s Continued Education program, curates some of the web’s best free resources, from classic films to cutting-edge animation to fascinating lectures from leading universities and then some. As a data viz geek, I quite enjoy Information Aesthetics. And my studiomate Tina runs the fantastic design-and-so-much-more blog Swiss Miss, a treasure trove of short-form inspiration for the visually inclined.”

    What shoes do you wear?
    “I love Simple Shoes, a small company started by a bunch of adidas expats who decided the shoe business was completely unsustainable and wasteful. So they started making shoes — beautifully designed, wildly comfortable shoes — from sustainably sourced, fair-trade, often upcycled materials. (I have one pair with soles made of recycled car tires, on which you can still see the tire grooves.) They even have a line of biodegradable shoes, but you’d never know it by looking at them — far from hippie-ish, they’re as elegant and spunky as they come.

    This season, though, I’m practically living in my brand new TOMS wedges. (Though I do hope the child in need who benefited from the buy-one-give-one model got flats…)”