“From the moment the rains began to fall, the lands began to be worn away and carried to the sea. It is an endless, inexorable process that has never stopped – the dissolving of the rocks, the leaching-out of their contained minerals, the carrying of the rock fragments and dissolved minerals to the ocean. And over the eons of time, the sea has grown ever more bitter with the salt of the continents.”
– Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
Brain Pickings has been called a ‘discovery engine for interestingness’. Its creator Maria Popova is a celebrator of meaning and works to introduce her subscribers to the minds and inner lives of the authors she loves. One of those beloved authors is Rachel Carson, a love she shares with artist Tania Kovats. Author of The Silent Spring, Carson did more for the environmental movement than any other single person. She died just eighteen months after The Silent Spring was published, but did see her work shift public attention into a movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and ultimately the worldwide ban of the insecticide DDT. Her earlier book The Sea Around Us was recently republished and was the subject of a series of paintings Kovats made for The Freedom Papers.
Carson’s first piece of popular writing was an exploration of the deep, published in the Atlantic. She wrote frequently about the wonders of the sea, but also about the vast unknowns of the deep. It was combination of her vivid style and her frank discussion of the known and unknown that helped inspire trust and popularity. She introduced the public to ecology and spoke about problems with pesticides and climate change long before anyone else. She knew that to motivate change you had to inspire interest and that fact littered poetry would inspire more passion than dry facts alone. Her writing displays that science and poetry are not mutually exclusive and reveals a depth of knowledge across several fields.
Kovats points out that Popova’s writing is also an incredible synthesis of a whole array of voices and ideas. Popova is glad to introduce her readers and subscribers to new authors, but Brain Pickings is primarily her conversation with literature and a record of the scope of her curiosity. She emphasises the serendipity of her discoveries, often made through chance finds in book stores or footnotes in other works. The internet is not engineered for serendipity or star dust, but to discover what you like and keep that in endless supply.
The saturation level of these too helpful algorithms, alongside the rise of outrage culture and shock factor, have decreased the willingness of readers to go on a narrative journey. Popova hopes that people will take time to slow down and consider both the words she writes and the authors she is introducing. Scattered with quotes and illustrations, Brain Pickings is a labour of love that sends you searching along book shelves. Popova and Kovats’ conversation certainly sent me to the bookshop in search of the author that had inspired such impassioned admiration.