Afterthoughts: Figuring by Maria Popova

Settling your debts, daily

Tuning our personal narratives

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Figuring reads very much like an exploration of the human condition from the perspective of someone who has processed an innumerable number of ideas, attitudes, and views. If you know anything about the author, Maria Popova, the book honestly reads like a personal journal imagined in this sort of pseudo-fiction form.

On my initial read-through, I found the text quite difficult to parse. I suspect it may have to do with the fact that the e-book version is not optimised in the way that Popova would have wanted in terms of the spacing between paragraphs. There didn’t seem to be any semblance of structure in how or why the pages were laid out: some were sparse with only a couple of lines from a poem and some were traditional full pages of text but it mostly was the odd paragraph here and there with irregular spacing between them. On one hand, if Popova intended this to recreate in a small way the chaos inherent in this exploration, this figuring out about the world, that spans the book, then great. I definitely felt that, but it also made the story and ideas difficult to piece together.

The visual heterogeneity was paired with a relative homogeneity in the writing style. There were no clear markers of speech versus description in the prose, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether what I was reading was the narrators’ (or some others) thoughts or whether it was spoken in conversation with people. Whether or not this tension was intentional, it was something that played on my mind throughout, doubling the difficulty of piecing together the grander narrative.

What I could piece together, I enjoyed. It read like the personal dialogue Popova has with herself as she writes on her blog before hitting publish. Thoughtful, sensitive, and yet able to remain wholly critical in her examination of the ideas that shape our world.


Figuring left me confused. It is written in this same inimitable voice we all love from Brainpickings, and for that reason, I still am glad I read it.

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