If you didn’t catch Pico Iyer and Maria Popova last Thursday night at Campbell Hall, you missed a mesmerizing intellectual performance. Two precise minds, Popova, the dynamo behind the enormously popular website Brain Pickings, and Pico Iyer, best-selling author and frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harper’s, and other major publications, showed an enthusiastic audience the beauty of meaningful conversation.
Popova talked about her childhood in Bulgaria, at that time an oppressive, poor, communist country, and what happened when communism collapsed. Asked how she managed Brain Pickings, Popova, who rarely looked at the audience — admitting that she is both shy and introverted — spoke of following her curiosity, passion, and wonder wherever it led, and from there to the next poem, essay, theory, novel, or painting.
In an age of overwhelmingly shallow information, breaking news, and social media posts, Iyer and Popova injected a dose of old-fashioned humanism that makes one pause, think, contemplate, and imagine. What troubles her about contemporary society, Popova said, is our addiction to prioritizing reaction over reflection. If you have ever been captivated by Thoreau or Emerson, Rachel Carson or Sontag — go ahead, add your favorites — this conversation would have tasted as satisfying to you as rare champagne. I’d even bet you left Campbell Hall altered.