Figuring is a lovingly crafted work of heart-swelling, sublime splendour, written by Maria Popova – beloved curator of the website The Marginalian (formerly Brainpickings). Transcending categorisation, its themes include science, philosophy, art, nature, feminism, poetry, love (often queer) and friendship, and it follows several figures from history. Beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, successive chapters then allow us to spend time with Maria Mitchell, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Hosman, Emily Dickinson and Rachel Carson. We glimpse the interior worlds that inform their outer lives and vice versa, and Popova tells their lesser-known stories in a way that is immersive and insightful.
Whilst celebrating the genius and determination of these select few notable human beings, Figuring is simultaneously universal in its scope, for a deep perspective. Their lives and legacies often intermingle and overlap with one another - as well as with a kaleidoscopic peripheral cast, which includes Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan and Henry David Thoreau. For at its heart, this is a book about connection, and all that wor(l)d bestows. Popova reminds us that the stream of time gleams with synchronicity, like stars in the Milky Way, and that life (and love) is elemental yet infinite. Looking back, we see that ideas are seeds, and sometimes travel far before they arrive in a fertile cultural soil, where they can grow to fruition. Even those “...who ignite the profoundest revolutions are themselves blind to their own spark.”
Figuring is not a new release – it was published in the UK in 2019, and I eagerly ordered a hardback copy. But I am very much a mood reader and wanted to pick this up at the right moment, knowing it would be special. I finally savoured it over a couple of months, during the reflective, cosily-lit days of winter. Books this outstanding don't come along very often. It is heart and soul and my words can't capture its essence. I was moved to tears on several occasions. Some were sad moments, but it was more often in response to the sheer beauty illuminated by the lyrical writing that I simply overflowed with feeling. When I finally reached the end, I closed the book's cover and sat with its weight, in awed, grateful silence.