Trade Tokens – 1st January 2012

I forgot to note, a few days ago, that Paper Knife is now a year old in its new incarnation. In fact, it’s now a year and four days old, but let’s not quibble about a few days here and there. Posting has been more erratic than I would have liked but I count it as an achievement after a year I’m still here, I’ve managed a posting average of more than once a week, and people are actually reading the blog. So happy new year to you all, and here’s to another year of blogging.

The weekly post gathering up cool links got mislaid rather quickly last year, so in a fit of new-year optimism, let’s start again from scratch with a few things to provoke and entertain

I’ve become a bit of a podcast-junkie over the last year, and one podcast I particularly enjoy is WNYC’s Radiolab ‘where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience’. It seems to be a bit of an acquired taste, to judge by some people’s reactions to it, but I find the podcasts to be invariably interesting and thought-provoking, often leading me into areas where I wouldn’t normally go. The most recent is this one on , in which ‘a strange twist of legal taxonomy causes a dispute over whether X-MEN action figures are toys or dolls and sparks a court case about what it means to be human’.

Via Kuriositas comes this extraordinary group of photos of a remote volcanic crater called Dallol, in the Danakil desert in Ethiopia. It’s difficult to believe that this is an actual landscape on earth rather than an imagined planet elsewhere in the galaxy.

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Weird has been occupying my thoughts a good deal of late as I blog my way through it, making fascinating discoveries but also reacquainting myself with writers I haven’t given much thought to for a while. A particular example of the latter is Algernon Blackwood, whose amazing story, ‘The Willows’, is one of the outstanding stories in the first part of the collection. Quite by coincidence, one of the Guardian’s Winter Reads is a lesser known Blackwood piece. The Glamour of the Snow, introduced byClaire Armistead. Both story and introduction are well worth reading.

And while we are thinking about winter, and even though the house is currently being pounded by a torrential rain storm, perhaps because it is, another set of photos from Kuriositas, on the subject of Winter, featuring an awful lot more snow than we’re seeing here in Folkestone this holiday. I’m particularly taken with the ninth photograph in the sequence, which looks as though it has come straight from the illustrations of Tove Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter, one of the most magical of winter reads.

As I think is self-evident by now, I have a bit of a thing about decay, dereliction, empty and abandoned buildings. I do, I admit, feel somewhat uncomfortable about this; it seems wrong somehow to be taking aesthetic pleasure in things that embody shattered hopes, a declining economy, traumatic loss. However, this item on Ruin Porn attempts to cast the argument in a different light:

[B]y outing and framing it—not to mention capturing the inherent beauty in broken things—Ruin Porn exposed the failure and decay, thus clearing the secrecy, the shame, and leaving perceptual room to see less emptiness and more space. […] To that end Ruin Porn has the ability to be the tip of a powerful perceptual movement that allows America to change the way it has confronted its structural failures in the past.

I can’t decide how persuaded I am of the argument but it is certainly worth considering.

Changing tack entirely, Charles Nicholl published a new book just before Christmas, Traces Remain, and a copy duly turned up in my Christmas stocking. It’s a collection of essays in which Nicholls functions as a kind of literary PI, teasing out tiny scraps of information about, among many others, Shakespeare and Thomas Coryat. This week’s Guardian Review has a lovely feature on Nicholl here.

And that’s it for this week. Trade Tokens will, I think, take up residence in a regular Sunday slot as it will give me a chance to compile it over the weekend.