Things That Fold

Recent discussions with a dear friend about the joys of road trips have centered on equipment one needs to have along.  Yes, of course one’s bicycle.  But how about a folding kayak along in case a cool lake or stream beckons off some blue highway?  Do they work I wonder?  More to the point do they leak? Is there a Consumer Reports evaluation of kayaks that fold?  Days later I notice, in one of those charming, tiny ads in the back of a New Yorker, a description of a folding bike.  Hmm, I work with a professor who swears by the one he brought in Shanghai.  The ad in the New Yorker is for the British Folding Bike, which sounds kind of posh, but does it work?  Somehow things that fold seem a bit suspect, promising more than they can deliver?  Nonetheless it’s charming to think about having something, small and portable, that is capable of blooming into something as useful and liberating as a bicycle or a kayak.

So I am off on a “things that fold” amble.  I always liked the phrase “above the fold,” connoting the importance of a newspaper article that the editor runs “above the fold.”  In our Internet charged world of fragmented news perhaps “above the fold” has lost some of its cache.  Newspaper layout, requiring editorial savvy, is upturned on the web.

O.k.,  I must add origami to my things that fold list.  I have always been interested in a vague sort of way in origami and other things that involve noodling around with paper.   German scherenschnitte, a tradition in this region with many Pennsylvania “Dutch” people, seems way too high stakes for me (razor sharp scissors and tiny cuts) but origami seems more welcoming.   Origami resonates with mental images of peace doves and the story of Sadako, the nuclear bomb victim whose life story is told in the 1977 children’s book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  Paper doves are made every year in her memory by Japanese school children.  A Japanese friend, while a doctoral student at my university fashioned, absent-mindedly I suspect, some tiny origami birds from tin foil candy wrappers.  Red and green. They stay perched on my landing, a modest but sweet reminder of her, now in a distant city launching her career counseling international students.

Books, the codex kind not an e-book, are a kind of apotheosis of things that fold. After the printing, the pages must be folded.  Book folding was done by hand until the 19th century.  The folded pages would then be bound. The pages of a book are anchored but free to move and compress within the covers.  A book’s pages compress; the fold anchored by the spine.   Reading ready.  No power required.

Just after 9/11, that tragic event we are commemorating now, I was helping to plan a part of the 100th conference of the Pennsylvania Library Association in Philadelphia.  The novelist Nicholson Baker had taken on the library community on the issue of preservation of newspapers and books by way of microfilming and then discarding the originals in Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, and, having invited him to speak at the  luncheon with academic librarians, I worried more at that point if he would be able travel from New Hampshire just a few weeks after the attacks than whether he would annoy my librarian colleagues.  He arrived on time by train though and presented a lively talk and slide show chronicling his purchase of a major run of the Joseph Pulitzer’s World along with other major newspapers from the British Library.  Later he and Margaret Brentano, edited The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898  to 1911) and later still Duke University Libraries acquired his collection.

Rebecca Rego Barry considers Double Fold ten years after its publication offers up some personal and heartfelt examples of the kinds of discarding Baker uncovered.  I personally like the selecting and acquiring books part of my job, not the occasional but sadly necessary part of finding homes for materials never used and/or beyond the archival responsibilities of my library.  On the broader societal question of preserving our cultural heritage, who among would not wish to err on the side of keeping a book that could become a window on the past?  Ironically the computer guru Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive fame, announced recently he’s started to building a comprehensive library of books.

Living in historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (not flooding by the way), I copy a fragment of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley’ Hellas 13 (1822) from the OED when looking for inspiration about folds and folding:

The Powers of earth and air Fled from the folding star of Bethlehem.

Do you know that the Moravians who settled Bethlehem in 1742 are known for, among many other things, the Moravian Star or Herrnhut Star, believed to be originally conceived as a kind of geometry exercise?

I know with this things that fold jaunt — book pages, origami, kayaks, stars and bikes —  I am probably starting to sound like Bubba in Forrest Gump who went on and on with his long list of things that one can make with shrimp!  Or, that are other ways to think about folds and folding:  folding hours, protein folds, fold geometry, etc.  but I think for now I will know when to “fold ‘em.”


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