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If a character is doing something they want to keep secret and are suddenly interrupted (perhaps by a knock on the door), they will often grab a book to make it appear that they were reading and not scheming against the villain. When they do, they will be holding the book upside-down when the door opens because they were too rushed to ensure they were holding it properly. It makes little sense since most people store their books oriented properly. (It makes more sense if the book was just lying around somewhere.)
For added comedy, the person who arrived may take the book and rotate it for the reader's benefit.
Anime and Manga
- In Beck, Koyuki and Maho were spending time together, thinking they were alone in the fishing hole. Cue Chiba and Taira's arrival. They then quickly clothed themselves while all sweaty along with forced expressions (Koyuki is reading a book upside down and Maho is wearing her shirt inside out.) Hilarity ensues.
- In Junjou Romantica, Hiro-san once does this to hide his embarassment in front of Nowaki. He doesn't notice, and neither did most of the watchers until the subs told them.
- In Alvinandthe Chipmunks, all 3 chipmunks did something wrong in their cover-up of their inappropriate behaviour. Simon was holding a book upside-down and Dave corrects him.
- Sort of done in Runaway Bride. Richard Gere's character is so distracted by Julia Roberts' that he has his newspaper upside down. He tries to act uninterested, but fails.
- In To Catch a Thief, after Mrs. Stevens helps John Robie to escape from the policemen that her daughter Francie is bringing to her room, she grabs a book and pretends she has been reading it while Robie is alleged to have been in her room. As Robie escapes across the rooftops, we hear Francie say "Mother, the book you're reading is upside-down!"
- Sara with Forbes magazine while waiting for Frank at the CIA building in Red.
- Subverted in Harry Potter. Cloudcuckoolander Luna Lovegood actually is reading The Quibbler upside down... because the answers to the quiz are printed upside down to stop people cheating.
- Harry finds an article on a set of runes that if read upside down will reveal a spell to turn someone into a kumquat in The Quibbler, which he figures is the reason why Luna had it upside down when they first met.
- When Hermione tells Professor McGonagall about Harry getting a Firebolt for Christmas and then the teacher goes to temporarily confiscate it so that it can be checked for jinxes/hexes (on the chance that Sirius Black sent it), Hermione hides her face behind a book that she holds upside down.
- Molly Carpenter does this in "White Night". She drops her book in surprise at hearing Harry and Murphy talk about Murphy's relationship with Kincaid. She picks it back up, appearing to be uninterested, but it's upside down.
- In Mary Stewart's Madam, Will You Talk?, the main character and her friend had been speculating that a certain man was probably not interested in women. Then they see that his reaction to a smile from a Femme Fatale includes, when he tries to go back to the book he'd been reading, holding it upside down.
Live Action TV
- Happened in Star Trek: The Next Generation in the episode Time's Arrow, part 2. In his defense, Geordi had his VISOR removed at the time and is completely blind without it.
- In Bottom, after Eddie hastily hides a burglar, the police find Eddie in the flat nervously holding a newspaper upside-down.
Policeman: You realise this paper's upside-down, sir?
Eddie: ...so are my eyes. [rolls eyes about independently of each other]
- Variant: in Lost, Regina is reading The Survivors of the Chancellor upside down, which Frank points out. However, in this instance, it shows that Regina and the others on the freighter are going crazy.
- The 1980 BBC TV version of Hamlet, with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, does this in the first scene of Act III (in which Polonius sets Ophelia to wait in a room that Hamlet is about to pass through, in the hope that he'll tell her what he's up to, and gives her a book to read as an excuse for being there). When Hamlet enters, he notices she's holding the book upside-down, and turns it right-side-up.
- Appears in the Australian comedy series Frontline. Mike Moore is doing a Magic Eye puzzle when he's meant to be reading a book by the author he's interviewing that night. When someone interrupts him, he quickly picks up the book and comments on it. Unfortunately, his eyes are still crossed.
- Happened to Max on Get Smart. Except that he probably wasn't rushed.
- Doctor Who: In "The Time of Angels", Amy and River discuss the Doctor, while he scans the room with an electronic gadget. River accuses the Doctor of eavesdropping, he protests his innocence, and she points out that he's holding the gadget upside down.
- Pixelface: Rex does it in "Mrs Dynamo's Son". He tries to act casual after hiding his mother in the sofa, but is reading his comic upside down.
- Happens to Peter in one FoxTrot strip. Peter and Steve are discussing a fight Peter had gotten into when the principal appears behind them. Peter hurriedly pretends to be talking about an algebra problem but is holding his textbook upside down.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Anja and Donald are having an intimate moment when their daughter walks in. Both pretend that nothing was going on; Donald grabs a newspaper and holds it upside down.
- In this Sinfest strip, the pink demon is specifically trying to pretend to read (rather than pretending not to do something else) in order to impress the bookworm who lent her the book.
- Bart in The Simpsons
Bart: "Boy, time sure flies when you're reading (looks at what he's holding) THE BIBLE?!!
- Kim Possible: Kim ends up reading the dictionary because she is afraid to talk to her crush, Josh Mankey.
- In Recess, a boy claiming to be in love with Gretchen has been harassing her. After poking her another time and running off the gang find the boy reading a book upside down, to make it look as though he didn't do anything. When TJ points out that it is upside-down, he claims in his defense "I like to challenge myself".
- In Danny Phantom, after sneaking around Vlad's manor to find his secret evil plans, Jazz is interrupted by Vlad arriving, so she quickly grabs Vlad's college yearbook and pretends to observe it.
- In the episode "Forever Phantom", whilst disguised as Mr. Lancer, Amorpho pretends to read an upside-down Maths book.
- Kimmy from Sym-Bionic Titan does it in "Lessons in Love" when Lance and Ilana interupt her and Newton when they were about to kiss.
- Jimmy on Jimmy Two-Shoes, in an attempt to act casual, reads a newspaper upside down.
- There's an Urban Legend about an African American slave during the American Civil War who could read and hid the illegal skill. He was reading a newspaper with good news about the Union when he spotted his master approaching. Thinking fast, he flipped the paper over to make it appear he was attempting to read the paper and didn't know it was upside down.
- There's a possibly apocryphal story about Underground Railroad leader Harriett Tubman. As a wanted woman she was traveling on a train and holding a book. She heard one of the men on the train asking if it was her, but another man said that it couldn't be her since the wanted posters said she couldn't read. The entire time Harriett was praying that she was holding the book correctly, since she really couldn't read.