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.
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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.
- Subverted in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 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.
- The Hound of the D'Urbervilles: In "The Problem of the Final Adventure", Moran notices that Irma Vep is reading The Times upside down in the dining room.
- The Dogs of War. A Corrupt Corporate Executive gives an African dictator a mining contract to sign, but deliberately inverts a page to see if he can actually read it — the dictator turns the page without reacting. A customs official in his country checks a mercenary's passpost, even the photograph, but doesn't realise he's holding it upside down until he looks at the insignia on the cover.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- Also happens to Peter when, the Sunday after Halloween, he ends up going to church while his brother Jason hasn't had time to wash off his makeup for when he was going as Satan. Peter hides his face with his hymnal like Paige does, but his is 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, Fuchsia out of awkwardness of her Can Not Spit It Out phase tried to pretend she's reading the book Criminy lent her, and not daydreaming about him (which is how she spent most of her time).
- Bart in The Simpsons
Bart: "Boy, time sure flies when you're reading (looks at what he's holding) THE BIBLE?!!
- Also in "Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy", while at a library:
Marge: Um...I'm just reading up on ["Tanks of the Third Reich"] artillery.
Homer: Yes, and I'm pursuing my interest in ["Mapplethorpe"] AAH!
- 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 interrupt 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.
- An Arthur computer game includes a scene where D.W. claims she can read.
Arthur: D.W., if you know how to read, how come your book was upside down?
D.W.: I can read in all directions.
- On American Dad!, one of Stan's books (along the lines of "How to Pretend to Read", "How to Read Pensively", and "Reading Books Angrily") is "How to Read Upside-Down". Either the book is upside-down, or the title is printed upside-down on the back cover.
- In the first episode of Gravity Falls when Dipper hides the journal from Stan.
Stan: Whatcha readin there slick?
Dipper: (hides the journal and grabs a magazine) Oh, I was just catching up on-"Gold Chains for Old Men Magazine?"
Stan: That's a good issue.
- 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.
- One issue of Games Magazine was intentionally printed with the innards upside-down, just to mess with people. It could be difficult to read in public...
- Some magazines come with an extra inset that is meant to be read by flipping the magazine upside down and reading from the other cover onwards, creating a very confusing cover from outside.
- Occasionally books and comics are sold with their innards flipped upside down, creating the impression of this.