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Book and Switch

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Image by Dylan Meconis.

Someone hides their "inappropriate" reading matter behind the cover of something they'd rather be seen reading.

Somebody is reading something but doesn't want anyone else to know what it is. It could be rather inappropriate for clique rank, like a jock reading a girly magazine. It could be inappropriate to read anywhere outside a bedroom, like a magazine with naked women in it. Heck, maybe it's just a comic book, and for the sake of impressing people, it's prudent to pretend to read (insert well-known intelligent-sounding book here) instead... or maybe they're supposed to be paying attention in school and just don't want to. Sometimes, for children particularly, the problem is that people with authority to stop the character will assert that the book is hard, whether for reading level or subject matter, for the character.

In any of these cases, the solution is obvious. The desired book is put on the inside cover of the undesired book. (Bonus points if the cover of the outside book is upside-down). That way, everyone will think that the character is reading something worthwhile instead of good-for-nothing smut.

At least, they would think this except they aren't idiots. Inevitably the switch is discovered and the character executing it is embarrassed. And we all learn a valuable lesson — this character wants people to think he's smart, but he's really either a geek or an idiot. Usually the former for sympathetic ones, the latter for non-sympathetic ones.

If the character decides to own their Guilty Pleasure, it may result in a "Reading Is Cool" Aesop.

Compare Newspaper-Thin Disguise. When publishers foresee the desire to hide a book this way, they may release an edition with a Clandestine Cover. Contrast Covers Always Lie, when the cover of the book itself is misleading about the contents.

Compare Book Safe, which is when a dummy cover is used to conceal something that isn't a book. See also Useful Book for other tropes where books have a non-reading purpose.


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  • A self-deprecating in-house ad for Heeb: The New Jew Review shows an Orthodox Jewish man hiding a copy of the magazine behind an issue of Barely Legal.
  • One Cheez-It commercial released as part of their advertising campaign for cheese needing to mature has the cheese hiding a "Cow Avengers" comic book behind a book about quantum physics.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Assassination Classroom:
    • Kayano uses a library book to hide the "Puddings of the World" book she's actually reading.
    • In one chapter of the Koro-Sensei Quest! spinoff, Koro-sensei reads a porn magazine and hides it behind a thick grimoire.
  • Death Note:
  • In His and Her Circumstances, Yukino is seen hiding a comedy book under a serious cover. Arima scolds her for putting up a front.
  • In the first episode of Ojamajo Doremi, Doremi is reading a book about witchcraft hidden inside a reading book in class. She humiliates herself by accidentally reading from the witch book when asked to read from a page.
  • In Urusei Yatsura, Ataru is shown hiding a girly mag inside one of his books.

    Board Games 
  • In Chutes and Ladders, one space at the start of a chute shows a comic book inside his textbook. On the other end of the slide, he's shown sitting with a Dunce Cap, indicating that he did poorly in school due to not taking his studies seriously.

    Comic Books 
  • In the miniseries "Midsummer's Nightmare" that led up to Grant Morrison's JLA run, Wally West, having lost his memory of being the Flash, is teaching high school and caught one of his students doing this.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes does this in quite a few Sunday editions; Calvin always hides a comic book inside his textbook.
  • The title character of Curtis often tries to hide his Supercaptaincoolman comics this way while in class. His teacher is never fooled.
  • In Foxtrot Paige puts fake Cosmopolitan covers on her textbook to try and hide the fact that she's studying.
  • One strip of Frazz has child genius Caulfield hiding Shakespeare inside his primary reader book. Which is not a good thing to do on read-aloud day.
  • Inverted on a MAD cover. Alfred E. Neuman appears to be reading Mad but behind it, you can see he's really enjoying Shakespeare.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Back to the Future Part II, Biff hides a girly magazine within the cover of the sports almanac. Marty is, naturally, exasperated by this fact after he goes to a great deal of effort to retrieve it. Extra idiot points for Biff by hiding a girly magazine with the cover of a sports almanac that won't even exist for sixty years.
  • In Cat Ballou, the title character hides a dime novel behind a poetry book by Tennyson while taking the train home from finishing school.
  • 8mm. This is how Private Detective Tom Welles realises Max California might be useful. Max is reading porn while working in an adult bookstore, but Welles notes he's underlining passages and calls him on it. Max is actually reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.
  • Percy Wetmore, of The Green Mile, reads a Tijuana Bible (a pornographic comic from the '30s and '40s featuring icons of the day, essentially the pre-internet version of Rule 34) behind a copy of the regulations for the mental hospital he wants to transfer to. This scene is in the book, where he's explicitly reading a Popeye Tijuana Bible.
  • In Lean on Me a guy hides an adult magazine in his test booklet which is promptly confiscated by his teacher. The guy immediately pulls out another one.
  • In Varsity Blues the replacement quarterback Mox is reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut hidden inside the team playbook on the sidelines.
  • In Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, a teenage Al Yankovic hides an issue of an accordion magazine inside his textbook.

  • Princess Arissa from The Elenium hides a book of erotic poetry inside the cover of a religious textbook. No one is surprised.
  • In Flowers in the Attic, Cathy finds a book in her mother's bedside table with a dust jacket that says How to Create Your Own Needlework Designs, but upon opening it is shocked to find that it's actually a book of pornographic photos.
  • In The Green Mile, Percy pretends to read a textbook but hides a porn comic in it.
  • The smart sister in Heart of Valor by L.J. Smith is reading another book inside her algebra book during math class, her teacher knows but can't call her on it because she's getting all the questions right. She reflects that he'd probably be less annoyed if he knew the book she was hiding was a trigonometry textbook.
  • One Reuhurinteen ala-aste story has Iso-Nestori read a book about karate during class by hiding it behind his religion textbook.
  • In Wild Swans, Jung Chang recalls how, during the Cultural Revolution, one of her brothers frequented a black market in "reactionary" books, which basically meant any books other than Marxist classics and other approved literature. On one occasion, the family's home was raided while he had an erotic novel hidden in his bed; fortunately, he'd removed the dust jacket and replaced it with the one for The Selected Works of Mao Zedong.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Big Bang Theory: In "The Cooper-Nowitzki Theorem", as Ramona begins to crack down on Sheldon's leisure activities, he attempts to read a Batman comic hiding it behind a physics book, but she catches him.
  • In the opening titles of Blackadder The Third, Edmund uses a textbook to hide raunchy paperback novels, each of which just happens to have that week's episode title.
  • Inverted in Chuck. Since he knows his bedroom's under video surveillance, Chuck studies the Intersect plans he got from Orion behind a Y: The Last Man collection.
  • In an episode of Clarissa Explains It All, Fergusson pretends to his parents that he's reading a book, but he's actually playing on a Game Boy.
  • The Daily Show plays with this a lot, although it tends to come off more as a spoof of the fact that TV shows frequently just slap a new dust jacket on whatever books happen to be lying around whenever they need a book for a prop than of a real attempt to conceal the nature of the book in question. "Huh. You know, you so rarely see the hardcover edition of the Bible these days. It's almost like someone has taken a random book and given it a dust jacket that says, 'The Bible.'"
  • In Forever episode "The Ecstasy of Agony" Domme Iona Payne inverts this trope, by hiding her appointment book inside the dust jacket of a trashy romance novel.
  • A rare instance of this trope Played for Drama happens on Gilmore Girls, when Jess uses a magazine about punk rock to hide the self-help book he's reading, entitled "You Deserve Love."
  • The earliest opening credits for Home and Away had Stephen pulling a fake cover from a book Frank was reading.
  • Married... with Children episode "Shoeless Al" has Bud hiding a Big-Uns in a large textbook. It's pointed out by a lawyer who is staying with the family in order to catch Al lying in his frivolous lawsuit.
    Lawyer: Bundy, I can spot a liar a mile away and I'll prove it. For instance, take your son there. Looks like he's reading, but if you'll notice, his eyes aren't moving. That usually denotes that he's looking at a picture. From the little beads of sweat on his forehead, I think it folds out. He should be heading upstairs any time now.
  • An episode of My Wife and Kids has Junior locking himself in the bathroom with magazines for hours at a time. Although his parents seem to think he is actually pleasuring himself with cookbooks and Field & Stream, it's implied he is hiding porn magazines in them.
  • One sketch of Not the Nine O'Clock News had the inverse of the usual: a man bought a Daily Mail and "Hot Chicks XXX", then hid that he was reading the Mail by hiding it in the porn.
  • The Odd Couple: During a rehearsal for "Scrooge", one of the characters (Speed) is hiding porn underneath his script and is sort of not paying attention to the rehearsal. He is suddenly asked to read for the part of Scrooge. But he thinks they want him to read the porn. He balks, saying he would be embarrassed. He's coaxed into reading and begins reciting a passage from the porn, to which a very surprised Felix says, "Charles Dickens never wrote that".
  • Shining Time Station: In the Schemer Presents episode, "How to (Seem to) Be Smart", Schemer reveals himself to be reading a book called How to Make Money by Brushing Your Teeth by Meg A. Bucks underneath a book called The Oxford Anthology of Intelligent Writing to make himself seem smart.
  • The Six Million Dollar Man has an inversion at the end of one episode: The teen genius whose invention of a revolutionary new fuel/explosive had caused much trouble throughout the episode is finally seen reading a novel; turns out it's a novel cover hiding a book on cryogenics.
  • Reversed in SLiDE where Alpha Bitch Scarlett is desperately studying by hiding the text she's reading inside a fashion magazine.
  • On a You Can't Do That on Television sketch, Adam hides a Spiderman comic book in his hymnal. In another sketch, two girls hide a tiny TV in a book to fool their mother.

  • Bach's "Coffee Cantata", set in a coffee shop, begins with a duet and ends with a full chorus. Cue a performance in which the stage was set up to resemble a coffee shop, complete with barista, and while the two soloists were performing, the chorus members were pretending to drink coffee while "reading magazines"—their scores hidden inside folders with magazine covers pasted on.

    Video Games 
  • In a meta sense, some older games for the PC and Apple Macintosh computers had a Boss Button, which would quickly put a fake document or spreadsheet over the game or minimise it and change the title and icon to something unassuming (like "Program Manager Help").
  • In Chapter 3 of Tales of Monkey Island, Guybrush needs to infiltrate a Brotherhood to get the item to advance the plot and needs to be voted in. In order to earn the vote of Murray, whom Guybrush has cleverly inserted into the group posing as their member Santino, Guybrush has to trick Murray into thinking the initiation ritual will consist of a torture session by using this trick.

    Visual Novels 
  • While Miles Edgeworth from Ace Attorney does genuinely read difficult legal books for fun, he uses one on a long plane ride in Investigations to hide the fact that he's actually reading a Steel Samurai book.

Everyone Is Home: In "Psycho Therapy", Dr. Mario is seen hiding a copy of Playboy behind his clipboard.

    Web Videos 
  • One of the I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC videos has this (2:45 in here).
  • Really Freakin' Clever: In the opening to "64 Things WRONG With The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Part 3", Josh pretends to read a textbook until he accidentally drops it and reveals he's actually reading a Sonic the Hedgehog comic.
  • Inverting how this usually goes, these two videos feature comedians Scott Rogowsky and Akilah Hughes reading (presumably completely innocuous) books on the subway with hilariously inappropriate fake covers, while the reactions of those around them are covertly filmed (with a number of passers-by taking covert pictures of their own, presumably because nobody's going to believe them when they tell them).

    Western Animation 
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Ickis once tried to hide an issue of Ultra-Monster inside his Monster Manual so he could read it during class. That didn't end well.
  • On American Dad!, when Stan Smith finds out that his son is a geek, he has a massive breakdown. But at one point, he finds a copy of Playhouse under Steve's bed, and he breathes a huge sigh of relief. Then he opens it up, and there's a textbook inside. The breakdown resumes.
  • Arthur: In "Binky Goes Nuts", after Binky finds out he has a peanut allergy, Jenna (who has a milk allergy) shows him a book to help him with a new lifestyle. Unfortunately, he doesn't take it seriously and uses the book to cover up a Bionic Bunny comic.
  • An episode of Danny Phantom has Tucker hiding his PDA behind A Farewell to Arms.
  • The Fairly OddParents episode "The Boy Who Would Be Queen" reveals that Trixie Tang has boyish hobbies and interests but is afraid to admit it. In one scene, she's seen reading a boy's comic book with a girly magazine covering it.
  • On Family Guy, when Brian has to study for his exam, part of his training montage has Stewie catching him trying to read a steamy magazine while hiding it behind something else.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Suspended", after Arnold gets suspended for two days for trying to convince Principal Wartz to lift Harold's suspension, Arnold and Harold go to the library to do some research on an appeal. Only Arnold does actual research since Harold is revealed to be reading comic books under the books he is looking through.
  • King of the Hill: Bobby gets caught with a fantasy book pretending to read the sports page in the newspaper.
  • Recess: In "Bonky Fever", during Ms. Grotke's lesson on the Founding Fathers, Mikey hides a Bonky lift-the-flap book behind his history book.
  • The Simpsons:
    • This happens in the episode where Martin and Bart are tutoring each other. Bart hides a comic in his schoolbook; Martin hides a schoolbook in his comic book.
    • Another episode has Moe Szyzlak hiding his poetry magazine behind a copy of Playboy. In church.
  • South Park has Stan Marsh, who's on a Food Network frenzy, hiding a cookbook under a Playboy magazine.
  • VeggieTales: In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Larry", Larry is shown in a book club with Archibald, Jimmy, and Mr. Lunt, currently reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Bob asks what they thought of the book, Mr. Lunt gives a generic description, only for a tiny pamphlet to slip out from his book. Said pamphlet is a simplified "Norm's Notes" summary for the vegetable on the go. When Bob asks if the other members allow it, a Norm's Notes pamphlet falls out of each book.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: In the climax of the season 1 episode "Shen Yi Bu", Raimundo is supposedly studying from the Ancient Scroll of the Shen Gong Wu again (having done so earlier in the episode). Omi sneaks in to find out what Raimundo's learning from it this time and tries to bug him into telling him after he gets caught... and it's only after he leaves that Raimundo, who refused to tell Omi anything, is shown to have been hiding a hand-held video game behind the scroll.