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.
Occasionally, the character who was pretending to be reading will be holding the book right side up, but, since the book is almost invariably chosen at random, its subject matter is likely to be something the character wouldn't read about under normal circumstances.
- 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 the third chapter of Minimum, Itou holds up his phone so that his little sister doesn't find out that he was actually talking to a miniature girl. His little sister points out that he's holding his phone upside-down.
- Happens to Peter in one 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.
- In Alvin and the Chipmunks, all three chipmunks did something wrong in their cover-up of their inappropriate behavior. Simon was holding a book upside-down and Dave corrects him.
- Sort of done in Runaway Bride. Ike is so distracted by Maggie 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.
- Played for laughs in the film version of The Pirates of Penzance Kevin Kline's Pirate King picks up and reads Fredrick's contract quickly:
Pirate King: No, by your twenty-first.. [picks up contract and reads] ...yadhtrib. [flips it over] birthday!
- Easy Street: While attending the mission service, The Tramp holds his hymnal upside down (and sideways at one point).
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. tries to hide himself from the Nazi Colonel Vogel using his newspaper. Unfortunately, he's holding it upside down, which is how Vogel sees right through this.
- Harry Potter:
- 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 Durbervilles: 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 passport, even the photograph, but doesn't realise he's holding it upside down until he looks at the insignia on the cover.
- An anecdote in The Battle of the Atlantic by Jonathan Dimbleby: the German submarine U-99 was being depth charged for the first time. The commander decided to set an example of calmness by reading a novel. After a while, the radio officer noticed that the commander didn't seem to be turning the pages. After another while, he saw that the commander was holding the novel upside down.
- K.C. Undercover: Marisa and KC are waiting in the hall to recover a classified report and hiding their faces behind two physics schoolbooks. After the report holder walks past, KC takes Marisa's book, rotates it to the correct way up and hands it back.
- Happened in the Star Trek: The Next Generation 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 realize 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.
- In a late episode of WKRP in Cincinnati Andy does it out of nervousness when Les leaks word to Johnny and Venus that Andy's 'dating Mrs. Carson'. (Actually spending time with her in exchange for more money for to improve the station).
- 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.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Go Fish", Buffy is tailing the swim team in case they're attacked by the Monster of the Week. Given that she's already roughed up two of their members for various reasons she can't avoid attracting attention, especially when she's holding her magazine 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 Cannot 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).
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: Chapter 1 features a station where people can sleep while waiting for their boat or train, but only on the floor, while the only slightly less dirty but more comfortable sofas are forbidden. When Emil ends up having to use them, Siv teaches him a handy piece of Loophole Abuse: falling asleep with an open book on one's face, and claiming to have been reading it if caught by a guard. Emil does the trick correctly, except for one detail: he leaves the book on his face upside down, which causes him to not be very convincing between the moment he "resumes" reading it and the moment he notices the mistake.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 be looking through it.
- Jimmy on Jimmy Two-Shoes, in an attempt to act casual, reads a newspaper upside down.
- Kim Possible: Kim ends up reading the dictionary because she is afraid to talk to her crush, Josh Mankey.
- LEGO Friends: After suffering a severe anxiety attack related to a sporting injury, Mia jumps back from her snowboard and attempts to conceal the terrified reaction by reading a magazine. If her friends weren't behind her and unable to see the magazine cover, the ruse would have been discovered, since she's holding it upside down.
- The Simpsons:
- Bart has a good one:
Bart: Boy, time sure flies when you're reading [looks at what he's holding] THE BIBLE?!! [puts the the Bible down as though he has touched something poisonous]
- 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!
- Bart has a good one:
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- In the Defenders of the Earth episode "A Demon in His Pocket", Kshin turns to Mandrake's collection of sorcery books (which he is forbidden to touch) in the hope of finding a spell he can use on the school bullies. Later, Mandrake comes into the library to check on Kshin, but Zuffy delays him long enough for Kshin to put the sorcery book he was reading back on its shelf, find the scroll containing the spell for summoning the titular demon and grab another book at random. The book in question is about "Wallpapering your Kitchen".
- 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 related to this. She was traveling on a train and holding a book when she heard one of the men in the same compartment asking another if it was her, but the other man said that it couldn't be since the wanted posters said she was illiterate. 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 misprinted with their innards flipped upside down, creating the impression of this.
- Mangas - even in their non-Japanese translation - are often printed in such a way that you have to read them "backwards", not upside down, but still weird-looking.