Recently I checked out a copy of Beatrice and Virgil from the library, and in the quiet of a kids-in-bed evening I cracked open the hardcover . . . only to discover that the pages inside were upside down.
The simple experience of having to turn the book around and start from what I’d originally thought was the back intrigued me so much that it had the effect of hooking me on the novel before I’d read a single word inside. It was alarming but in a cool way.
I showed my husband. I tweeted about it the next day. I mentioned it to my students the next evening. And I read that first evening wanting to know why this book was upside down.
Within a few pages, I thought I had the answer. The main character is a writer and has an idea to write a two-part book where the two parts meet in the middle — each upside down compared to the other — so that the reader would have to decide which part to read first and will never have a back cover to neatly close on it. He says,
“Rather, the matter is never finished with; always the reader is brought to a central page where, because the text now appears upside down, the reader is made to understand that he or she has not understood, that he or she cannot fully understand, but must think again in a different way and start all over.”
Because the book is also trying to look at the Holocaust in a new way, turning over our perceptions of how Holocaust stories “have” to be told, the upside-downness of it made perfect sense to me.
The other thing I encountered on those early pages was an intense desire to deface my library book by underlining it. Constantly. It seemed every page had a sentence just begging to be marked. I settled for post-it notes for a while and then finally had to set the book aside and order myself a copy so that I could ink it up to my heart’s content.
Yesterday, the ordered copy arrived, and I opened it with a smile, excited to encounter the upside-down pages once again.
Except they weren’t upside down. They were disappointingly normal.
I checked under the dust jacket. Still right-side up. I checked the copyright page in case maybe the upside-down feature was only for first editions and mine was a later edition. But no, mine’s a first edition.
Puzzled, I retrieved the library copy. My library puts a plastic shield over the dust jacket of hardcovers and then glues the flaps to the insides so that the dust jacket is permanently affixed. I bent the covers back enough to push up the dust jacket and peek at the spine.
Did you guess already? The only thing upside-down about my library copy was the dust jacket, which some librarian had permanently affixed upside down.
Maybe it was a strangely fitting accident. Or maybe that librarian had read the book and thought it would be appropriate. Maybe someone at the publisher turned the dust jacket of certain copies upside down, so the librarian thought it was meant to be that way. Maybe all the librarians got together and decided to do it because maybe the author wanted it printed upside down and the publisher wouldn’t do it because they thought people wouldn’t buy upside-down books and now it’s up to the librarians to right the wrongs of a capitalist society. Or maybe my library copy is really the only one of its kind and an evolutionary freak that happens to be perfect.
I’m actually ridiculously excited to send it back into the system where another unsuspecting reader can have the same intriguing experience I did. And I might just turn my own dust jacket upside down, though if I do it myself it’s just not nearly as cool as finding it that way.
I tried Googling the title and “upside down” to see if it happened to anyone else, but since the words “upside down” are actually in the book, I didn’t turn up much except reviews I don’t want to read yet in case they spoil it for me.
I also tried thinking of other misadventures where I thought something was one way because it seemed so perfect that way, only to later find the truth less cool. But I’ve got extreme baby brain right now and I can barely remember the thing I meant to do that I was just thinking of five seconds ago. If I do recall an interesting case, though, I’ll add an update at the bottom of the post.
In the mean time, I’d love to hear your misadventures instead! Ever come across something cool and told everyone how cool it was (hubby, Twitter, students) only to discover you’d gotten it wrong?