American book spine titles vs. European – One’s upside down

Have you ever noticed that European book spines have the titles going one way and American book spines have the titles going the other?  It’s kind of annoying as it makes my bookshelf not look consistent!

Also.. when you think about it, the American way makes more sense than the European way, because when you lay the book down on a table facing up, you can read the title on the American book spine, but the title is upside down on the European book.  Hmmm…

I wonder why they are different?  Any ideas?  Let me know in the comments below.

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82 Responses to American book spine titles vs. European – One’s upside down

  1. Mona says:

    but on the bookshelfs you usually have the books standing and this way the american way of the titles is all wrong

  2. Camp Kohler - Sacramento CA says:

    Stopped by to say bye, ’cause there is absolutely no one to say Hi to.

  3. Capman911 says:

    Stopped by to say Hi. Hi. Now I’ll leave. By

  4. Camp Kohler - Sacramento CA says:

    No new comments in a day? This blog is dead!

    I saw an interesting book at the library. It is
    Weasel Words: The dictionary of American Doublespeak by Paul Wasserman & Don Hausreth , 2006,(Capital Books, Sterling VA) ISBN 1-933102-07-1. It is a small paperback that covers euphemisms and the like. It could be a source of NWsOD, but there aren’t any origins. Most of them everyone knows, so it is not what I would call a vital publication. It covers ‘Net lingo too, like clickthrough.

  5. Camp Kohler - Sacramento CA says:

    Hey, Marina, just put all your bottom-up books on the left and your top-down books on the right. Then you can stand in the middle and read them all just by tilting your head one way or the other. Maybe it will catch on as a new kind of excercise. :-)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Never did I notice, some interesting comments below.

  7. Camp Kohler - Sacramento CA says:

    If you Google “book spine title direction” you will find out all about it, including those asking the same question as M did. Personally, I like the downward printed version. I don’t understand people who say that puts your head is some uncomfortable position—90 degrees one way is just as bad as 90 degrees in the other. I noticed at the library there was one DVD case printed bottom up, whereas all the the others were bottom down, so there was very little veriation in the DVD world.

    Why can’t one just put the odd books on the shelf upside-down in order for all the spines to read the same way?

    Today this blog shows all of the 52 comments that supposedly have been made at this point and the Facebook comments at the bottom. Yet the previous “IPhone App” blog (as I noted there two days ago) still has many of the earlier comments missing, including those of Facebook. When the earlier comments are missing, is there some way to view them? I think that this at least the second time I’ve seen this problem.

  8. Dezdkado says:

    I think the difference in the printing on the spines reflects a difference in purpose. Both are practical… the European tradition serves the reader, the scholar, and librarian best. The American method is better for the display and the marketing of the book, serving the publisher and the retailer of the book.

    • Neuroway says:

      Interesting opinion. Me likey.

    • Neuroway says:

      But of course, since the beginning of time, the way of the scholar has always been nobler than the way of the merchant.

      • Dezdkado says:

        It certainly seems that way. No one bats an eye if a merchant is self-centered and miserly or a scholar shares his wealth of knowledge. What surprises us is the noble merchant and the self-aggrandizing scholar (who may be a merchant in disguise).

        • Neuroway says:

          A merchant conceals information from others. He hides the true price he paid for the goods he sells. He hides the ways (sometimes very dark) he used to obtain these goods. He hides his true profits. While a scholar casts his knowledge for free in front of the whole world to see. And for a scholar, knowledge is more precious than pearls and gold. Who do you think should self-aggrandize most? The scholar or the merchant? Tell me, @Dezdkado, what is your definition of mercantile nobility? A real estate mogul being knighted by the queen of GB?

          • Dezdkado says:

            I don’t believe that you would accept any definition that came from me. But here’s one anyway, with an example, that you may dispute at your own leisure. A noble merchant provides a product or service of quality, charges a fair price, provides restitution and a genuine apology for a product or service that is faulty, exhorts other merchants and artisans in their labors and skills, recognizes talent in others and works to nourish and grow that talent, and so many other things. Marina fits this description.

            Marina, though obviously a scholar, is also a noble merchant. Whether you spend a few coins to purchase one of her books or calendars, or spend your time in her lessons, you receive a quality product at a fair price. She helps out her fellow scholars, artists, and merchants, learns from them, and inspires them by her example. She recognizes the talents of others… Jamesington, MissCupcake, lanevids, lisanova, and others… selflessly provides for them a medium to a larger audience, and encourages them.

            Nobility is not in the profession, but in the person. You haven’t described a merchant. You’ve described a deceitful person. A deceitful man will be deceitful whether he is a merchant or a scholar. A good woman will seek to do good, whether she is a merchant or a scholar, or both, or neither.

            • Neuroway says:

              hmm… I have decided not to dispute your definition of mercantile nobility for now, @Dezdkado. I have momentarily chosen to meditate upon this one. But don’t conclude that it means that I agree with it, eh?

          • Camp Kohler - Sacramento CA says:

            You should see what scholars hide when they think their discoveries will warrant a Nobel prize (at least until the prize is awarded). Ditto for patentable inventions. But then the latter is in the realm of merchandizing, isn’t it?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hello My Beautiful Teacher,
    I have many books and I have never noticed this about them, though in my mind I do not recognize them as “european” or “not european” because I don’t have have any european books that I know of. I suppose that I will be looking for this when I finall get my books unpacked (I am in the process of moving into my “new” apartment). Come to think of it I am certain that I have some books that suffer from this “backwardness” of which you speak and I will be certain to take note of their country of origin to determine if what you have said is a european condition.
    Your loyal student,

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hello My Beautiful Teacher,
    I have many books and I have never noticed this about them, though in my mind I do not recognize them as “european” or “not european” because I don’t have have any european books that I know of. I suppose that I will be looking for this when I finall get my books unpacked (I am in the process of moving into my “new” apartment). Come to think of it I am certain that I have some books that suffer from this “backwardness” of which you speak and I will be certain to take note of their country of origin to determine if what you have said is a european condition.
    Your loyal student,

  11. Neuroway says:

    The American way makes sense only for one single book. For two or more books, the European way is the best. Suppose you have “Story part 1″ and “Story part 2″ arranged vertically on your bookshelf. Take them and put them horizontally on a table, face up. The first book (which should be at the top) will be at the bottom, and your story will be upside down. With the American way, you’ll be able to read the titles, from last (at the top) to first (at the bottom), which makes no sense. With the European way, the letters will be upside down. So just turn your head upside down, and oh, surprise, you’ll see the first book at the top and the last one at the bottom! A simpler way to go is to put all the freaking books in the story face down. Now we talk. The first book is now at the top (where it should be). You can read all your titles from first to last if it’s printed the european way. The american way still makes no sense, ‘cuz now all the titles are upside down. Eh. So basically the European way makes sense both ways, while the American way doesn’t make any sense any way (for two or more books).

  12. I’m really not sure. I live in Poland. I just skimmed through over a thousand books I have in my room (both in Polish and in English; as for the English ones, some of them were printed in the UK, and some in the US) and I spotted no differences for those countries. Around 90% of the books I’ve got have the spine titles printed top-to-down, the bottom-up titles belong rather to the older books (from 70′s and 80′s, maybe even from early 90′s), but still not all of them (although something like 40-50% of my older books have “reverse” spines).

  13. Samuel says:

    So this is something that I have not noticed before. I have quite a few books (love books), but apparently they were for the most part printed in America. At the library or bookstore it is disconcerting that one must stand with one’s head cocked at such an uncomfortable angle and then sidle along the bookshelves to read the titles. It makes us all look a little foolish, haha. Now a nice thick book will usually have the title and author’s name written across the spine, and I always appreciate that. Maybe people who stack their books have the right idea!

  14. m b says:

    The reason the Americans print the vbindings the way they do is so that they will be easy to read, or more convenient, when lying on their side or in a stack. The European reason is not so simple. Convention throughout Europe, including in the UK, is that shen spines were printed (they weren’t always) the lettering was supposed to be top to bottom on the spine. With many books there was not enough space to do that, so European printers started printing bindings with the letters facing left, or in orhter words appearing upside down if the book was lying down. There doesn’t seem to be any specific reason for that except that in more ancient times, something along the lines of the early 18th Century, it was decided that this is how it would be done and it simply has always been done that way since.

    • Dezdkado says:

      Very good… me likey. So where did you garner this information? Is it professional knowledge of the publishing biz, or some secret store of obscure facts?

  15. roland.eitler says:

    answer is quiet easy, and european way is the NORMAL one: IT´s ALL ABOUT reading from left to the right.
    normally we read everything from top to bottom and left to right.
    thats why european books have the title printed inthe way you mentioned above:
    place several european bookjs in the bokkshelf and turn your head – with the europen style you can still read as usual, with the american you have to read the titles from right to the left or from bottom to top

    • Neuroway says:

      Exact, Roland.

    • Anonymous says:

      you have it backwards. I am looking at a bookshelf of American published books as I type this. I am reading from top to bottom, left to right. When you look at a European book, you read form bottom up. To read the books made in America, you tilt your head to the right, European books, to the left.

      • Neuroway says:

        Dude. Look at the picture above. The first book on the shelf is “One minute to midnight”, printed the American way. The last one is “Einstein”, also printed the American way. Explain me how you can read the titles from top to bottom and left to right, starting with the first book, unless you like to read upside down.

        • Dezdkado says:

          The only way it can be done, as dkirsch describes, is if the books with the European style spines (like the YouTube Reader and the Greek plays) are inverted so that their titles read from top to bottom. Once this is done, one can stand to the left of the shelf, tilting one’s head to the right, and read the titles moving from left to right. However, this brings with it at least one glitch… books with long titles, that must form 2 lines on the spine, such as “Not So Wild A Dream” or “Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions” (seen above), won’t truly be read from left to right. While moving from left to right, one will first encounter the second line of the title, then move to the first line of title, and finally read the entire title from right to left.

          It’s my personal preference as a reader, but I’d rather have the European style without inverting the spine. On a long shelf at a library I may have to walk backwards while reading the titles from left to right; or while at a narrow shelf in a bookstore, stand to the right of the shelf and read the entire shelf; but I find this to be more comfortable than the American version. If I were an author or a book seller, I’d prefer the American style to market my book as it seems better for display, even in large stacks.

          But, I guess, this is moot, for I regularly encounter 5 kinds of book-spine printing… the European and American styles discussed here, older books with no spine printing, older books that print across rather than along the spine, and lastly, the Chinese style. I’m not likely to ever find a shelf of books with a homogeneous style of spine printing, even at a bookstore.

          • Neuroway says:

            No. The top poster’s premise stated that normally we read from left to right and from top to bottom, which is a true premise. If you revert the European books, you will read the titles from bottom to top, which is abnormal. You got sidetracked from the premise of the discussion, and typed lots of irrelevant information to expose a simple idea, just like a politician. The best way to go is to invert the American books. Once this is done, the title list can be read normally.

            • Dezdkado says:

              Marina’s descriptions (see above), that started this discussion, set the standard for defining the direction of the writing on the spine. By her observations, one is forced to conclude that the American spine printing reads top-down and the European printing reads bottom to top. If you read her few sentences, and apply some basic spatial awareness, you’ll see where dkirsch was coming from. If you disagree with Marina, take it up with her.

              I don’t think you understand politicians. They hide information, or deflect their audience’s attention to their own talking points or a political rival’s flaws. Few, if any, politicians provide too much information, irrelevant or otherwise. My lengthy, even tedious, discourse reveals to any reader, employing a modicum of discernment, that I am neither a politician, nor likely to survive long should I chose to become one. Perhaps you should have attacked me by another route… for instance, by calling me “anal retentive” or noting I lack the laconic grace of one who understands the maxim, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

              • Neuroway says:

                I am not attacking you. I have nothing against you. Why would I attack you? I just prove you wrong, that’s all. Don’t mix logic with feelings and emotions. There is absolutely no way you can read an American bookshelf from top to bottom and left to right unless you read the characters at an angle of 90 degree, which is an abnormal way to read. If dkirsh tilts his head to the right, he is going to read the titles from left to right and from bottom to top, unless he starts reading from the last book on the shelf, which is still an abnormal way to read.

  16. MaxFubar says:

    So you will have to turn your head sideways to read the title, henceforth, excercising your neck!

  17. Capman911 says:

    That’s a good question. This might answer some of the question Another one is why are a woman’s shirt buttons on one side of the shirt and a mans are sewn on the opposite side. It also states in that article that candy bars are written different over here than in European countries.

  18. seesixcm6 says:

    Dear Marina,
    Books printed in Germany also have end titles printed the American way. Some books printed in China will have Chinese characters that read straight down. Still, there is a way to make your bookshelves look better. Just store the English books upside down so the titles will have the same orientation!
    I’m glad you’re safely back home from your trip to Yellowstone Park, and thank you for posting all those photos. I hope you enjoyed driving a snowmobile! I’ve never done that! From your Twitpic, I saw you ate lobster recently. One of my favorite videos was when you were at a seafood market. You backed into one of their tables, so a lobster pinched your behind and you screamed out loud! I’m glad you didn’t stop eating lobster!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Just looked at my shelf. They are varied. But still all English

  20. Anonymous says:

    Just looked at my shelf. They are varied. But still all English

  21. Dezdkado says:

    Perhaps, just to be different… Webster changed the American spelling of the English language to, in a literary way, make a break from the mother country. Perhaps, publishers in the US wanted to be easily differentiated from European publishers.

    • LeoNaRD says:

      I wonder the year…..jah notice the coolest American book of the picture?….the skinniest!….

      what do you think of giving old books as gifts?….thanks or no thanks…hot words on old paper…

      …My grandpa love <a href=" these—Monarch butterflies making a comeback …one more thing…what did you think of John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, GCB (Hon) (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948) was a general officer in the United States Army. lexicon Republic

  22. Dezdkado says:

    If the title on the spine is in italics, and in an American convention, you may have to tilt your head more than 90 degrees to read the spine. It would be much easier to read an italicized title in the European convention.

  23. Dezdkado says:

    If you take a set of books in a volume off the shelf (in the European style) and place the stack on a table with the front cover face-up, they will be in order with the earliest volume first and latest volume last. With the American convention, the volumes will be reversed, with the latest on top and the earliest on the bottom.

  24. Dezdkado says:

    Perhaps it is in keeping with pragmatism, not library storage… if the book is face-up there is no need to read the spine. But if the book is face-down, you can read the spine and determine the title.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I’m confused, which is which?
    maybe the European printing is different than the American printing.

  26. LoboSolo says:

    The Brits drive the wrong way … I don’t know what the excuse is for the rest of Europe.

    You can also read the book spines from left to right (the normal way for those in Europe) when they’re on the shelf with the American way.

    I just turn my European books upside down when I place them on the bookshelf …

  27. LeoNaRD says:

    Pretty and smArt…I was playing with my books today and my cat is not a kitten anymore and …something like Marina and her library cartoon! or

  28. Dog Taster says:

    I have tons of European books that when lay on a table facing up, you can read the spine…

    • Lennie says:

      My Dutch books are all the ‘american’ way, maybe just older European books have this ‘problem’ ? Anyway, the solution is simple, on a shelf, place all books readable one way on the left, place all the others on right of the shelf.

  29. Cyberquill says:

    Hmm. I thought it was only British book spines that went the wrong way like everything else over there.

  30. thermalsocks says:

    Its so that if by accident an American book makes it into one of our libraries it can be easily spotted and removed before it causes offense.

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