50. Which way up?
On bananas and books. And how do you eat yours? 🍌
In my disorientated world I often feel the wrong way round, or as if I’m looking at something from the wrong direction.
I have an early memory of a much-loved family friend opening a birthday present we’d given him. Mum had put a small gift into a too-big-for-it box, which she’d wrapped beautifully and stuck a label reading ‘WRONG WAY UP’ on each of its six sides. Confused, our friend turned it over and over until we kids told him it was a big joke and reassured him that he could open the present whichever way up he chose to!
But labels aside, sometimes it’s obvious that something’s the wrong way up, and sometimes it isn’t.
For instance, I know to keep my toothbrush standing upright with its bristles at the top, and the pens in the cup on my desk with their tips pointing down. Hygiene and ink flow, respectively, make these orientation decisions obvious.
How about this, though? Whenever I’ve eaten a banana I’ve always peeled it from the stalk end down, holding it at the other end. The stalk makes a good lever for breaking the skin as well as being a good handle for pulling down that first strip of peel.
But what if the stalk is a better handle for holding the banana? What if the other end of the banana is easier to peel from? To me, the banana pictured in the sequence below looks the wrong way up, but for two members of my family this is the way to hold a banana to peel and eat it.
I sought clarification from George, my husband’s grown-up nephew: an expert in peeling bananas from the bottom end.
Here’s what I asked him:
I was pleased to receive the following response almost immediately:
A little later, George texted again:
Reader, he has a point. 🤔
I had a think about it. The stalk of the banana, which of course is how the fruit is connected to the plant, isn’t accessible when the fruit is growing. How would an animal seeking crescent-shaped sustenance go about peeling a banana? Well, it would start from the end it can get to first, of course.
Let’s have a look:
I’d say that George is right. And in my approach to banana eating, it seems that I am the wrong way up.
Why am I even thinking about this?
Am I just bananas?
Still, I’d love to know how you peel yours! Do let me know in the poll below, and I’ll report back in a future post!
This exploration of things being considered the wrong way up – if indeed there is such a thing – had been prompted by my glimpse of this wallpaper that I came across in someone’s bathroom last week:
I loved its glittery glamour and bold straight lines, and books are great anyway, right, whether they’re on library shelves, depicted in art or indeed printed onto bathroom wallpaper?
But something about them made me feel uncomfortable: the orientation of the spine text.
The words are the other way up to what I’m used to seeing: the lettering is orientated from the bottom of the spine to the top, not from the top down.
It reminded me of a long-time ago conversation with a German colleague:
‘Have you ever noticed the difference between looking at a shelf of books in Germany, and one in the UK?’ she asked. ‘Our books have the text orientated upwards: it’s more positive. Yours all have the words reading downwards, which isn’t as nice.’
Had the bathroom wallpaper designer been trying to convey positivity with their glittery artwork by orientating its text to read upwards in the continental style?
Looking at this snap of part of my bookcase, you can see that apart from the ones on the spine of ‘Emil und die Detektive’ by Erich Kästner the words are all running from top to bottom. Perhaps that German volume (the not-quite-so-tall white one near the middle) does look more positive on the shelf. What do you think?
Imagine one of these books – printed bathroom wallpaper books, or real-life German ones – lying flat on a coffee table, or on your nightstand.
Yup. The text on the spine will be upside down.
Reader, you’ve guessed it, there’s a Reddit1 rabbit hole for this stuff. To save you a day and a half (you’re welcome!) let me share what seems to be the consensus: that the direction of the spine text once the book is on the coffee table or nightstand is irrelevant, because if you want to read the title or the author’s name when the book's in that position, it’s right there on the front cover. The orientation of the spine text is for the comfort of readers seeking what they’re looking for on the shelves of a library or a bookshop.
Still, I have some questions.
Is comfort in book selection better represented by a tilt of the head to the right, or to the left? Or are we just comfortable with what we’re used to, whichever way that is?
Is the fact that the vast majority of the world’s population is right-handed2 likely to mean that most people like to handle books with their right hand rather than their left? Might this influence a publisher's choice to print spine text one way rather than the other?
Am I unreasonable3 to find the upside-downness of the words ‘Emil und die Detektive’ uncomfortable when the book is lying down?
Does any of this matter4?
IS there such as thing as the ‘wrong way up’ anyway? 🤔
Have you ever tried peeling a banana from the other end?5
Am I bananas?6
Reader, help me out in the comments! In the meantime I’m off to read a book, and – just this once, mind – I don’t really care which way I’m going to peel it.
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Reddit led me to this discussion board, which I found informative and hilarious in equal measure. Do check it out!
“…I usually just shelve them upside-down so that all the titles face the same way.”
“Sure, many of them are “Upside down”, but really, that doesn’t matter because if you can see the front cover of a book on your bookshelf, why haven’t you bought more books to fill the space up?”
“You guys are nuts.”
Not me, though. Leftie! Have a read of my post ‘My awkwardness is sinister: when left is right’ if you fancy a giggle about the trickiness of being left-handed!
Probably. But let me know what you think.
Almost certainly not. But it kind of does, to me. My problem though, right?
I actually found it easier! I squeezed the very tip a tiny bit, and that got it started really easily. Try it and let me know how you got on!
As footnote #3: Probably. But let me know what you think.