Spine Reading

Book spines

Ever wondered why the spines on your books and DVDs aren’t all oriented the same way? Why some read top-to-bottom and others read bottom-to-top? Admittedly, this phenomenon is rare with books printed in the Anglophone world, where the top-to-bottom approach is preferable, but take a look at a bookshelf in continental Europe and you’ll probably find the titles read the other way (or both, according to Wikipedia).

The two traditions arose at different times, states Art Lebedev, with book binders starting trends which gradually became standards in their respective regions:

The tradition to write on the spine top-to-bottom is older; its roots can be traced back to the time when books were few. The reasoning was that if a book is lying on the table (or in a small stack) face-up, reading its title should be easy.

The tradition to write on the spine bottom-to-top is younger; it’s more concerned with how easy it is for the bookshelf owner to handle the book. Reading bottom-to-top is easier, because this direction is more in keeping with the European left-to-right writing tradition, which is especially apparent when there are several lines of text on the spine (an urge to read the lines left-to-right is only natural).

The same rules apply to DVDs and presumably audio CDs, though in my experience the latter are more haphazardly labelled. As someone once noted, however, that when it comes to learning, those in the West tilt their heads to the right, and those in the East tilt theirs to the left. But whichever way you tilt your head, it’s worth remembering:

Good and evil appear to be joined in every culture at the spine.

Flannery O’Connor

[Photo courtesy of CalEvans]

Random Quote

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

— Oscar Wilde

One Comment

  1. Annie Matthews
    16th September 2007

    Very interesting spine reading blog. Am absolutely delighted to learn that bottom to top orientation should be the western way forward. Publishers – please note!

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