Pic Mystery Solved

The book wasn’t upside-down.

Earlier this week, Chatterbox shared with readers his puzzlement over a photograph of a woman reading a book under an umbrella while she waited for a bus. This “weather pic” had appeared in the April 3 Washington Post. To Chatterbox, the woman seemed to be holding her book upside-down. The Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for photography, Joe Elbert, agreed that the front of the book sure didn’t look like the front of a book. The photographer, James Purcell, said he’d been trying to get the woman, whose name is Jenna Slosson, on the phone. He wanted an explanation, too. According to Elbert, the picture had generated more calls from readers than the Post’s gruesome shots of an Iraqi mob in Fallujah desecrating the corpses of American security contractors.

Chatterbox has now communicated with Slosson. She good-naturedly explained that the book shown in the picture is not upside-down. The reason it looks upside-down is that she’d torn the cover off. The book—a mass-market paperback of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale—has two covers, as paperbacks in this format often do, and what looks like the back of the book is really the second cover. Slosson was using the first cover as a bookmark.

All of this—save the reason for tearing off the cover—had already been deduced by a dozen or so Chatterbox readers, who e-mailed to point out the giveaway—an illustration, on the spine and the exposed second cover, of a human figure wearing a wimple (the headgear that lofted Sally Field in the 1960s TV series The Flying Nun). The human figure was too small for Chatterbox to identify, though he can see it now that it’s been pointed out. He’s still baffled, though, at how anybody can make out that the white dot at the top is a wimple. More reasonably, two readers added that Chatterbox ought to have known he wasn’t looking at an upside-down back cover because the type was flush left, ragged right. If it were upside-down, that would make it flush right, ragged left—a typographical style that’s pretty much unheard-of. Point taken.