Neck muscles and good literature

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I read books in English; I read books in French, and the difference is more than just in the words on the pages.

It took a long time for me to catch on to the fact that there is a much more fundamental physical difference between books published in the Anglophone and Francophone countries, and it only struck me while browsing in a second hand bookshop in Belfast that has no particular categorising system – everything gets lumped indiscriminately in together, a method I enjoy.

My earth-shattering discovery was that books printed in Anglophone countries tend to have their titles running from top to bottom along their spines, while their Francophone opposite numbers generally take the contrary approach, beginning at the shelf end and travelling towards the ceiling.

Now this is no definitive, incontrovertible rule, just one that generally applies, and it only comes to light when a reader of both sorts of books scans a shelf of chaotically organised tomes and finds himself having to bend his head first one way and then another to be able to read the titles.

And this is no mere piece of trivia with no serious consequence or application I’m willing to bet a lot of money that if the neck muscles of those who exclusively read English books were to be medically compared with the muscles of those who read exclusively in French, a difference would be detected in muscle tone and strength.

Those of us who read both ways and have to wobble our heads from side to side are more likely to have developed a well-balanced set of neck-muscles and will probably recover more quickly from whip lash injuries sustained in a car accident.

Now that’s the sort of thing Stephen Fry needs to draw to our attention to on QI.


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