Reading a Textbook for Fun

This weekend, as the vacation neared its end, I continued to find ways to avoid planning and other school work.  I picked up a book that I’d received as a gift this fall.  It had sat on my desk waiting patiently for me to have time…or not have time.  Saturday was the day.  I plopped onto the couch.  The book, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, was perfect.  When I read her books, I sometimes laugh out loud.  I sometimes sigh (with envy at her cleverness).  I always want to hold on to the book longer .  

In one passage, she talks about how she often lingers with sights that she loves, maybe too long, hoping to hold onto something that can’t really be held.  I do that with her books.  Do any other people do what I do when I read?  I take pictures of the pages I love, almost like a tourist snapping pictures of churches, castles, sculptures, trees, or sunsets.  I read a page, read it again, and then out comes the phone.  “I need to keep that one!”

Yesterday another good thing happened.  Nancy read the book, so now I had someone to talk to about it.  “Didn’t you love the Bracket Brackets?”  (In the math section of the textbook, Amy had done one of those tournament brackets with all of the different kinds of brackets you can use in writing, slowly narrowing it down to the final four and then…  Spoiler alert:  It came down to the finals between { } and [ ].  I went for squiggly.  I’ve always rooted for the underdog.  

It turned out Nancy had a favorite part, too, but sharing it required some patience.  She waited all day for me to say, “I love you,” so she could mimic one of Amy’s experimental responses. Tired of “I love you, too,” Amy liked to try out other rejoinders.  Nancy particularly enjoyed one of them:

“Good to know,” she replied casually.

Okay, one last section that I loved was a part about serendipity.  Amy had captured many moments of un-searched-for luck, some amazing, and others just cool.  It reminded me of something Sarah had come home with last week.  I think it would qualify as serendipity…or maybe a miracle…or maybe quite predictable.  I’m waiting for a more capable mathematician to help me understand it.

Here it is:  Sarah texted me from work:

Sarah works for an eye doctor.  When she came home, she explained, “So, I was working up this patient today.  She was being a little grumpy with me, but I noticed she had the same birthday as Mom. That lightened things up a little when I told her.   Later, I had another patient, and she had the same birthday as Emma [Sarah’s sister].  I thought that was really weird.  But then it got weirder.  I had another patient who had my birthday, and then another who had Dad’s birthday.  Isn’t that crazy? What are the odds of that happening in ONE day?”

“How many patients did you work up altogether?”

“About 20.  Don’t you think the odds of that are probably insane?  Twenty patients and four of them have the same birthdays as each of the people in our family?”

We tried our best to do some of the math.  “Let’s see, your first patient has four possible birthdays that they could match with, so that’s 4 out of 365.  Then the next patient has to be a match to one of the other 3 people in our family, so that’s even harder, 3 out of 365, etc.”  

“And for both of those to happen, I think you’d multiply 4/365 times 3/365,” Sarah added {or multiplied}  {Note the squigglies}.

We were lost about how to factor in the fact that there were 20 patients.

So, slicers and anyone else who reads this post, are any of you capable of figuring this out…or (even more impressive) capable of explaining it to me?  Feel free to pass it off on someone who might like a problem like this.  Perhaps they have something more important to do…and need an excuse not to do it.

10 thoughts on “Reading a Textbook for Fun

    1. I am pretty sure I’m not AKR’s typical demographic, but I just enjoy her books so much. She’s just a great combination of funny, clever, and wise. You should definitely read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I wished I had been younger when I read it.

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  1. I admire how this slice meanders from personal reading – (avoidance) to a book talk to a math problem. It’s fun to read how your life weaves together – it helps me be want to weave and write.

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  2. I took Probability in high school but don’t remember much. The math you did sounds right and I remember the 20 patients issue had a solution that may have involved a theta or a factorial. But that’s about it. I recently had a job where I looked at a lot of DOBs. My goal was to encounter someone born on the same day and year as me. I think ten days was about as close as anyone’s birthday came to mine. I often thought about the math that would be involved and I figured out that longevity would come into play because each day there are fewer people who share my mm/dd/yyyy.

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  3. What a sweet post. I have not read any of the AKR books besides some of the picture books, but I got busy looking around after I read your post. I will definitely try the Encyclopedia… and Textbook… books, though. I just went and re-read the touching essay about marrying her husband that she finished just before her death.

    That was an interesting coincidence about the birthdays, and I am not the one to answer the math question!

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  4. Sorry, literacy specialist here. Been too long to remember college statistics, but I know there is a formula for this. Perhaps you could google it. I’m sure Khan has a video explaining how to do it. Side note, textbook is one of my favorite books. She was such a clever writer, what a loss.

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  5. oh my goodness – I love Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books. I was gushing about Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life when a friend told me she had died & I actually cried. It turns out that I had read her last essay – You Might Want to Marry My Husband – and loved it and not known it was hers. Oh – I’m sad again just thinking about it. And I, too, take pictures of pages of books. I love how you describe it as being like a tourist. Somehow I just want – need – to keep those pages with me. Have you read the graphic novel Mary’s Monster? I took soooo many pictures of those pages that I finally bought it. And even then I kept the pictures…
    (Oh, and the birthday thing is cool, too, but I’ve already written enough!!)

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    1. My wife had a similar reaction to learning of akr’s death. She had just read Encyclopedia and proceeded to write her a letter about the part where she thought she’d lost her son. Then, when she tried to find an email address she found the letter about her husband and discovered akr had died. When I came home she was crying


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