I had a spare half hour this afternoon, so I wandered into the local library, a place where I spent a large part of my childhood, and which opened up the world to me. I don’t often go there these days, but I wandered around looking at books on the shelf, passing time, and in the end I picked one up, sat down in a chair and started reading.
It wasn’t a fiction book; as a child I would only ever read fiction, and couldn’t understand my best friend who would only ever read non-fiction, but I have a whole pile of fiction books waiting to be read, and wouldn’t dare pick up another. This was a book called How Not to be Wrong: the Hidden Maths of Everyday Life. I teach or tutor maths on occasion, and I’ve always been interested in how numbers work and how maths is all around us – one of my pet hates is the “I haven’t had to use algebra all day today” meme – and so I started reading the introduction.
In the end, I took the book to the machine, fished out my library card and checked the book out (you don’t even have to see a librarian these days), but discovered that I was almost hiding the book away as I took it out of the library.
Why did I feel so guilty about it? Part of the problem is that I currently read for part of my living. I read manuscripts and give detailed feedback. I get free books in return for reviews, through the Amazon Vine programme. And I have a pile of books of my own choice that I’d also like to read. So adding another to the pile feels like extravagance.
There aren’t enough hours in the day already. How can I just add something else to the pile?
I guess, because I need to relax. I need to enjoy myself occasionally. I need to read widely in order to do my job – both the reading and the writing part – as well as I can. And as this is non-fiction, I’m not going to constantly picking plotholes in it.
And it’s also rather enlightening and interesting, and maybe I’ll learn a lot, and maybe what I learn will help me to teach maths better, because I’ll have a deeper understanding of how it does integrate with real life. As to the algebra – each time you work out what your change should be from a money transaction, you’re using algebra, because algebra is just making explicit the rules that numbers follow, which is that if a+b=c, then c-a=b and c-b=a.