I just finished reading The Lost Symbol, and before that, The Da Vinci Code, both of them thrilling works of fiction that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. The author, Dan Brown, is a masterful storyteller, skillfully arranging his words to surprise the reader with unexpected twists in the plot. I also admire how he blends in the characters’ thoughts between the paragraphs.
Yesterday I tweeted, “What if school textbooks were written as thriller novels? The students would be up all night turning pages and actually read every word.” I continued entertaining this thought to the point of imagining how such a book would read. I came up with the following passage from an imaginary thriller novel that doubles as a math textbook. The hero is no one other than a very young Robert Langdon.
Bobby Langdon stood in the darkened bathroom, the interior illuminated only by the nightlight on the wall. Too many thoughts racing around his head kept him wide awake after midnight and the only way to calm them down was to build up the courage to confront was what was confusing him the most.
I must seek the truth.
He stood in the bathroom near the nightlight facing the wall. In his hand he held a green crayon and raised it to draw a short vertical line on the wallpaper in front of him. Next to it he drew a second vertical line.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Bobby was nervous now, feeling guilty about committing an act of vandalism with a green crayon. His parents had raised him well and he knew better than to resort to drawing graffiti on the bathroom wall at 12:30 at night.
But this is the only way.
Bobby took a step back and surveyed his handiwork. One green line and one green line. Raising his hand he counted the lines.
Something is not right here.
He counted the lines a second time and once again the total was two.
Bobby started shaking his head in disbelief. He felt a surge of panic that did nothing to relieve the conflicting thoughts from within that refused to let him sleep. Cautiously he opened the door to the bathroom and darted across the hall to his bedroom. After closing the door behind him he switched on the light and then dashed to the pile of textbooks on his desk and pulled out his math book. He flipped the pages towards the chapter on basic addition.
Right away he saw something was wrong.
Printed on the first page of the chapter on basic addition was an example of a very basic addition problem and upon seeing it Bobby was driven to a state of near hysteria. Seconds later the math textbook was launched into flight across the room, where it landed on the floor with a loud bang. Surely this would wake up his parents in the next room but Bobby paid that thought no heed. He was more confused and conflicted than ever and his throwing the math book across the room did nothing to relieve the internal conflicts now burning with escalating intensity.
Bobby got up from his desk, walked to his bed and collapsed on the soft sheets. He rolled over on his back and silently lay there, his eyes wide open and focused on the ceiling.
I don’t know what to believe.
And so he lay, wide awake, trying to differentiate between his shocking discovery on the bathroom wall and the example math problem that not only marked the beginning to the chapter on basic addition, but also set off the firestorm of confusion that kept Bobby from sleeping at all that night.
For inscribed on that page marking the beginning of the chapter detailing the basics of addition, next to a cartoon drawing of a smiling textbook, was a simple addition problem intended to introduce the reader to the basic concepts of addition.