The founder of Thanks, Textbooks used to sell the books for a living. As he says on the Web site, “I know that no one really reads them. I can’t blame them.” Especially, he says, when they contain probability problems like this one:
And that’s one of the least embarrassing examples.
Karl Stavem, who was working towards a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Bethel University, used to work in the shipping department in its bookstore, in St. Paul. “The store had not taken care of its old inventory,” he says, “so there were a ton of older textbooks lying around that were kind of hilarious.”
To make the best of a mundane job, he started a blog documenting the silly mathematical problems, strange illustrations, and confusing asides that he found.
“One of the first examples I saw was about sitting outside a school and marking the proportion of kids who went in that were obese,” he says. “And I was like, Nobody’s reading this! Not the editors, not the students!”
In another example, an illustration in a French textbook shows a woman with a dog greeting a naked man and woman hiding behind a bush with a simple “Bonjour.” Perhaps that’s the correct response in Paris, but it’s hard to imagine that image’s surviving another edit:
Mr. Stavem suggests that, instead of translating “Hello,” the textbook offer a translation for “Good day, perverts.”
Another image shows two young women, one of them pregnant, with a not-so-helpful caption:
As Mr. Stavem says, “This totally clarifies something that no one was confused about.”
When I asked him if he thought any of those examples would exist in an age of easily modifiable e-textbooks, he guessed not.
“I never understood why I had a job,” he says. “It it were up to me, everyone would get an iPad or a Kindle when they came in, and you’d just get your books there.”
Perhaps the book editors in question were already expecting the end of days. Our favorite example, captioned “At least they’re honest …,” is a photo of a footnote in a statistics textbook. It reads: “This chapter might have been called ‘Introduction,’ but nobody reads the introduction, and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either.”
[Correction, 12:20 am, Friday: The original version incorrectly stated that Mr. Stavem had earned his degree in mathematics. He was pursuing a degree at the time, but has not graduated.]