Monday, August 6, 2018

Ben Orlin…. Author-To-Be, With Bad Drawings

Math-Frolic Interview #45

"Orlin's ability to masterfully convey interesting and complex mathematical ideas through the whimsy of drawings (that, contrary to the suggestion of the title, are actually not that bad) is unparalleled. This is a great work showing the beauty of mathematics as it relates to our world. This is a must read for anyone who ever thought math isn't fun, or doesn't apply to the world we live in!"                        ―John Urschel (blurbing for Ben Orlin's new book)
Up to this point, Keith Devlin is the only person I’ve interviewed twice here… but, that all changes today!… DR-R-R-R-UMROLL… as I present a second interview with the wonderful Ben Orlin, who, as most readers likely know, has his first book coming out in about a month! “Math With Bad Drawings” -- not to be too hyperbolic about it, but I dare predict a volume UNlike any other math book EVER! ...combining Ben’s deep thoughts, wit, mathematical insights, and lovably badly-drawn (but expression-filled) characters.

If somehow you’re unaware of Dr. Orlin and his blog you may want to check this page first, where he gives links to many of his favorite or most popular posts:

You can also follow him as @BenOrlin on Twitter.
[I last referenced him on the blog a bit ago HERE.]

My first interview with Ben was over 3 years ago, HERE, and I highly encourage all to read or re-read it since it gives more delightful background on the man/teacher. For this interview, I wanted to focus more specifically on his first-time authorship and with that said, here goes:


1)  When did the idea of doing a book begin to form in your mind?

Rough timeline:
1993-2014: Idle daydreams of writing book someday.
2015: Contacted by two great agents; begin developing book proposals.
2016: Contacted by a great editor; I put her in contact with my agents; the three of them figure out a plan while I twiddle my thumbs.
2017: I write a book!

And if I can ask, how many publishers did you have to go to to find a taker?  Is there any interesting or special backstory behind ending up with Black Dog & Leventhal, a publisher I’d not heard of?

We did an exclusive deal with BD&L rather than shop around -- my editor Becky Koh had a great sense of vision, and they make gorgeous, colorful books so luscious you want to eat them. Having seen the final product I am 300% sure it was the right call.

...geeez, you make it all sound too easy (…the poor schleps who suffer through 37 rejection letters are going to hate you ;)

2)  Can you give us a little outline of what the book covers?

There are five sections:
1. How to think like a mathematician
2. Design: the secret geometry of things that work
3. Probability: the mathematics of maybe
4. Statistics: the fine art of honest lying
5. On the Cusp: the power of a step 

3)  I’m just curious if in your own head you ever have names for your little round-headed buddies?

Never, actually! To me they are just nameless, noseless folks.

Also, have you ever considered adding a Snoopy-like dog (or cat or other animal) to your regular cast of characters?

Not until this moment! That's a pretty compelling thought.

(…and remember, when you do it, 10% of the royalties can be deposited directly into my off-shore Grand Cayman account, OK)

4)  Who are your own favorite cartoonists of any type, living or dead?

I grew up on Garfield and Dilbert. Later realized that Calvin and Hobbes is the greatest achievement of the 20th century. These days xkcd and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal are my two staples.

Sorry, The Far Side is the Grand Prize winner, but you have named the 3 runners-up!

5)  Is your wife involved in mathematics, and what does she think of your comic proclivities? Does she help edit you?

She's a harmonic analyst — by far the more serious mathematician in the marriage. She is enormously patient with all my foibles, cartooning included.

6)  Any chance you’ve already given thought to a 2nd volume?

Yes! We did a two-book deal with Black Dog & Leventhal. The follow-up is a playful, reader-friendly tour of calculus.

…Why-ohhh-why were there no playful tours of calculus when I was growing up!???

7)  Any details yet on a possible book tour?

I've got tentative events in PA, MD, DC, VA, NC, and NY. Plus I'll schedule some stops in New England soon. Details by the end of the summer!

Thanks Ben; so many of us looking forward to this unique treat (and great to know there's a second one coming along as well!)....

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