I’m Ben Orlin Author Of Math with Bad Drawings: Illuminating the Ideas That Shape Our Reality
Author Math lover Bad at drawing
The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,234 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

My favorite read in 2023…

Dear Committee Members

By Julie Schumacher,

Book cover of Dear Committee Members

Ben Orlin Why did I love this book?

Never, in all my years of writing recommendation letters, have I considered them as a form of literature. In fact, recommendation letters strike me as anti-literature: documents of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, and for the bureaucrats.

Yet here is a fabulous, funny, and rather touching epistolary novel written in the form of recommendation letters. 

Our antihero is a cantankerous English professor at a second-rate university, firing off witty missives at institutions and employers. He is a man of words who wants to shape the world through words alone, without leaving his desk—and his results are suitably disappointing to him (though reliably amusing to the reader).

By Julie Schumacher,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Dear Committee Members as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finally a novel that puts the "pissed" back into "epistolary."

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can't catch a break with his brilliant (he…

My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Games: Agency As Art

By C. Thi Nguyen,

Book cover of Games: Agency As Art

Ben Orlin Why did I love this book?

Though I wrote a book of games, I have never been an avid (or competent) game player. I’ve never understood why. Now I have a theory: it’s because I am an anti-Nguyen.

I read this philosophy book as a kind of self-portrait. Nguyen seems to be the perfect example of an admirable type of play he calls striving: attempting to win in a committed but temporary way to give oneself a particular experience of play. In most of life, the means are disposable, and the ends are what matter; in striving play, it’s just the reverse.

Such play requires you to wear your desire for victory lightly, like a fall jacket. That’s precisely where I struggle. My desire to win is a heavy winter coat: I struggle to put it on, and once it’s on, it ain’t coming off. Ah well. All the more I have to learn from Nguyen.

By C. Thi Nguyen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Games as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Games are a unique art form. Games work in the medium of agency. Game designers tell us who to be and what to care about during the game. Game designers sculpt alternate agencies, and game players submerge themselves in those alternate agencies. Thus, the fact that we play games demonstrates the fluidity of our own agency. We can throw ourselves, for a little while, into a different and temporary motivations.

This volume presents a new theory of games which insists on their unique value. C. Thi Nguyen argues that games are an integral part our systems of communication and our…

My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Boggs: A Comedy of Values

By Lawrence Weschler,

Book cover of Boggs: A Comedy of Values

Ben Orlin Why did I love this book?

I grabbed this book off a bargain shelf, unsure whether it was fiction. That was a perfect misconception. I encourage you to buy the book without finding out.

Read this description and nothing else: Boggs is an artist. His work: exquisite duplicates of currency notes. Not counterfeits! Boggs always emphasizes that his bills are art, not currency. Nevertheless, he attempts to “spend” them. After running up a restaurant tab for $87, he offers to “pay” his server a drawing of a $100 bill—which, of course, is hard to price, being art, but he’s willing to value it at, let’s say…how does $100 sound?

His work, then, is not just the bills. It is the bizarre interactions with strangers, the way he challenges them to think about value, money, currency, art, exchange… all very interesting, in a good way. But when the Secret Service gets involved, it’s interesting in a less good way…

By Lawrence Weschler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boggs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this text, Lawrence Weschler chronicles the antics of J.S.G. Boggs, a young artist with a certain panache, a certain flair, an artist whose consuming passion is money, or perhaps, more precisely, value. What Boggs likes to do is to draw money - actual paper notes in the denominations of standard currencies from all over the world - and then to go out and try to spend those drawings. Instead of selling his money drawings outright to interested collectors, Boggs looks for merchants who will accept his drawings in lieu of cash payment for their wares or services as part…

Plus, check out my book…

Math with Bad Drawings: Illuminating the Ideas That Shape Our Reality

By Ben Orlin,

Book cover of Math with Bad Drawings: Illuminating the Ideas That Shape Our Reality

What is my book about?

A wacky gumball machine of a math book. Each chapter is a deeply researched, poorly illustrated, and utterly irreverent tale of a mathematical idea, from triangles in architecture to luck in lotteries to planet-destroying spheres in Star Wars.

In the words of BBC star and mathematician Hannah Fry: “Ben Orlin is terribly bad at drawing. Luckily, he’s also fantastically clever and charming. His talents have added up to the most glorious, warm, and witty illustrated guide to the irresistible appeal of mathematics.”

I read 35 books this year.