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Every once in a while I like to catch up and share the titles of conjuring books I’ve been reading, so here’s what I’ve been enjoying the last couple of months—and a little product review at the end as well:

1. Scripting Magic, Volume 2: Pete McCabe’s first volume, Scripting Magic, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. It contained scripts for dozens of excellent magic tricks, and what’s more, it told you why they were good scripts and compared them to the not-so-good examples. Anyone reading them could improve the effects they already did by following the advice in the book. Now, in Volume 2, McCabe continues with more wonderful tricks and scripts—including examples from America’s Got Talent winner Derek Hughes, and the script of Houdini’s performance of the Water Torture Cell. McCabe tells you not only what makes a good script, but also helps you to understand how to come up with a premise, and how to flesh it out. It’s terrific advice, but even if you choose to ignore it, there are some very good tricks here including “Pleasure To Burn” ( a fifty-two to one card equivoque) and the holiday-themed “Catching a Leprechaun.”  While it’s always great to learn new sleights (and McCabe teaches a few here in the context of a given effect) probably no investment of time will improve one’s magic so much as focusing on script and presentation.

2. Malini and His Magic: Dai Vernon was always humble about the debt he owed to the magicians whose work he studied, including Emil Jarrow and Nate Leipzig, but none impressed him more than Max Malini. I’ve written about Malini before, but it is hard to overestimate what an important influence he was on Vernon’s generation of magicians. In an age where magicians mainly entertained with large illusions on stage, Malini changed the paradigm. Whether he was entertaining on the stage of a large theater, a hotel ballroom, or an intimate dinner party of the rich and famous, he needed only a couple of decks of cards and some silverware to make his presence unforgettable. In Malini and His Magic, editor Lewis Ganson collated Vernon and others’ thoughts and memories of Malini in order to produce a slim but valuable volume. It starts off with some basic biographical information, and then describes the presentation and methods of Malini’s full evening show, the highlight of which was his card stabbing routine. Later chapters deal with Malini’s more informal shows, and it’s wonderful to read about how audacious his effects and methods were. Malini was also quite a self-promoter, and not a small amount of his success was his ability to “schmooze” and make friends with wealthy patrons. The one secret that remains is the famous dinner table production of a block of ice from a lady’s hat. While Vernon describes the production and one aspect of the method, he admits that he does not know how Malini loaded up. That will have to be a mystery to all but Ricky Jay, who you can see perform the astonishing trick for a skeptical journalist in the documentary film Deceptive Practice. (Hmm, I just got an idea of what may have happened.)

3. Our friend Ron Chavis is now well along with the publication of his “Official Magazine for Mentalists,” Mystic Descendant, having released a solid four quarterly issues to round out the first year. The magazine continues with its friendly, good-natured, bar-room mate outlook, and as I have mentioned before, it focuses mainly on the casual performance of mentalism, with a focus on storytelling. I’ve finally caught up with the fourth issue, and in it you’ll find a lovely true story about a seance that unexpectedly turns into a tribute to a recently deceased mentalist; a presentation of an effect that leaves warm feelings of a spectator’s meaningful relationship; and an interview with South American mentalist Mauricio Jaramillo who talks about preparing for the time when things go wrong in performance. It’s light, pleasant reading, that may well stimulate mentalism thoughts of your own; if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you can go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mysticdescendant to order any issue.

4. On some of the internet magicians’ forums, you’ll find endless discussion of what are the best cards to use, and it may seem amusing to run into spirited online discussions that go into scores of pages on whether blue-backed or red-backed cards are best to use. A lot of magicians take such things quite seriously. Anyway, much virtual ink has also been spilled about what brand of cards is most suitable for card magic. For the past few years, the product of a relative newcomer in the field, the Phoenix deck by Card-Shark, has found favor with many magicians. I like Phoenix cards a lot, but I recently became aware of the new release by the US Playing Card Company of a special edition of their Maiden Back cards. I’ve been using them for a few months now, and I really like them, maybe more than the Phoenix cards. Here’s what I think the advantages of them are:

  1. They faro out of the box very nicely. They are traditionally cut, so if you’re a top down faro person like me, you can just turn the cards face up. The cards are so amenable that I don’t mind the difference for me at all.
  2. The cards are slightly thinner than regular Bicycle stock, and seem more flexible. It makes shuffling and general handling easier.
  3. The cards fan well and keep their fanning ability even after a period of time.
  4. Each deck comes with two identical jokers, a blank card, and a DB. Good times!
  5. The cards will make fans of Boris Wild and Ted Lesley very happy, if you get my meaning, wink wink, nudge, nudge; quick, and from a distance too.
  6. The factory sealed decks are in Tamariz order. Even if you don’t know that system, what it means is that with a copy of Mnemonica to inform you (see chapter five, especially) you’ll be able to do poker routines, including any poker hand called for; bridge demos; story deck effects; and finally you can convert to stay stack and New Deck Order with some (admittedly fancy) finger flinging. All this straight out of the box. And if you do know the Tamariz system, well…
  7. The card box is subtly differentiated so that you won’t mix it up with your other decks.
  8. Penguin is selling them now for $60 a dozen, which is a totally ridiculous price for cards with the last three features. They can be your everyday decks.

So if this sounds like something you might be interested in, I’d advise you to try a brick soon, as I don’t really see how they can keep selling them at this price. Happy magishing.