I like to do a Favorites of the Year post on our blog’s birthday, so here are some of the interviews or written pieces which we enjoyed most over the past year that you may have missed, or may like to view again:
David Graeber died last month and it was a real loss. The radical anthropologist was probably best known as the author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, but my favorite book of his is the quirky Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. Here’s my commentary on this important book as broadcast today on the Arts Express program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Click on the triangle or the image above to listen.
In 1980, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan created the wildly successful television series and book, Cosmos. Now, forty years later, Ann Druyan has come out with a third series of Cosmos and a companion book called Cosmos: Possible Worlds. I was happy to interview Ann Druyan about the new series.
To hear the interview as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM and Pacifica affiliates across the nation, click on the image or the triangle above.
In this installment, we’ll be getting into more specialized and advanced books, yet I think the information in each of them is valuable no matter what area of magic most intrigues you.
TheDai Vernon Book of Magic by Lewis Ganson: Some of the classic close-up routines of magic, including The Chinese Coins, that should be in every magician’s repertoire.
Restaurant and Bar Magicby Jonathan Kamm: Kamm is a bar magician, and in this slim book of effects he explains some wonderful mainstays of the bar magician. If you’re not a drinker, don’t let the appellation of bar magic worry you. Bar magic is close-up magic that requires little in the way of props, but it has a very clear plot, is visual, often modular, and has high impact. There’s a great repeat card under deck routine here as well as seven other routines which, as they say, are workers.
Marked for Life by Kirk Charles: This is a slim paperback on how to create your own deck of marked cards and tricks to do with same. There’s a hilarious trick done with a rubber stamp imprint of a cat’s paw that I used to have a lot of fun with. But the real winner here is the system for marking cards that Bob Farmer came up with that requires only a red Sharpie on a red Bicycle deck which produces marks that can be seen from a good distance.
Expert Card Technique by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue: This one may sit on the shelf until you’re ready for it, but once you are, you will be amazed at the gems of advanced card magic sleights and effects it contains: passes, glimpses, transpositions. Though written before Royal Road to Magic and Card College, this is the post-graduate course.
Taschen Magic Posters: I’ve written about this book before, and I continue to feel that it’s one of my favorite magic books of all time. This multi-lingual large-size edition pictured above is out of print and hard to find now, but there’s a smaller sized abridged version available at very reasonable cost, which is still quite wonderful. It’s beautifully put together with glorious reproductions of hundreds of years of magic posters interspersed with essays from the likes of Jim Steinmeyer. It’s big, heavy, and an absolute pleasure to pull out on a rainy day.
An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski: while this volume was meant for theater actors performing in a scripted play, there is much here to be learned here about communicating with an audience. The Spanish magician Juan Tamariz summarized some of this information in The Five Ways of Magic, but An Actor Prepares goes more deeply into some important aspects of performing and getting ready to perform. Pay special attention to the sections on Relaxation, Concentration, Units and Objectives, Faith and a Sense of Truth, The Super-Objective, and Communion.
Act Two by Barrie Richardson: There’s more great mental magic in this sequel to Theater of the Mind. If you’ve always wanted to learn a memdeck, but don’t think you’re quite up to it now, there’s an easy to memorize half memdeck here that’s very useful. In particular, it’s used in a easy-to-do stage ACAAN that plays big. There are many other mental effects and techniques here that are worth exploring as well.
Card College, Volumes 2, 3, and 4: by Roberto Giobbi: Card College is a massive achievement but I think Royal Road substitutes well for Volume 1 and has better tricks, and Volume 5 is largely a book of pleasant but unessential card tricks. For me, the real stars of the CC series are Volumes 2, 3 and 4, which form an excellent detailed reference for learning and executing the most common card sleights one might come across in other sources.
Magic is My Weed and How to Make Love the Steve Spill Way both by Steve Spill. I put these two books together because frankly it is hard to decide between them. Simply, read them both. They are not cheap, but if you are planning to set foot onstage before a large audience in a regular professional capacity, these books would be a very wise investment. I did detailed reviews of the two books here (Weed) and here (Love). If you want to be a performer and not just a guy or gal doing tricks, these books are a goldmine of information. Wonderful effects, jokes, scripts, but even more wonderful advice about how to construct an act and entertain an audience.
It’s time once again for this blog’s annual magic contest!
So here is the challenge this year:
What are the two (three is optional) most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen? Tell us the circumstances, and why you were so impressed by those effects. That’s it. In your entry, see if you can put the reader in your place, and see if you can transmit some of that feeling that you experienced.
First prize is first choice from the terrific grab bag of magic books I’ve put together; second prize is second choice from the grab bag; and third prize, in a parallel, numerically pleasing manner, is third choice from the grab bag. The items in the grab bag are all commercial books, at least one of which, I guarantee, you will be very happy to have.
All are welcome to participate. And even if you were a past winner before, feel free to participate again as long as you were not a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place winner last year.
And in the spirit of everyone being a winner, I’ll ask all entrants to allow me to make up a pdf file which includes their entry. This pdf will NOT BE SOLD, but will be offered only as a free download to all those who entered.
Send your entries please to email@example.com
Make sure to put the word CONTEST in the subject line
Deadline Monday, November 2, 11:59 PM. In case of a tie, earlier entries get preference.
In her fascinating new book, The Young Lords, Professor Johanna Fernández makes a compelling case that the Young Lords were one of the most important revolutionary groups of the late 60s and early 70s. They won lasting victories by coupling street smarts, sophisticated organizing techniques, and intense political analyses. There’s much to be learned from their story, both successes and failures, which is cogently and lovingly told by the author.
Click on the triangle or image above to hear my interview with Johanna Fernández, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program, heard on WBAI NYC and Pacifica stations across the nation.
It’s August and that’s the month poet Charles Bukowski was born in 1920. With over 5000 poems and six novels and hundreds of short stories to his name, he’s become a kind of cult figure over the last decades. While his writings have stamped him with the indelible persona of an alcoholic anti-social misanthropic and misogynistic git, yet there’s also a gentler humanness in Bukowski.
He died at the age of 74. On his gravestone the epitaph reads, “Don’t Try.”
Come with us now as we go out to our favorite virtual watering hole, knock down a couple of drinks, and listen to a performance of some of Bukowski’s poems as broadcast today on Arts Express radio on Pacifica stations across the nation.
Click on the grey triangle or mp3 link above to listen.
I’ll assume you’ve learned enough about basic sleights and presentation so that now I’ll recommend books that explain more advanced techniques or books that offer a broader scope of action. I also include more books that give a more intimate look into aspects of the history of magic.
Bound to Please by Simon Aronson is a collection of three smaller books by the author. The first is a collection of early card effects of Aronson’s, the second is a description of his memorized deck, and the third is devoted to a single card effect called “ShuffleBored.” Aronson, by training a lawyer, was one of the best writers of magic around. His writing is thorough, detailed, engaging, and some of the cleverest card magic you’ll ever encounter. You will fool yourself.
Let’s take the three sections from back to front (and it’s probably the best way to read the book!) : ShuffleBored is not only the best “self-working” card trick in the universe (and I’ll back that up with money if need be!) it’s stronger than 90% of most other card tricks as well. (Hot tip: do John Bannon’s version from Dear Mr. Fantasy. His ideas with the eye covering and shuffling procedure are great improvements.)
The second section is an extensive tutorial on Aronson’s memorized deck: how to learn one, and the specific features built into the Aronson stack. You’re not going to acquire a memdeck overnight, but it’s not as hard as many think. If you’re serious about this stuff, you might as well start now, and you’ll get it down long before you get your pass or strike double to where you like it. You’ll have an incredible tool in your kit.
The third section is a collection of card magic, some of which uses the memdeck. My favorite trick here is “Some People Say,” which has a very simple plot, but the conditions are so stringent that it seems a complete impossibility. Very good for driving your analytical friends crazy.
BTW, if you’re skeptical about learning a memdeck or just want to know more, Aronson wrote a booklet for those contemplating learning a memdeck and graciously offered it for free here.
Simply Simon, by Simon Aronson. More card magic from a great thinker of card magic. There are some wonderful routines, including my favorite memdeck routine, “Past, Present, Future.” But it’s not just a book of memdeck effects—even if you never want to remember another card in your life, there’s great material here, somewhat challenging to learn, but not overly difficult.
Stars of Magic: This thin volume consists of the original Stars of Magic pamphlets that were originally printed separately but are now offered as a bound collection. And a stellar collection it is. There are effects by John Scarne, Dr. Daley, Francis Carlyle, Dai Vernon, Slydini, and more. This is professional level magic and a career could be assembled from learning all these effects. They’re not necessarily easy, and they do contain some advanced sleight of hand, but these are classic routines that have stood the test of time and probably every professional magician working today has one of these effects in his or her repertoire. Even if you don’t master all of these routines, you should be aware of them.
Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: I wrote at length on this book here and here. One of the big hurdles for performing for people you’ve known for years is that they find it hard to swallow that you are suddenly endowed with superhuman powers. How do you perform for friends and family without coming off as a narcissistic jerk? Well, Jerry Deutsch has an approach which really resonates with me. In this style of presentation, the performer is as surprised by what happens as the spectator is. In fact, even when the performer tries to do a trick, the trick goes wrong (that’s the Perverse part)—but with a stronger effect than what was first expected, much to everyone’s surprise.
Dai Vernon: A Biography by David Ben. The most influential magician of the twentieth century, Dai Vernon, was essentially an obsessed amateur for whom the art of magic was more important than business, family, or just about anything else. “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” created some of the greatest close-up effects and techniques in magic and was also a consummate teacher. Because Vernon did little documentation of his own work (although he was an endless storyteller), this first volume of a projected two volume set about his life is a valuable detailed look at the trajectory of Vernon’s domestic and magic lives.
Tricks Every Magician Should Know by Al Schneider. This is a fun book filled with, well, stuff. The kind of throwaway novelties that some magicians seem to know, but aren’t necessarily written down anywhere: How To Shoot Rubberbands, Making a Handkerchief Rabbit, How To Tie A Knot Without Letting Go Of The Ends, How To Push A Cigarette Up Your Nose—you get it, the essential things.
ThePhoenix, edited By Bruce Elliott. I’m a magic magazine junkie, and it was a toss-up whether to list Hugard’s Magic Monthly or The Phoenix. I went with the latter for now, because The Phoenix has more of a close-up focus than stage, and it’s much more available.
The Phoenix was the offspring of Ted Annemann’s The Jinx, and like The Jinx it eschewed sleight-of-hand effects for those using subtle and clever principles. There were some wonderful contributors, including Vernon, Marlo, and Paul Curry (“Out of This World”) who had a regular column. Bruce Elliott was a writer by trade who kept the magazine lively with his strong opinions and commentary on the magic scene of the 40s and 50s. Yes, you can find pdf files of this, but the bound collection is so much more fun to read.
Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott. I first read this book as a teen-ager when it was issued in paperback. It covers a dozen or so classic close-up effects of magic. This is not meant as an expose book, but a serious book of teaching magic. The book, much of it drawn from articles in The Phoenix, covers effects like the Cups and Balls, The Four Aces, The Miser’s Dream, The Ambitious Cards and others.
The methods given for these tricks are not always the most sophisticated, but they are meant for advanced beginners and they will get the job done. A warning—this book is not for children. There’s a version of the Swallowing Razor Blade Trick that’s not at all suitable for young people, and there’s another trick involving corncob pipes that has a good chance of seriously harming the performer (both ammonia and hydrochloric acid are involved here. Ah, the 50s!). But the rest of the book is very good, and the Dr. Sachs dice routine, which is not easy to find elsewhere, is an excellent impromptu item to know.
Some years ago, mentalist Bob Cassidy published “The Thirty-Nine Steps – A Mentalist’s Library of Essential Works” a list of what he considered the most important books for a mentalist to be familiar with. He undoubtedly was inspired by his hero Ted Annemann’s list first printed in The Jinx in 1936, called The Jinx Five-Foot Shelf. The idea of TJFFS was to put together a list of books that would be foundational texts in the arts of magic. The ground rules were that you had five feet of shelf space to work with, all the books had to still be in print, and the primary purpose of the list was to pick out those books that would best help beginners start in magic and continue on as their skills and knowledge grew.
On several of the magic forums, some people are putting together their own more recent lists; Jeff Kowalk in particular has a very nice series of videos he’s produced which you can see here. I thought I would contribute my own list, based on books that I’ve owned or read. As a little update to the rules, I do not allow ebooks or DVDs—not that ‘s there anything wrong with them. (Perhaps one day I will do a post on the great Books vs Video debate.) Also, if a book is out of print but is readily available through second-hand sources, I allow it.
I figure I can fit about ten average volumes in a foot of shelf space, so here are my nominees for the first foot, which I’ll call Getting Started:
Magic For Dummies by David Pogue: I rarely see this book on lists of this kind, but it’s a great introductory book that teaches a variety of magic without overwhelming the reader. There are contributions in each chapter from some famous modern magicians, but the real contribution is that it teaches from the get-go that magic is a performing art, more than just a collection of methods. It encourages readers to create compelling presentations, not just learn the moves. There are some great tricks in here, pretty much self-working in terms of method, but even if you’re more advanced in magic you’ll find some usable material here. Hot tip—Don’t let the Dummies in the title put you off: on page 64, you’ll find a method that fooled Penn & Teller a few weeks ago.
Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer: A practitioner of any art should have a knowledge of its history, and that’s certainly true of magic. Steinmeyer, who is one of the great modern illusion designers, is also one of modern magic’s best historians. By telling the story of Houdini’s disappearing elephant—and how it might have been accomplished—Steinmeyer introduces the reader to a whole cast of larger than life personalities and what it was like to be a stage magician in a rough and tumble, competitive performing era. But more than that, he gets you inside of magical thinking—what is it to imagine an effect and then to invent a way to bring it to fruition?
The Glorious Deception by Jim Steinmeyer: Another great magic history book by Steinmeyer, it tells the wild story of Englishman Will Robinson, who performed as a Chinese-born magician under the name of Chung Ling Soo. Robinson started out as the backstage assistant and “brains” for several famous nineteenth-century magicians, but his biggest trick—his secret double life—was not discovered until he died in a Bullet Catch trick that went wrong—or did it? Steinmeyer writes books that you would read even if you were not into magic—they’re that full of vivid writing, period detail, compelling action, and some of the most colorful characters in show business. It helps the reader to understand that s/he’s stepping into a deep tradition, and has something to uphold.
Royal Road to Card Magic by Frederick Braue and Jean Hugard: Most people learn a few card tricks along the way, but when you’re ready to get more serious about cards, this is the place to start. It’s an absolute model of how-to-do-it pedagogy. Each chapter adds a new sleight, incrementally, and then teaches a few tricks that focus on that sleight. By the time you reach the end of the book, if you’ve been following it, you are well on your way to card magic mastery.
Some people recommend Roberto Giobbi’s five volume Card College as the more modern place to begin with card magic. There’s no doubt that Card College is quite an achievement, and its teaching is impeccable. But I find Card College dry, better used as a reference resource than a series of books to be read straight through. There’s a ton of information in Card College, but for beginners I would still recommend Royal Road over the Giobbi series. Royal Road is inexpensive, the teaching is very good, and there are some wonderful tricks in there that you will do for the rest of your life.
Fast Track CoinMagicby Al Schneider: Here, I’m again going to go against what a lot of people recommend for a first coin book. People invariably recommend J. B. Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic as the place for beginners interested in coin magic to begin. Frankly, I think Bobo’s is a horrible book for beginners. It’s cramped descriptions are difficult to follow, it’s illustrations are not helpful, and it’s massive size is way too much information for a beginner in coins.
Coin magic is famously one of the most difficult branches of magic in which to achieve mastery. It’s very reliant on what can be difficult sleight of hand. It also depends a lot on the timing and co-ordination of the two hands’ movements. A written description of a deceptive two-handed coin vanish may take very few words—but if the timing is slightly off, there’s no illusion. Frankly, I think coin magic is the one area of magic where video illustration is of immense help.
But if you’re limited to books, I’d go with this Al Schneider book. It goes over the fundamental sleights well with lots of clear photos and explanations, and it has directions for coin tricks with a variety of plots. You won’t find much in the way of presentation scripts, but Schneider does give the bare bones with which to add your own personality. Once you finish this book you’ll be much better equipped to dive into other coin books, including Bobo’s.
Mark Wilson Complete Course In Magic by Mark Wilson: Mark Wilson had a tremendously successful weekly magic show in the 1960s on Saturday mornings and here you’ll find a big book of entertaining magic with kid-friendly illustrations. It covers the range of magic—cards, coins, ropes, mentalism, and even platform illusions that you can make yourself. It’s kind of like a Forest Gump box of magic. It even includes whole routines for sponge balls and a section on impromptu magic. If you’re thinking about putting together a school show, this is a great place to start. Even for an experienced performer there is some surprisingly good material here. A lot of bang for the buck.
Magic With Everyday Objects by George Schindler: This is a great book for doing magic in casual settings like the dinner table or office. Technically, most of the tricks are not difficult, and it’s nice to have a repertoire of tricks that you can perform at a moment’s notice in just about any situation.
Scripting Magic (Volumes I & 2) by Pete McCabe and others: These are must have books. At a certain point you realize that if you’re going to spend time working to perform your magic for actual people and not just the mirror, your time is best invested by scripting your magic. McCabe gives dozens of examples of how a good script can take a trick from the mundane to the astounding. And as a bonus, there are lots of wonderful tricks–with scripts!–from some excellent magicians.
Theater of the Mind by Barrie Richardson: I have a special place in my heart for this book because it was the first magic book I ever purchased as an adult. And I was very lucky that I did. Not just because of the sheer volume of clever magical thinking per cubic inch, but because of the humanistic approach that Barrie Richardson takes towards his magic. His warm, kind-heartedness shines through the whole book and his magic; in an entertainment form that too often uses audience members as props, Barrie implicitly teaches a generous attitude which is one of the most important lessons a performer can learn. Some of the material is not beginner level, but there’s so much more to this book than just the tricks. And Barrie gives full scripts and presentations for each of the effects. He urges performers to keep thinking about what they ultimately want an audience to experience and walk out with.
I first encountered Indiana poet/musician Peter Davis’s work only a few months ago, but his laconic slacker sensibility, quirky playful sense of humor and self-deprecation immediately appealed to me.
His poems start off ordinarily enough, and then often veer into strange territory, defying expectation. Underlying much of it, the poems are about self-justification and what we say to ourselves and others in order to get us out of the existential jam that we have no idea what we’re doing, even as we proceed with bluff assurance.
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my reading of some of Peter Davis’s poems as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI NY, WBAI.org, and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Jeremy Brecher has just come out with a revised and updated 50th anniversary edition of his brilliantly readable book called STRIKE! about the history of strikes in the United States. It’s an eye-opening history in so many ways, but for now, I’d just like to excerpt from the book an editorial that was published in the Seattle Union Record concerning the general strike that had taken hold in Seattle in 1919. The general strike involved shipbuilders, dockworkers, laundry workers, restaurant workers, milk-wagon drivers, and many more trades who brought the city to a standstill. If this rings a bell for you today, it’s not a coincidence.
There will be many cheering, and there will be some who fear.
Both these emotions are useful, but not too much of either.
We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR
in this country, a move which will lead—NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!
We do not need hysteria.
We need the iron march of labor.
LABOR WILL FEED THE PEOPLE.
Twelve great kitchens have been offered, and from them food
will be distributed by the provision trades at low cost to all.
LABOR WILL CARE FOR THE BABIES AND THE SICK.
The milk-wagon drivers and the laundry drivers are arranging plans
for supplying milk to babies, invalids and hospitals and taking care
of the cleaning of linen for hospitals.
LABOR WILL PRESERVE ORDER.
The strike committee is arranging for guards and it is expected that
the stopping of the cars will keep people at home..
A few hot-headed enthusiasts have complained that strikers-only
should be fed, and the general public left to endure severe
discomfort. Aside from the inhumanitarian character of such
suggestions, let them get this straight—
NOT THE WITHDRAWAL OF LABOR POWER,
BUT THE POWER OF THE STRIKERS TO MANAGE WILL WIN THIS STRIKE.
What does Mr. Piez of the Shipping Board care about the
closing down of Seattle’s shipyards, or even of all of the
industries of the northwest? Will it not merely strengthen the
yards at Hog Island, in which he is more interested?
When the shipyard owners of Seattle were on the point of agreeing
with the workers, It was Mr. Piez who wired them that, if they so
HE WOULD STILL NOT LET THEM HAVE STEEL.
Whether this is camouflage we have no means of knowing.
But we do know that the great eastern combinations of capitalists
COULD AFFORD to offer privately to Mr. Skinner, Mr. Ames and
Mr. Duthie a few millions apiece in eastern shipyard stock.
RATHER THAN LET THE WORKERS WIN.
The closing down of Seattle’s industries, as a MERE SHUTDOWN,
will not affect these eastern gentlemen much. They could let the
whole northwest go to pieces, as far as money alone is concerned.
BUT, the closing down of the capitalistically controlled industries
of Seattle, while the WORKERS ORGANIZE to feed the people,
to care for the babies and the sick, to preserve order—
THIS will move them, for this looks too much like the taking over
of the POWER of the workers.
Labor will not only SHUT DOWN the industries,
but Labor will REOPEN, under the management of the appropriate trades,
such activities as are needed to preserve public health
and public peace. If the strike continues, Labor may feel led
to avoid public suffering by reopening more and more activities.
UNDER ITS OWN MANAGEMENT
And that is why we say that we are starting on a road that leads—
NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!
Last week I posted Part One of my interview with Jodi Dean, author of the new book, Comrade. In that part of the interview, she talked about the origin and unique importance of the word, “comrade,” and how it differs from other terms like friend or ally.
This week we continue with Part Two of that conversation as we talk about what happens when comrades and party part company, and what the opening for a real politics might be in the time of pandemic. As events occur at lightening speed, her point of view becomes more important than ever.
Click on the triangle or the mp3 link above to hear the interview as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
I keep a file on my computer labeled “Quotations,” which consists of various clippings I’ve picked up along the way. Every once in a long while I like to re-read them, so I thought I’d share some of them with you.
“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.”
― Elbert Hubbard
“The big thing about directing is to find out what gives the actor confidence. Once the actor has confidence they are free to extend themselves.”–Paul Newman
“You must never, never despair, whatever the circumstances. To hope and to act, these are our duties in misfortune. To do nothing and despair is to neglect our duty.” — Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago
“My teachers should have ridden with Jessie James for all the time that they stole from me.”
“The closest to perfection a person ever comes is when he fills out a job application form.” — Stanley Randall
“When you feel overwhelmed, you’re trying too hard. That kind of energy does not help the other person and it does not help you. You should not be too eager to help right away. There are two things: to be and to do. Don’t think too much about to do—to be is first. To be peace. To be joy. To be happiness. And then to do joy, to do happiness—on the basis of being.So first you have to focus on the practice of being. Being fresh. Being peaceful. Being attentive. Being generous. Being compassionate. This is the basic practice. It’s like if the other person is sitting at the foot of a tree. The tree does not do anything, but the tree is fresh and alive. When you are like that tree, sending out waves of freshness, you help to calm down the suffering in the other person.” —Thích Nhất Hạnh
“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”–Friedrich Nietzsche
“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it”
George Bernard Shaw
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Chekhov
“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” -John Cleese
“Son, never trust a man who doesn’t drink because he’s probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time. Some of them are good men, but in the name of goodness, they cause most of the suffering in the world. They’re the judges, the meddlers. And, son, never trust a man who drinks but refuses to get drunk. They’re usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that they’re a coward or a fool or mean and violent. You can’t trust a man who’s afraid of himself. But sometimes, son, you can trust a man who occasionally kneels before a toilet. The chances are that he is learning something about humility and his natural human foolishness, about how to survive himself. It’s ***ed hard for a man to take himself too seriously when he’s heaving his guts into a dirty toilet bowl.”― James Crumley
“Against stupidity, even the gods are invictorious.”–Friedrich Schiller
In 2016 Ibram X. Kendi wrote an acclaimed book called Stamped from the Beginning, The National Book Award winning history of how racist ideas were created, spread, and deeply rooted in American society. Now that book has been adapted by Kendi and Jason Reynolds in what they call a remix for young audiences.
You can listen to my interview with Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds as broadcast today on the Arts Express program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC, WBAI.org, and Pacifica stations across the country by clicking on the triangle or mp3 link above to listen.
It may seem as if Americans have never been more polarized than they are today. But America has always been full of splits, and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro has written a new book, Shakespeare in a Divided America, which explores those conflicts in a unique way. He examines how Americans responded to Shakespearean productions at key times in American history, and his investigations are full of insights and surprises.
Click on the triangle above to hear my interview with James Shapiro as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC, WBAI.org, and on Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Here’s an update on three magic books I’ve received recently, each of which I can recommend to aficionados.
First, The Top Change by Magic Christian. Christian, a seasoned performer and recognized expert on 19th century card magic history (he wrote the massive two volume work on his Viennese forerunner, J. N. Hofzinser: Non Plus Ultra) has written a monograph on the top change and its variants, illustrated with over 200 sharp black & white photographs, and includes an extensive bibliography from Denis Behr. It begins with a chapter on the history of the sleights, then gets down to basics teaching them.
The section describing the basic top change that Christian prefers is actually fairly brief—four pages of Christian’s general philosophy about the top change, and then about ten pages of photos and text breaking down the move, step by step. Those familiar with the description of the move in Expert Card Technique or Giobbi’s Card College may be surprised by some of Christian’s recommendations. He prefers a subtle, subdued approach: he does not try to cover the move with wide sweeping arm movements, and he prefers not to move both hands.
The top change is one of those sleights which is extremely useful in card magic—Christian calls it “the most useful, the most regal sleight” in all of card magic. I have to admit that while technically it’s a much easier move than palming or doing a classic pass, I feel much more comfortable with the latter sleights than doing a top change. Like many, I am afraid of being caught out because of the boldness of the move. But I can say that with some study of the book and practice, I have been gaining in confidence, and my current efforts, as recorded on video, are not too awful. So thank you, Magic Christian.
Next up is David Regal’s new book, Interpreting Magic. It’s a big book, with the usual kind of Regal attention to close-up card and coin magic. Regal is a guy whose roots are in improv and scripting (no, not mutually exclusive at all!) and his focus is always on presenting an entertaining story and premise for his audience. If you’ve seen any of Regal’s other books, you know he’s got literally scores of such workable effects. But curiously, my favorite part of the book was not the close-up magic, but rather the platform magic section. His imagination really lets loose with the larger effects. He’s got very original, ingenious premises and presentations with props that are more unexpected and amusing than the usual card or coin routines. Also, scattered throughout the book, he has some great interviews and essays. There’s not a whole lot of organization to this huge book, so at 500+ pages it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, but I really like dipping into it at random. Definitely recommended.
And finally, there’s Thinking Of You, the latest annual offering from Andy of the magic website, The Jerx. The previous book from The Jerx, Magic for Young Lovers, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. The current book is also quite good, though unsurprisingly, not in the same league as its predecessor. MFYL set a high bar to reach and Andy seems to be aware of that. While the earlier book was conceived as a whole philosophy and approach to amateur magic—and largely succeeded—this one is much more modest in its aims. Thinking Of You is mainly concerned with the performance of mentalism in an amateur social context, and as such it’s more of a toolkit—okay, a bag of tricks—rather than some overarching vision, despite some valuable advice on how to approach social mentalism. That said, many of the individual ideas and effects are quite strong and without the comparison to the other book, it’s quite a respectable piece of work. The book is physically similar to the last two Jerx books, though there are no illustrated endpages as the previous books had. However, for those complaining about the high price of subscribing to the site and receiving the book, here’s a hot tip: some of the best ideas and effects in the book are already on the Jerx site for free, if you comb through the site. Either way, Andy has a ton of great advice for those performing in an amateur social context.
And upcoming: the gambling subset of magic fans has been eagerly awaiting Steve Forte’s new double volume opus on gambling sleights i.e. false deals, shuffles, switches, and so on. It’s Forte’s name that’s the draw here, as his status as a card worker is legendary, and his knowledge and invention of gambling sleights is second to none. In any reasoned list of the best living card workers, Forte’s name is probably going to be right at the top. Forte printed up a first run of 1000 copies, and by the time you read this, it probably will be all sold out, despite the fact that it won’t even be published for another few weeks. A special section on Erdnase’s Expert At The Card Table in the book promises to be a paradigm-breaking re-imagining of the old master. It will be interesting to see if Forte’s book, called Gambling Sleight of Hand, lives up to its high expectations.
All of the books are very good. Depending on your taste in magic, at least one of these books will make a worthwhile read for you.
He was one of the most brilliant and clever creator of card magic effects of the past 50 years. His methods were… shall we say?…memorable. The house of magic is large, as Eugene Burger was fond of saying, and Simon’s creations fit a particular room. His magic was brainy, intellectual, and absolutely fooling. There are magicians who are great at fooling laypeople; there are magicians who are devious enough to fool other magicians; but the amazing thing about Simon’s card magic is that if you were doing it, it would fool even yourself. To this day, there are probably legions of magicians who perform his “Shuffle-Bored” or “Prior Commitment” who still have absolutely no idea why they work. What they know is that they do work, and they blow the minds of people who see them. If the performers themselves can’t figure them out, you can imagine, then, that the spectators have got zero chance. (If you like, we can discuss in the comments about your personal favorite effects of his.)
But make no mistake, Simon’s tricks impressed non-magicians as well. There’s a funny story that magician John Bannon tells in his introduction to one of Aronson’s books. He shows the secretary of Simon’s law firm a card trick, hoping to impress her, and she only smiles pleasantly. Then she says with wide open eyes, “But have you seen Simon’s card magic?”
Speaking of Aronson’s books, I doubt there has ever been a more meticulous, detailed magic writer than he was. His books—Bound To Please, The Aronson Approach, Simply Simon, Try The Impossible, and Art Decko—are masterpieces of explanation of intricate methods. While Simon was not above using sleights and gaffs in his magic (and he delighted in upsetting fellow magicians’ expectations of what his bag of methods might include) his claim to fame really rests on thinking very hard about a few tools which required mostly sleight of mind. As he would say, just as you have to plan things so that your sleight of hand doesn’t show, you also have to plan effects so that your sleight of mind doesn’t show either. In Simon’s books, he takes you through all his thinking point by point, thoroughly exploring variations and improvements, telling you what versions he threw out as weak or too revealing, giving you his scripting, and moreover, unlocking the reasons why his methods work. Simon’s training as a lawyer shows—his books are not just explanations, but thorough briefs with points and subpoints. In magic circles people like to debate, with near religious ferocity, whether it’s better to learn magic from books or DVDs. Of course both sides have valid views, but for the book-lovers, their strongest argument is two words: Simon Aronson.
No one would call Simon an extraordinary performer, but on occasion he would step away from the card table to do another kind of magic: his mentalism act that he created with his college sweetheart and wife of many years, Ginny. (There’s a great photo of college-aged Simon and Ginny on the Jerx website that speaks volumes about them. And Bill Mullins on the Genii Forum posted a wonderful remembrance from Simon about his father who was very active in the 60s Civil Rights movement). They did a classic two-person mindreading act, and fortunately it was captured on video as an extra on one of his videos. It’s something that neither he nor Ginny have ever revealed, and while clearly there must be some code going on, I have resigned myself to the fact that if Simon created it, I’m never going to be able to figure it out. You can see their act for yourself in the L&L video I posted above.
At the first run of mentalist Derren Brown’s Secret here in NYC, Derren pointed to a man in the audience to volunteer for the next effect. It was dark in the theater so I couldn’t see that well, but I thought the man looked familiar; when he said his name was Simon and the woman sitting next to him was Ginny…
I made sure to “accidentally” bump into him as the theater was emptying, and nervously introduced myself to him. He was so nice—he said he knew my name from this blog, and then proceeded to describe the photo I have on the title page of it! I got to talk with him a little longer as we walked together in the rainy weather, and found them a cab back to their hotel. Really couldn’t be nicer people. I treasured that comment from him, as one of the very first essays I wrote on this blog was inspired by an essay of his.
Simon Aronson was a full-out, full-deck memorable mensch, and I’m sorry to hear about his passing. From the Jack of Spades to the Nine of Diamonds, he will not be forgotten.
As readers of this blog know, I’m a longtime fan of cartoons from The New Yorker magazine—and the man who wrote and illustrated almost 2000 of those cartoons was a prolific artist named James Stevenson.
But Stevenson, as Sally Williams’s new film documentary, Stevenson—Lost and Found, uncovers, led an unexpectedly complicated, rich, varied, and sometimes dark artistic life. I was happy to talk with Ms. Williams, the director and producer of the film, about her film and her enigmatic subject.
Click on the triangle above to hear the radio interview, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI 99. FM NYC, and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
I’m a magazine junkie, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, magazines are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s a precarious business. And magic magazines historically have been even more precarious than most other categories of periodicals. It’s not unusual at all for a magic magazine, first announced with the boldest of intentions and good will at the beginning not to make it through even a year. The subsequent cancelling of subscriptions, unreturned money, late and missing issues are the stuff of legend and also often enduring acrimony in the magic world.
And yet new magic periodicals are announced all the time, and folks plunk down their dollars, hoping to get their latest magic fix in measured doses. But to a true magazine junkie, there’s nothing sweeter than pulling down a bound volume of ancient magic magazines from days past and thumbing through it. There’s a saying that if you want to hide the secret of a magic trick, write about it in a book. My corollary to that is if you want to fool the book readers, do something from a magazine. That’s where you’ll find your really obscure effects.
But the pleasure of reading the old magazines is not just to find another magic trick, but to get a sense of the smell and taste of the time, the ads, the news of who was playing in what theater, which dealers were pushing which effects, what the in-group gossip and backbiting was, but most gratifyingly, the imprint of the editor. Because really that is the most important factor in my enjoyment. I love a rag with a voice, an opinion, a personality, a sensibility, even if it’s not one I share with the editor.
Here is a list of five of my favorite classic magic magazines of the past, all of which can be found in bound volumes.
The Sphinx has had a long, long publication history. It ran from 1902-1953, quite a feat in a field where it’s often a wonder when a publication makes it to issue #2. I’ve written a series of posts about this magazine, but even that only scratches the surface in describing its wonderfulness. It is filled to the brim with great stage magic, photographs, and feature articles on famous magicians of the day. The complete print run costs thousands, but the entire number is available on CD for a ridiculously low price.
The Jinx was the newsletter started by Ted Annemann, which ran from 1934 to Annemann’s suicide in 1942. The magazine’s name was a play on its predecessor, The Sphinx. Annemann was a clever inventor of tricks who preferred subtlety over sleights: unlike The Sphinx which focused more on stage and apparatus magic, The Jinx was oriented more to close-up and parlor magic. The Jinx specialized in particular in mental magic, and the bible of mental magic, Annemann’s book Practical Mental Effects, was drawn from effects first printed in The Jinx. Annemann’s honest editorials in every issue managed to offend many, but his observations were often quite sharp.
The Phoenix, which ran from 1942 to 1954, was writer Bruce Elliott’s tribute to Ted Annemann’s The Jinx. In format it was much the same: a newsletter every two weeks or so with some featured tricks and then a column of observations by the editor. Elliott had more outside interests than Annemann, which gave it a bit of a more varied texture than The Jinx. There were lots of contributions from the great names of the day, including Paul Curry, Dai Vernon, Ed Marlo. Like Annemann’s periodical, Elliott’s taste ran to the kind of thing you could show to the boys after the poker game without too much practice. The first Phoenix volume was the first I ever bought from Tannen’s as a youngster, and it holds a special place in my affection. Elliott gave it up in 1954 after 300 issues, and it was succeeded by The New Phoenix for 100 issues with different editors. The magic content of the periodical remained high, but without Bruce Elliott’s savvy Back Room columns, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read.
Hugard’s Magic Monthly had a run from 1943-1964, basically contemporaneous with the two Phoenix publications, but it had a very different flavor about it. The individual issues had a higher page count, and in its stride it had a number of regular columns and features by contributors in each issue. There were regular book reviews, listings of the latest stage shows, excerpts from books, and historical features. Although it was printed on newsprint like The Jinx and The Phoenix, and illustrated mainly by line drawings, it had a larger sense of worldliness than those two publications. Because Jean Hugard and Milbourne Christopher, the two main editors and often pseudonymous contributors, had extensive experience in stage magic and the world of show business, their magazine combined the more professional, international feel of The Sphinx with the magic clubbiness of the other two periodicals.
Apocalypse was a monthly magazine put out by Harry Lorayne from 1978 to 1997. Richard Kaufman, the current editor of Genii magazine, started it with Lorayne when he was a young man, but by its second year, Lorayne was the sole editor. The magazine featured close-up magic effects from the top magicians of the time, with many contributions from Lorayne himself in the field of card and coin magic. Lorayne was a tireless self-promoter and writer, and managed to get great material from his contributors. Lorayne also always provided yearly trick and author indices with each volume, a welcome addition, especially in a day and age before digital searches were possible. Harry famously would include his “Afterthoughts” to many effects including his own, which were short paragraphs of variations and additions to a given effect, sometimes useful, sometimes not. While there’s no doubt that Harry had (and still has in his 90s) a distinctive voice and take on magic, for many, including myself, his narcissism and pettiness make it hard to enjoy the more newsy items he reported on. Still, the magic contained within (check out all the great contributions by David Regal over the years) make this a nominee for desert island reading.
Some of my other past favorite periodicals were Karl Fulves’s publications: Chronicles, Pallbearer’s Review, and Epilogue, though they don’t have the voice or editorial content that the others mentioned above have. Another favorite of mine, too, is Steve Hobb’s more recent periodical Labyrinth. It, also, has little editorial content but contains lots of very clever card magic and sleights.
And, finally, if you don’t find something appealing here, you might take a look at this list of magic periodicals:
Magicpedia estimates there have been over a thousand different magic periodical publications since 1895. So magic magazine junkies take heart—you have plenty of choices to keep you busy for a very long time.
Yesterday, I put a wrap on the fifth year of this blog (put your favorite emoji here), and in keeping with my annual tradition, here are 25 of my favorite posts of the past year created by the Shalblog Industries® team. In no particular order:
I came home after four days of being away and The Horror, The Horror!
Whole shelves of my magic items were completely empty.
“Stop, thief!” I cried. “Someone’s stolen my very best magic books, DVDs and tricks.”
Just then my wife appeared. “Jack, stop having a cow. Everything’s all right. You’re having a magic contest, right?”
“Uh, yes,” I said confused.
“Well, I know how much you respect the readers of your blog, so I put the best stuff aside for your contest.”
“But, but, but…” I stuttered. “That’s my favorite…best…”
“No complaining. I’ve got your prize grab bag set up for you. And who knows there may be even more to come. Now tell everyone to enter soon, timeliness counts and the contest is ending soon. And make sure you tell them that they can find out all the details here: