Monday, 10 August 2009

Argy-Bargy Week

For those who do not know, and here I must remember that this is read beyond the shores of the UK, ‘argy-bargy’ means a heated argument. I have been caught in the middle of such debates recently on two different topics and, to my surprise, did well. I say surprise because normally I just cannot be bothered to even get involved where someone simply wants an argument. A discussion is worthwhile, lots can be learned from a discussion, but an argument is a waste of time where the only thing gained from it is negative feelings.

One topic, not discussed here, was on The Trojan War and the other was regarding the blog of Paul Gordon. Gordon is a card magician who has written many magic books. He performs magic for a living and so his books are based on years of experience. One of his blog posts made the point that his books should be read all the way through and not simply skimmed through to pick out a few tricks.

I left a comment on that blog agreeing and saying that any magic book should be read from cover to cover. Just because some books are divided into sections, sometimes trick by trick, is not an invitation to merely dip into a book instead of reading it. Gordon replied that his method of discouraging that was not to divide his books into such sections.

I thought that was that; an exchange of views in agreement and then onto the next thing of interest. I had no idea that I was inviting people's ire by writing that a magic book should be read all the way through. And so I have had a number of unwelcome arguments from people I do not personally know – but that did not stop them raising the subject with me.

Sense began to prevail when I was able to change the argument to a discussion. I put various questions to them, asking them to consider their own judgement on the matter based on those questions. Thankfully, the result was being told that they then saw my point of view or occasionally even agreed that I was right.

I am unable to give every detail but here are samples of what questions I put to them and some of the replies.

“Are the magic books you own expensive?” - "Yes.”
“Does each one cost more than an action film on a DVD?” - “Yes. A lot more.”
“Would you buy a film on a DVD and only ever watch the car chase scenes and not watch the whole film?” - “No, that would be stupid wouldn’t it? It would be a waste of money. Oh, right.”
“How much money are you wasting by not getting everything you can out of each magic book?” - “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“Do the magic books you own give tips on performance?” - “Yes.”
“Are those tips given all together in one section or are they given bit by bit with each trick?” - “Bit by bit.”
“So, in buying a magic book written by someone you thought was worth learning from, those tips are important?” - “Yes.”
“But by not reading the whole book you are not getting to read all of those tips, are you?” – “No.”
“And you paid quite a bit of money to learn from that person through their book?” - “Okay, I get the point.”

Gordon made his point his own way as described in his blog. More than once people have told Gordon they own a particular book he authored, he then showed them a card trick, they were impressed and ask from which of his books they could learn how to perform it and Gordon’s reply was that they had already said they own a copy.

I made my point in a similar (but non-performance) way a few times by simply pointing out what someone has missed in a book. One example is that after having won over someone to the view that the whole of a magic book should be read, the discussion turned to the subject of MacDonald’s Aces and where could he read any similar four ace trick. I pointed out he had already named a book he owned that has a four ace trick with a similar presentation, And a Pack of Cards by Jack Merlin (under the heading “My Favourite Four Ace Trick”). He then admitted that he only read the sections on card sleights to learn them but did not read any of the cards tricks in the latter half of the book.

There is another aspect to be mentioned and it can be summed up by something that Walt Lees said to me in an email back in May of this year. At the Bristol Day of Magic I bought a copy of Revelation by Dai Vernon (thank you to Paul Cooke of Magic Books By Post). I emailed Walt and said I had a copy but had not begun to ‘read it’ due to illness. Walt, very correctly, was quick to chide my poor choice of words. Revelation was not a book simply to be read, it was to be worked through. And there we have a statement that highlights an important ambiguity of the word ‘read’. Someone can say they are reading a book on origami but what they mean is that they are working their way through the book, making the paper models. The same goes for any book on the subject of how to do something, including magic tricks.

Reading a magic book from cover to cover involves going through each magic trick step by step with the props/cards/coins in hand, learning each and every trick. At the end of that the reader will know enough about the book to judge which tricks suit him/her and whether or not the book is a good or bad magic book. Can you imagine a modern author of fiction being told that the plot of their latest novel is not any good based on reading only ten pages of it and not the whole book?

Every now and then I buy a magic book at a very cheap price. The person selling it made the price low because they thought the book was not very good, despite the good reputation of the author or title. They usually say something like they “tried reading it but didn’t get much out of it.” I have yet to buy a magic book on this basis (and read it and work though it) that did not turn out to be a gem.

I have been described as an omnifarious bibliophile and so to me the idea of someone buying a book and not reading it cover to cover is just plain sacrilege. Perhaps, due to that, you might choose to ignore my view but on the view of Paul Gordon and Walt Lees consider this notion. Their career is magic. Full time. It is their day job and not their hobby. Both are successful. Walt probably has more experience and knowledge on magic than ten or twenty randomly chosen magicians put together. Based on that ask yourself this: Would it be smart to take their advice on how to read a magic book and dumb to ignore it?

1 comment:

  1. Re: Reading/trying it'd be like buying a novel and not reading a chapter or two! Or, buying a DVD and skipping through it! Why? Seems daft to me...PG (replying via my wife's account)


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