You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, June 23, 2011


A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern MagicA Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic by Michael Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stewart's A Brief History of Modern Magic is less a chapbook than it is a pamphlet, the size of those still found racked in the foyers of Baptist church's. It might be fun to slip a few of these into the racks in Baptist churches.

In thirty pages Stewart presents brief biographies of imaginary magicians, a guide to some of the language of magic, and a series of Tricks You Can Do At Home. Don't try them. The instructions for cutting a woman in half are fairly straightforward, "..the trick," Stewart says, "is in putting her back together."

When possible, Stewart gives the birth and death dates of his magicians. Some practiced in the late 19th and early 20th century, other may still be practicing now. Sometimes the information is incomplete: Jones, William (1938 - soon?) A few have intersecting lives, and they all exist on the shadier side of show business. Some may have been capable of genuine magic, but then there is Rhodes, Tammy (1906 - 1984) "Skill, unfortunately, is not among the requirements to become a magician. Tammy is perhaps the best example of this."

Photographs that could be lifted from a mid 20th century magician's manual illustrate the text, and Stewart's prose never strays from the tone you'd expect in a layman's book on this subject. It's just that every so often what he has to say is so outrageous. He even has one of his imaginary magicians, now a dissappointed failure who plays bridge with his wife, contribute the prologue.

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  1. Have you ever read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell"? Harry Potter as it might be written by Jane Austen. It's has full page long footnotes about famous fictional magicians of England. Also, a dark version of the land of Faery. Quite a good book, but long and a major commitment of time.

  2. It's the time commitment that keeps me away from books like Jonathan Strange. I just read that Stephen King's new time travel novel is almost 1000 pages long. Again. I just don't want to start them. We need more mini-series.