Review ~ The Prestige

Cover via Goodreads

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

In 1878, two young stage magicians clash in the dark during the course of a fraudulent seance. From this moment on, their lives become webs of deceit and revelation as they vie to outwit and expose one another.

Their rivalry will take them to the peaks of their careers, but with terrible consequences. In the course of pursuing each other’s ruin, they will deploy all the deception their magicians’ craft can command–the highest misdirection and the darkest science.

Blood will be spilled, but it will not be enough. In the end, their legacy will pass on for generations…to descendants who must, for their sanity’s sake, untangle the puzzle left to them. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is a reread for me. Sometimes, I get so caught-up in ARCs and the unread books in my “pile” that I don’t let myself reread intriguing books that I enjoyed the first time around. Boy, am I glad I decided to reread The Prestige.

What Worked
I first read it in 2010, about two years before my earnest interest in magic took hold. From the my standpoint as a slightly-beyond-layman, Priest knows his stuff magic-wise. Previously, I didn’t fully appreciate the differences between Borden and Angier’s performance philosophies. The division between dedication to theory and dedication to end-performance still exists in a world  that contains both Ricky Jay and David Blaine.

The voices of the two magicians (and Andrew and Kate in the modern wrap-around) are clear and distinctive. This is something I didn’t appreciate the first time I read the story. I also didn’t fully appreciate the crossing events in the narrative. Basically, we’re given two separate (and incomplete) narratives; first Borden’s and then Angier’s. And that’s it. Despite having two modern characters working to make sense of the narratives, readers are left to fit pieces together without any extra-narrative interference. It’s a nice puzzle of a novel.

What Didn’t Work
We won’t talk about the science…

Also, Andrew and Kate in modern times are the least interesting portion of the novel, aside from the rather tense last five pages.

Overall
I’ll echo what I said in my first “review” of The Prestige: I wish I had read the book before seeing the movie. The movie is much different (how did I forget that Angier started out as fraudulent medium in the book?), but there are two major plot points —the twists—that are paralleled. But now that I’ve also seen the film probably a dozen more times, I’m further impressed by how well the adaptation works. Stakes needed to be higher in the movie. So, kudos to Jonathan and Christopher Nolan for creating a story that is the prestigious twin  of the book.

Publishing info, my copy: mass market paperback, Tor (tie-in edition with a terrible cover, not the cover above), 2006 (orig. 1995)
Acquired: Paperback Swap
Genre: horror, science fiction

Advertisements

Review ~ Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women

Cover via Goodreads

Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women by Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay is one of the world’s great sleight-of-hand artists. He is also a most unusual and talented scholar, specializing in the bizarre, exotic, and fantastic side of the human species. The youngest magician to have appeared on television, Jay has become well known for his astonishing stage show as well as for his cameos in such movies as Glengarry Glen Ross and, most recently, Boogie Nights.

Jay’s unparalleled collection of books, posters, photographs, programs, broadsides, and, most important, data about unjustifiably forgotten entertainers all over the world made this unique book possible. An investigation into the inspired world of sideshows, circuses, and singularly talented performers, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is history of the most unusual–and irresistible–sort. (via Goodreads)

Amusing that the above summary was written so long ago that it doesn’t mention Ricky Jay’s work on The Prestige, The Illusionist (as a consultant), and Deadwood.

Why was I interested in this book?
Ricky Jay is a fabulous magician. He’s probably my favorite behind Teller/Penn & Teller. He’s also a magic historian and a historian of singular entertainments. Many acts, like pigs that can do math and women who can withstand the heat of an oven to emerge with perfectly cooked steaks, share an aspect of deception with the only slightly more respectable profession of magician.

What Worked
A few years back I read Harry Houdini’s Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, which covers a similar territory, but in a much more shallow way. Ricky Jay truly loves his subjects and knows their histories. You might think that fire-resisters, poison-eaters (as well as frog-eaters—I’m looking at you David Blaine),  mnemonists, and “carnie” acts like extraordinary artists with physical disabilities are of 20th or even only 19th century origin, but you’d be wrong. Many of these acts have lineage in the 17th and 18th centuries.

For example, one of Jay’s favorite subjects, Matthew Buchinger, was born in 1674. Buchinger was a magician, musician, and calligrapher despite being twenty-nine inches in height and lacking legs, feet, or hands. All of the stories in this books are well-sourced and the book contains a goodly number of plates, poster, and photos (on the rare occasions that Learned Pigs ventures beyond the 1850s).

Matthewbuchinger.jpg
By Matthew Buchinger (1674-1740) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Smooth_O using CommonsHelper. Original uploader was Kingofspades, Public Domain, Link

Unlike Houdini’s book, Jay isn’t really interested in “their methods.” But if it comes up, there isn’t any modern-day supposing. Fire-resister and poison-eater Chabert was taken to task by medical professionals of his day because he claimed he had cures for scurvy and typhoid. The exposure of other parts of act followed in the press.

What Didn’t Work
Less, “what didn’t work” and more “why it took me over two years to finish this book”: It’s dense. It’s diverse. Ricky Jay’s writing style (and patter style) is very much informed by the histories he’s obsessed with. To illustrate, this is one of my favorite routines of his, entitled “The History Lesson.”

The book is written in beautiful, entertaining language, but it isn’t a quick read.

Overall
This is definitely a dip-in book. Read a chapter here, dazzle at a poster there. Worth the time, but not to be consumed in one sitting. Unless you have a stone-eater’s fortitude.

Publishing info, my copy: over-sized paperback, Villard Books, 1987
Acquired: Jackson Street Booksellers, July 2015
Genre: nonfiction

Review ~ Exclusive Magical Secrets

Cover via AbeBooks

Exclusive Magical Secrets by Will Goldston

Exclusive Magical Secrets, along with the later More Exclusive Magical Secrets (1921) and Further Exclusive Magical Secrets (1927) were part of the “locked books” by Will Goldston. Each book came with a padlock and key with a clasp built into the book to keep the book, in a cheap red leather binding, closed. Thus, you were not able to walk in a magic shop (Goldston’s, mainly) and browse the book. (via Magicpedia)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was particularly interested in the chapter on Buatier de Kolta and his expanding cube mystery. Buatier’s was a forerunner to Joseffy’s similar trick. The chapter did not disappoint. It presented a nice-sized bio of Buatier and De Kolta, since the origins of the act involved two men.

What Worked
Exclusive Magical Secrets is a weird little collection of magic subjects. There is an range of how-tos from small pocket magic to theater-scale stage illusions, but then there is also the de Kolta bio—the only biography in the book— and individual chapters on subjects like a whist-playing automaton, quick-changes, juggling effects, and a nice bit of philosophy concerning comedy before a section on comedic tricks. (And, yes, a couple escapes contributed by Houdini…)

It took Goldston a decade to put the book together, but he didn’t seem to end up with a cohesive treatise. Instead Exclusive Magical Secrets is sort of a survey on different types of magic that might actually be more useful than if he delved into only one aspect.

Will Goldston magician
Will Goldston, 1911
What Didn’t Work
Reading about how magic tricks are done can be really boring. Goldston actually has a pretty light touch, but if you’re not really intending to perform the tricks, any instruction can be a little mind-numbing.

Originally published in 1921, it’s also a somewhat dated. Many common objects and situations aren’t so common any more. Also, “Chinese magic” was a prominent fad at the time of the publication. Goldston doesn’t hide the fact than many Chinese acts were performed by white Western magicians, but he also has no problem with that.

Overall
If you don’t want to know how magic tricks are done (even ones that are 100 years old), this isn’t the book for you. If you do want to know how modern magic is done, there are a few tidbits here and there that are still applicable. If you’re into magic history, this is a glimpse into the style of the time with a few glances back to even older magic acts. I picked up my copy used at Bookmans and it was well worth it for the chapter on de Kolta alone.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Dover Publications, Inc, 1977
Acquired: 11/19/16, Bookmans
Genre: non-fiction

Visit my Magic Picks shop if you’d like your own copy.
(Amazon associates store)

Magic Monday & What I’m Reading, 2/6/17

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Well, congratulations to the Patriots on their come-back Super Bowl win. It was something to see. But did you know that the Patriots have their own magician? John Logan is not only the team’s digital content associate, but resident mystifyer.

(Via iTricks)

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

I’m not off to a good start reading-wise in February. Ever have those moments when you’re just sick of words? No? Maybe just me. I’ll continue on. Here’s what I have on deck for the week:

The Good Soldier The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes Fascist Lizards from Outer Space: The Politics, Literary Influences and Cultural History of Kenneth Johnson's V
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  • The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye
  • Fascist Lizards from Outer Space: The Politics, Literary Influences and Cultural History of Kenneth Johnson’s V by Dan Copp
  • Lots of Eric’s PHYSICIaN.
  • Short stories here and there.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

Review ~ Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

This book was provided to me by University Press of Mississippi via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey by Melissa Daggett

Modern American Spiritualism blossomed in the 1850s and continued as a viable faith into the 1870s. Because of its diversity and openness to new cultures and religions, New Orleans provided fertile ground to nurture Spiritualism, and many seance circles flourished in the Creole Faubourgs of Treme and Marigny as well as the American sector of the city. Melissa Daggett focuses on Le Cercle Harmonique, the francophone seance circle of Henry Louis Rey (1831 1894), a Creole of color who was a key civil rights activist, author, and Civil War and Reconstruction leader. His life has so far remained largely in the shadows of New Orleans history, partly due to a language barrier.

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans focuses on the turbulent years between the late antebellum period and the end of Reconstruction. Translating and interpreting numerous primary sources and one of the only surviving registers of seance proceedings, Daggett has opened a window into a fascinating life as well as a period of tumult and change. She provides unparalleled insights into the history of the Creoles of color and renders a better understanding of New Orleans s complex history. (via Goodreads)

I was attracted to Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans because I hadn’t considered that there might be regional differences in how Spiritualism was approached. I had thought of the rise and popularity of Spiritualism in this era as a mostly homogeneous experience, with at most rural/urban differences. Of course, I was wrong.

At its beginnings, Spiritualism was regarded with suspicion in the Confederate South. It was seen as just another Yankee “-ism,” along with abolitionism and feminism. Spiritualism did notably take hold in the Creole community, especially among free men of color.  Beautifully, from a research point of view, these séance circles kept detailed logs of their sittings. Though written in French, the logs of Henry Louis Rey survived to present day and offer a wonderful primary source. The spirit guides were often important personages  to the community, lost during the war, and their hopeful messages often reinforced the political issues of the day.

Melissa Daggett grounds her look at Spiritualism in the life of Rey and the history of New Orleans. That is this book’s strength, but also its weakness. Occasionally, I felt bogged down in the general history of the era. Additionally, while based on an incredible primary source, no translations of the log were extensively quoted. That seems to me to be a missed opportunity.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF, University Press of Mississippi, Jan. 3, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: nonfiction

wintercoyer-16-17

More #COYER Reviews
Generator Points Earned: .5 (I started this book a little early.)
Generator Points Total: 1.5

Magic Monday ~ Transparent Man!

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Do you know what I like more than magic? Science! Lucky for me, there’s a lot of overlap between the two. Richard Wiseman of Quirkology takes a look at an old, but never staged, light illusion that illustrates some of the current science behind invisibility. (If you click through, a link in the video’s description has more on the science of the illusion and on Robert Harbin, inventor of the Zig-Zag Girl.)

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey The Raven and the Reindeer The Guns of Retribution

All are ebooks for #COYER.

  • I started Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans a little early, but I was only 15% of the way through before the weekend. It’s an ARC that I want to make sure I get it finished by next Wednesday.
  • I’ve been meaning to read more of Ursula Vernon’s fiction; The Raven and the Reindeer seemed seasonally appropriate.
  • Next up: The Guns of Retribution by Icy Sedgwick.
  • I’ll also be finishing the last story in Asimov’s Mysteries for Deal Me In. (Okay, that’s not an ebook, but Deal Me In precedes all other reading challenges.)

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

Magic Monday ~ Star-Lord Level Misdirection

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Misdirection is so much more than “Hey, look over here!” This trick by Chris Pratt is an excellent example of patter itself being misdirection. And despite the title of this video, this isn’t a card trick fail.

Plus, I really love his enthusiasm. It’s great seeing someone take joy in what they’re doing.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Hey. Hey! I finished a book yesterday! I’ll have a review of review of War of the Worlds on Thursday.

Judas: The Most Hated Name in History Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey Asimov's Mysteries

This week I need to finish Judas. It’s due back at the library next Tuesday. I do have a renewal left, but I really should return it and the rest of the stack. Also, going to get started on Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans.

I have another of Asimov’s Mysteries for Deal Me In and I’m trying to get caught up on the issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. I bought a subscription back in September and, thankfully, they only publish bi-monthly.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!