Okay; quit the carping. Yes, Book-Boy Dustin is selecting an eBook as the Book of the Month. I have a good reason: I love my complete bound file of The Sphinx but how many folks out there have one?
How many can have a complete digital file?
As many that are willing to pay the cost, which is fractional compared to the cost of a complete file of The Sphinx.
But Dustin, The Sphinx isnt a book!
Nag, nag, nag.
The Digital Sphinx is an eBook! (A really big one to be sure, but an eBook nonetheless.)
Look, Im not expecting a lot of discussion on this subject; at least not right away. (And be forewarned: I will not allow this thread to devolve into one about real books versus eBooks!) And this is more of a product review than it is a dissertation. I hope you dont mind. But I have to say at the outset that The Digital Sphinx is the best opportunity that magics general population has at acquiring one of the most important resources available.
* * * *
Sometime in my teens (during the 1970s) I became fascinated with old magic periodicals. They are little self-contained time machines: an easy trip in Mr. Peabodys Way-Back Machine to times remembered by few but, thankfully because of these periodicals, never lost.
I began buying the reprinted copies of The Phoenix, The Jinx and other readily available works. Somewhere along the line I learned about The Sphinx and ignorantly wondered when a reprint of it would become available. It wasnt until I became a member of the Magic Castle and I saw the complete file in the library that I fully grasped the enormity of the magazine. I realized that there was little chance that it would ever be reprinted. I decided that I was going to have to buy a complete file. Acquiring a file of The Sphinx became, so to speak, my Holy Grail.
He who would cross this bridge must answer me these questions three, ere the other side ye shall see!
Ask your questions, bridge-keeper!
What is your quest?
I seek a complete file of The Sphinx!
What is your desire: bound or loose?
It doesnt matter! Ill take either one!
What is your bank balance?
I quickly learned that money would be an issue in my quest; a major issue. So, for many years, I resigned myself to visits with Mr. Peabody and his Way-Back Machine during trips to the Magic Castle. For over twenty years, every time I visited, I looked at the light green clothbound volumes with longing.
So what is so special about this magazine that acquiring a file could become an obsession?
The Sphinx was published during the first half of the 20th century. This period of time covers much of the Golden Age of Magic, from its peak through to its demise, and it is well chronicled within the pages of this astounding magazine. In its pages we see Harry Houdini rise to fame, reinvent himself as needed, and then his untimely death. We can follow the careers of Kellar, Thurston, Dante, Germain, Malini, LeRoy and so many others. Fifty-plus years of magic history at our fingertips: I get shivers just thinking about it. Fifty years of magic journalism that captures the modern growth of a once great performance art (that was a cornerstone of show business) to its fall into mediocrity as a mere amusement and hobby. (It was then Genii magazine that chronicled magics partial resurrection.)
One of the great challenges of flipping through the pages of The Sphinx was pointed out to me by Mike Caveney: I defy anyone to be able to go through that magazine and not get distracted. Sure enough: You start in on one article, perhaps on a specific subject you are researching, and pretty soon you find yourself wandering off into other interesting worlds. The advertisements alone are an absolute joy to read!
I had to get a file of that magazine!
But then there was that whole money thing, and as time wore on, the price of complete fileswhen they became availableincreased as my trips to the Castle decreased. Then an interesting thing happened: Somebody actually took the time to scan every pagenearly 17,000 of themand put it on some little silver discs I could shove into my computer. Now I had some real soul searching to do. I am a casehardened book guy. One of the pleasures I get from looking through The Sphinx is visceral: I love the idea that a page I just turned is anywhere from fifty to one-hundred years old! And I guess I just love the smell and feel of deteriorating paper (many years of The Sphinx were printed on less than high-grade paper). The text is on the discs; but its just not the same thing, I told myself. But the price was right; frankly, this looked like my best opportunity to at least come close to my quest.
Then a miracle happened. I stepped into the dealers room of a magic collectors convention and something caught my attention. There were the sounds of angels singing and a wondrous light radiating from one corner of the room. Within this glow lay an unbelievable sight: My Holy Grail! It was a gorgeously bound, complete file of The Sphinx. The man selling them, who was dressed in flowing white robes, beckoned me. I went to him asked the price; he answered. It dawned on me that, at that time, I did have the money: I could acquire this treasure! But I have a guy on a cruise ship right now who is interested, he said. I can have a cashiers check here today, I said. You have first right of refusal after the guy on the ship, was his answer.
Okay, so Im exaggerating: The seller wasnt wearing white robes.
Before we sealed the deal, I talked with many trusted advisors. Several said, Get them; its a good price. One said, What? Are you nuts? Get he digital edition! The best advice I got came in the form of a question:
What is your goal? (answer me these questions three)
I want the magazine! I want to read it and touch it and smell it! Ive wanted this for a very long time. I had the answer to all three of the questions that would see me to the other side of the bridge.
The guy on the ship passed and the magazines were mine. So the wondrous glow and sound of angels singing now radiates from my library shelves.
One day I was working under a deadline (something I never had to deal with in my past) and turned to my treasure for some research. The indices of The Sphinx are adequate, but not perfect. So, as is usually the case, I dialed down to a year and began looking through issues. The mixing of love and work is intoxicating! And I promptly failed the challenge offered by Mike Caveney: I was distracted. But I couldnt afford to be distracted! I was under a deadline! For the first time ever, time became an issue.
I found what I was looking for and completed my project. But I realized I had to do something radical for a casehardened book-guy: I would acquire a copy of The Digital Sphinx to complement my real file. Now, when time (which runs faster the older you get) becomes an issue, I can save a lot by using the search capabilities of the PDF files. A list of entries for my subject quickly appears on my computer screen and in a mouse click I am reading what I need to read. Acquiring the bound file of The Sphinx was a miracle for Dustin the collector and lover of books and magazines. But The Digital Sphinx is a miracle of modern technology for the time-challenged multiple job-holding Dustin.
I know that my historian-collector friends reading this now are shaking their heads in dismay, but I beg them to consider my plight. And, its not like I have given up on my treasure: Not at all! In fact, its become more of a treasure. I now have the best of both worlds. I can still get lost in the never-ending trails one finds leafing through the magazine; discovering forgotten names and events. And I can use it more efficiently; recording every aspect of a subject without missing some important, but hidden factoid that might be missed during a page-by-page search. To borrow a phrase, the tapestry of time that is the history of magic deserves our best, most efficient effort when we are attempting to add to it or put the threads into the right place. As researchers, it is incumbent on us to use the best tools available to make sure we get it right.
Is The Digital Sphinx only for serious historians? Again, not at all! Anyone who loves this art will love rummaging through the pageselectronic or otherwiseof The Sphinx. There are many hundreds of effects, many that have not seen the lights of the stage or the close-up table in decades. Something new for your act can very easily be something old enough to be new again!
The treasures of The Sphinx were once available only to those who had (or had access to) a complete file; and they probably paid a hefty price for it. Now, this Holy Grail of Magic is available for a fraction of the cost of what a complete, bound file will cost you.
Dont get me wrong: If you have the means, go out and find a complete file and relish in its visceral glory. Enjoy, as I do, the smell and feel of old paper coupled with the intellectual wonder of discovery every time you turn a page that is as much as one hundred years old! But, if acquiring a file is just not in the realm of possibilities, but you still want the intellectual pleasures of owning an entire file of The Sphinx, then The Digital Sphinx is most certainly for you.