John Carney's [i]The Book of Secrets: Lessons For Progressive Conjuring[/i]

Discuss products and their reviews in Genii.

Postby NCMarsh » 03/17/03 12:48 PM

There comes a moment when reading a great book when you realize, joyfully, that you will never finish it; that for as long as you live you will always be able to learn more from it. Dai Vernon probably had such a moment with Erdnase, I had such a moment with The Book of Secrets.

John's book was clearly a labor of great love. There is a passion, an urgent and infectious sense that magic should be the object of love and care, that spills out from these pages. I can almost hear John's voice as he gently -- but passionately -- encourages us to play, explore, and work; to give our magic something of ourselves. He is never patronizing, he does not deliver sermons, he is not interested in trying to shame the half-hearted into caring about magic. But to those who love magic, to those who want to continually improve, he has much to offer.

Great teachers cannot be learned from passively; for the goal of all genuine education is freedom -- the freedom to be able to teach oneself. It is an oft-ignored cliche, but teachers are there to guide the student as he works to become his own teacher.

Often in reading magic we find a finished cathedral that is immense and awe-inspiring; compelling presentations, devious methods, knee-slapping lines. They are presented complete, whole, and beautiful. Little evidence remains of the years of labor, the hours of lifting heavy stones precariously into place, that went into building the impressive thing we witness.

John's book is a workbook. He does not present magic to simply be appropriated directly into one's act. The magic he presents is certainly immaculately thought out and highly polished, but he guides the student through questions and exercises that begin to direct us in the process of continuing to improve on his work and also allow us a realistic glimpse at how magic is created and polished.

John argues, persuasively, that magical creativity and excellence are not simply divine gifts that some have and some do not. But that they are capacities which all possess and few fully actualize. We can all improve, we can all continue to improve, the thing standing in our way is, most often, simple fear -- the intimidation of the impossible standard of perfection. John shows us that if we care, if we are willing to dive into a continous process of work and play, that the rewards are immense -- and, while there is no formula for this kind of success, he gives us real guidance in how to play and work most effectively to reach the next plateau in our development.

Thanks for the push John, I needed it. Orlando Magician
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Postby Matthew Field » 03/17/03 01:06 PM

I've got to agree with you Nathan, and well said.

I'm reading the Carney book, but I won't finish it because, when I get to the final page, I'm going to return to the Palming section and do some work.

"The Book of Secrets" contains many secrets, and they're not just in the tricks. Book of the year? Maybe so.

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Postby Dave Shepherd » 03/17/03 01:20 PM

It's really hard to tell just how great this book is from the first reading.

I have read through it all the way, from cover to cover, once. Now I am working on the Silver and Glass routine. I'll be working on it for quite a while, because John shows over and over again the necessity of thoughtful practice and reflection.

Another feature of the book whose value was not immediately apparent from the preview in Magic is the set of questions at the end of each chapter. These are not mere add-ons. I realized this weekend that in order to answer the questions on Silver and Glass, I will first have to learn John's routine inside-out. Only then will I be able to think about what the weaknesses in the handling and/or structure are.

A wonderful piece of work.
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Postby Carl Mercurio » 03/17/03 02:55 PM

I'm also enjoying this book very much...
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Postby Joe Z » 03/17/03 03:42 PM

In my opinion, Secrets is the most important book on the examination and refinement of sleight-of-hand magic to be published in the last 25 years. It is thoughtful, well organized, masterfully written, and beautifully produced.

John Carney's new book has my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation.

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Postby Bill McFadden » 03/18/03 04:00 PM

Nate, thanks for a typically thoughtful, well stated commentary on this important book. In spite of all the depressing news in the real world, my day was salvaged (and how) with the arrival of my limited edition copy of "Secrets." Carney, your timing was never better! Yeeeeeee-ha!!! :cool: :D
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Postby Terry » 03/19/03 05:39 AM

I'm still waiting to receive my copy. Looks like the USPS is living up to their incompetent reputation. From another thread, it looks like others haven't received their copy of the March issue of Genii and April is already in the mail.

Gives a complete new meaning to "snail" mail.
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Postby Matthew Field » 03/19/03 07:27 AM

Terry -- Remember that, with no distributor, John is mailing every copy himself. That means addressing labels, signing books -- a Herculean task.

I'm not suggesting that the Post Office hasn't delayed yoyur copy, only that this is not your typical magic book distribution.

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Postby CardFan » 03/19/03 08:46 AM

I'm restraining myself from using too many superlatives to describe this book..Great stuff. It's one of the best, most instructive and enjoyable books on any subject I've read in a while. Carney's love for the Art is evident throughout. Bravo, John.

This one deserves to be in your hands and not be allowed to gather dust in the bookshelf...
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Postby Guest » 03/19/03 01:22 PM

I just got my copy, and my first impression is that it's one of the best magic books I've ever seen. There is a great variety of classic magic, the writing is excellent.

As for the shipping delay, Mr. Carney is using USPS media rate, which is the least expensive and slowest option, and is advertised as such by the USPS. I don't think this is a case of USPS incompetance.

Postby magicbar » 03/20/03 07:20 PM

Knowing of his work and prior publications I am sure this book has substance and passion. I am just curious from a customer point of view what Carney offers beyond what he wrote in his introduction from Carneycopia and what is considered a contribution to the area of self-development beyond what is offered in other books of this ilk such as Our Magic, Neo-Magic, the Fitzkee Trilogy and others?
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Postby NCMarsh » 03/21/03 12:30 AM


the books you mention are certainly worth any magician's time, but I do believe that Secrets makes a significant contribution of its own and is worth the time of those who have read the other works...the reasons to follow all fall short of communicating something that is very difficult to articulate, and are also probably different from the reasons others find the book to have made a noteworthy contribution...

while there are some essays, the majority of the teaching in theoretical* matters is done in the course of explaining the material. Carneycopia did this well to a certain extent (there is some wonderful advice buried in the descriptions of effects in that volume) but here John seems to be even more thorough, laying out in significant detail the reasons for his decisions in the construction of an effect, and the principles which guide him in creating strong magic. It's very rare in magical literature to get this kind of a peek into the process of one of magic's great practitioners, and i find it a real treat to observe...

the technical instruction is superb and much can be learned from the principles behind John's finesse for standard sleights...

Ptolemy writes in the begining of The Almagest (a landmark ancient treatise on astronomy) that:
this science [mathematical astronomy], above all things, could make men see clearly; from the constancy, order, symmetry and calm which are associated with the divine, it makes its followers lovers of divine beauty, accustoming them and reforming their natures, as it were, to a similar spiritual state
I think that something similar to what Ptolemy wants to happen in the souls of those reading his mathematics has happened in my soul in reading Carney's routines...Carney's magic is beautiful, and I find myself very much in love with magic of this caliber and pleasantly disatisfied with the status of my current performance...i want my work to be at his level...and the wonderful thing about the book, is that the path to magic of his caliber -- while not easy -- is drawn out as clearly as it can be...

this book gives me the drive to constantly improve by internalizing a very high (but accessible!) standard and providing me with an understanding of what I need to do to make it to that mark...

I should emphasize that point further:
John makes it very hard, very hard, to not want to work does not feel as if one has been shamed into a chore -- it is incredibly exciting...

jeez, i wrote way too much...anyways, i like the book and i hope you read it ;)


*the word "theoretical" has taken on a very strange connotation in contemporary English (perhaps especially in the magic community). It seems to mean, at times, something that is removed from the concerns of actual practice. This is very far from the kind of writing John using the word to describe one kind of lesson learned in John's book, i mean it in a sense very close to that of the greek word Theoria ("seeing") from which it is descended; that is that theoretical thinking is thinking aimed at "seeing" the principles behind effective magic and carefully applying those principles in the construction and performance of magic... Orlando Magician
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Postby NCMarsh » 03/21/03 12:39 AM

In addition to the more abstract virtues of the book that i've emphasized...i do want to make clear that there is some d*mn good magic within the pages and that, in addition to some great original sleights, John offers some very good finesse on standard moves and teaches with incredible clarity... Orlando Magician
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Postby Terry » 03/21/03 06:02 AM

Hey Matthew, John has been nothing but outstanding in his correspondence with me. He has said that he shipped over 900 books> :eek:

I don't think this is a case of USPS incompetance
Ecphora, considering that one of my coworkers' rent check was shredded in delivery, the fact that the sub carrier on our route leaves packages out in the open instead of leaving a delivery slip for you to pick up at the post office, the continuous reports of carriers destroying mail to keep up on their routes, the fact that Priority and First Class arrive at the same time, but Priority costing more, I would say there is incompetence in the USPS.
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Postby Guest » 03/21/03 08:13 AM

Terry, All I'm saying is that the books are being shipped by the slowest option offered by USPS, so don't expect them to be delivered overnight. I don't want to argue about your USPS experience.

Postby Erik Hemming » 03/23/03 11:37 AM

I don't mean to be trite, but Carney's new book is a self-help manual for magicians at large.

He is articulate about where his ideas have come from, and generous in sharing where his practice and investigation have taken him.

But he goes a step further. Admonishments to magicians to "Practice, practice, practice" and "Make the effect your own" are common in magic. And warranted....

Carney takes the additional step of suggesting HOW to do this. Instead of making the abstract demand that we "think about our magic", he suggests actual excercises to expand our proficiency and flexibility as magicians. In short, it's a mentor in a book.

It's easy to lapse into superlatives about this book. I really don't want to over-hype it, though. Carney's approach is not hype. It is thoughfully directed practice and investigation, coupled with a deep appreciation of the past, with the goal of making magic, magicians--and I don't think I'm overreaching here--the world, better.

Simple, heady stuff. There are magicians out there who don't need to read this book. But I expect those magicians would most likely appreciate it most.

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Postby Bill Duncan » 03/23/03 01:22 PM

I hope all our raving about Secrets doesn't lead to someone purchasing it and then being disappointed because it's not "flashy".

This is a book for serious students of magic and those who want to become serious students. Like The Books Of Wonder it will, I am certain, become a neo-classic.

My first thought, which remains with me after weeks of living with the volume, is that it's almost as good as having John move in next door.

A word of caution:
If you get truly excited about the latest packet trick or if a David Blaine special makes you want to run down to the magic shop don't buy this book. You're not ready.
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