Bad Books

Discuss products and their reviews in Genii.

Postby Guest » 08/26/01 03:15 PM

There is a rather comprehensive thread below about poor quality of magic videos.
I would like to carry this over to books.
Although I have previously posted on other boards about the quality of some books those subjects of my critism have been rare. Most are good. There have been some that give unintelligible instructions, innacurate line drawings, and very poor photographs.
My latest gripe is about The Don Alan book. Since we have decided to be forthcoming with our criticism I hope Jon doesn't take offense.
I think the book should not have been published. The excuses about the use of photographs from old TV shows does not warrant inclusion of this book which is priced as top quality. The fact that he was not involved in its final production makes me wonder if it was truly he wanted to be published under his egis.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/26/01 10:45 PM

Marvin, Jon doesn't take offense at criticism. He's a big boy.
There are problems with the Don Alan book, however I am not among the people who find fault with the idea of frame grabs, per se. In fact I am working on a book about a long dead magician that is going to rely heavily on frame grabs. What else can I do? These will be supplemented by many illustrations, but frame grabs are a powerful tool that helps us bring a dead artist right into the center of the book and explain his work.
In the case of the Don Alan book, part of the problem with the frame grabs lies in the original videotape from which they were taken, which had far too few close-ups of the hands for an instructional tape. I think that Jon did a pretty good job under the circumstances, though I would have added many illustrations to the book, but perhaps the publisher didn't have several thousand more dollars in the budget for illustrations? We really don't know the circumstances behind the entire project.
We do know, for example, that Don Alan was persuaded to abandon the project at one point by the pernicious lies of an individual who has done much to disrupt things in his little corner of the magic world. By the time things got back in gear, Don already suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and then he died. Many felt that the book should be completed. In this case Racherbaumer was merely a hired writer, neither the instigator nor publisher of the project. Some of the responsibility for the project's faults lie with other individuals.
I was disappointed at the layout of the Don Alan book and its high price, and by the fact that it needed a thorough editing and this simply was not provided by the publisher. That's not Jon's fault--the author and publisher must work in concert to produce a polished final product.
I'll leave it at that for now and open the discussion to others.

[ August 26, 2001: Message edited by: Richard Kaufman ]
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Postby Cugel » 08/27/01 04:32 AM

Richard,

Regarding your forthcoming book using the frame grabs... is it on Jack Birnman? I hope so. I saw some footage of him a few years ago and he was so good it hurts. Just begging for a decent book - the stuff in print to date is lightweight by comparison.

Andrew
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 08/27/01 11:36 AM

No, the book is not on Jack Birnman. I will be doing a large Genii issue devoted to Jack.
The Birnman book is in the hands of Harry Levine. Why it is is a mystery to all of us who knew Jack well. By the way, Jack had always wanted to use the title "Nectar of the Cards" for his book, he talked about it for at least 10 years. Now something else has come out with that title.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 08/27/01 12:50 PM

Someday the complete, unexpurgated "story" behind the Don Alan book will be written. I don't have much to add to what Richard has said about the book; however, if the hardback book of Don's work had not been published (even in its less-than-stellar form), there would not have been any sturdy or more substantial legacy for students to examine. (The two booklets, though good in their own ways, don't fully cover its subject.) Even in its present form, the important sub-text about timing, structure, and how to create routines are worth closely examining. Dozens of magicians have personally told me that they "got it" and appreciated that some kind of hard-cover book now exists. This is gratifying. I also appreciate constructive criticism. I want to know the "whys" and "wherefores" and all the gory details. As I said at the Magic Live! event, "writing is about the reader."

Also, because I believe in Don's work, I plan to reexamine his material in the future and will perhaps redo the book in accordance with Don's original vision.

Side-bar: I definitely thought that the frame-captures needed to be supplemented by line drawings. As it stands, the book should be studied in tandem with the Stevens' video.

Finally, I would have priced the book at $35; however, the production, marketing, and pricing are matters for producers, not writers.

Right now I'm working on a book of Jimmy Grippo's magic. Similar challenges exist insofar as Grippo is deceased and the only raw materials at my disposal are some video-tapes and most of his memorabilia. From this largesse I must reconstruct and reify the man and his work. I will probably use some frame-captures, but otherwise there will be drawings and a strong emphasis on the mechanics, psychology, and dramaturgy of Grippo's "magic."

Finally: To me, all books are "abandoned projects" and continue in my mind to be "works in PROGRESS." Perhaps it's time for us to consider "books" as we consider computer "programs"? As it stands, consumers now have In a Class By Himself 1.0. As one works on computer "upgrades," perhaps magic writers can work on similar upgrades to magic books? Critical input can then be taken into account and many improvements can be part of a largely democratic process that guides the writers and producers.

Onward...
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Postby Guest » 08/27/01 01:06 PM

Jon,

your needn't even have used the analogy to software revision levels; technical/academic books (eg: physics and mathematics textbooks) are frequently revised with subsequent editions making changes, clarifications and improvements based on critical feedback from users/students. I guests all instructional writing should be considered, as you write, " a work in progress".

Tim
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Postby CHRIS » 08/27/01 04:28 PM

Jon,

one solution to make your books 'projects which continue indefinitely' are ebooks. It is trivial to continue updating, adding, and improving an ebook and to issue updated versions.

It could be essentially a work in progress where people do not buy an ebook but subscribe to it and get every 6 month or year an updated version.

This could be a wonderful thing to see an ebook mature and become better with time (just like wine - what a wonderful thought).

Chris.... Lybrary.com preserving magic one book at a time.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 08/27/01 04:47 PM

I've now DEFINITELY decided to post an e-book as an ongoing work-in-progress on my website. Look for it in a week or so. Perhaps RK will also consider this not-so-daft-as-it-sounds approach?
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Postby Tom Stone » 08/27/01 05:44 PM

Originally posted by Jon Racherbaumer:
Even in its present form, the important sub-text about timing, structure, and how to create routines are worth closely examining. Dozens of magicians have personally told me that they "got it" and appreciated that some kind of hard-cover book now exists.

Hello Jon,

I read the Don Alan book a few weeks ago. And there are both good and bad things to say about it. The good things are really good. But the bad things are really bad.

The quality of the videoframes is so-so. There are several tricks one could have done in PhotoShop to improve the quality. And the whole book could have risen to another level with just 5-6 line drawings at the most critical places.

There is an interview at the end that are incomprehensible. Don Alan say things like: "..and this thing at the top are causing this thing to push this thing aside. And then this happens"..." (or something similar. I don't have the book infront of me). It would have been nice to have gotten at least a hint of what he was talking about.

There was a lot of talk about something called "The Garbage Can Act". I couldn't find any description of what this was at all. Not even a hint. Those references only confused matters. Why were they included?

Sorry that I'm saying unpleasant things, but I'm really curious about this, as I've come to expect a high and even quality from things with your name on. If these things were decided by others outside your control, perhaps you should have refused to put your name on the book.
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Postby Tom Stone » 08/27/01 06:06 PM

Bad books?
Well here's a few:

Korem Without Limits, by Danny Korem:
Looks great, the content is awful.

Simply Harkey, by David Harkey.
Looks really great, the content is awful.

Kort, by Stephen Minch.
The content might very well be excellent. But I wouldn't know as the biographical passages cause me to throw the book away in distaste. I know that Milton Kort is a legend, yet I want to hit him in the head with a hammer when I read the passages between the effects.

Star Quality, by Harry Loryane.
David Regal's stuff might be great. But the book is unreadable as a huge ego is blocking out the text.

The Trick Brain, Dariel Fitzkee.
I almost left magic after reading this awful and useless book. It tries to destroy and eradicate everything that is beautiful in our art. The guy had the soul of a stamp collector. The average quality of magic would probably have been higher if this book had never been published.
If I'm ever get in the mood for book burning, this one will be on the top of the pile.
The other two parts of the trilogy is okey though.
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Postby CHRIS » 08/27/01 10:27 PM

Great to hear, Jon, that we will get to see an ebook from you realy soon.

I will be particularly interested to see if it will be a typical Racherbaumer book but just put out in electronic form, or if there will be some exploration with the new medium such as innovative use of hyper links, video clips, ...

Chris.... Lybrary.com preserving magic one book at a time.
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 08/28/01 01:53 AM

Thanks for your useful and specific feedback, Tom.

The regrettable aspect of the frame-captures was that Andrew Pinard actually enhanced each one so that the acuity and resolution was pretty good. The proof-copy that I examined showed excellent renditions (See MAGIC MENU's Don Alan issue for how the pics SHOULD HAVE looked); however, the printer somehow managed to make them several shades darker...which horrified me when I finally saw them. By then it was too late.

I totally agree about the need for strategically placed line drawings--say ones the caliber of Earle Oakes or Ton Onosaka.

I also wanted the Garbage Can act included in the book, but, alas, the rights were sold to someone and a "release" was necessary to explain it. Maybe in the Second Edition?

The second transcript (tape) was added VERBATIM as a historical side-bar. It is, indeed, like many such transcripts, garbled, confusing, and so on...
By the way, I've also discovered that the first transcript has errors and was incorrectly transcribed. I now have a copy of the original tape (made by Tim Glander)....

These things will be emended, later...

I also have other biographical stuff; however, I prefer to add such material when it is relevant to the rest of the book and when it offers insights into the subject's philosophy and theatrical approaches to magic.

Although Don Alan's style was enormously influential in the 50s and 60s, his basic approach is somewhat dated these days. Nevertheless, there are other principles, explicit and implicit, in Don's work that are timeless and applicable today. These are the aspects that truly interest me...and the challenge when writing the book was to somehow capture them...

Unfortunately, I think my attempt, except in certain parts or passages, was a failure.

So..

Consider the book, as I do, a stop-gap measure...a prelude...a promise...

Again, thanks for your candid and constructive input, Tom.

[ August 28, 2001: Message edited by: Jon Racherbaumer ]
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Postby Ralph Mackintosh » 08/28/01 07:30 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Tom Stone:
[QB]Bad books?
Well here's a few:


Korem Without Limits, by Danny Korem:
Looks great, the content is awful.


I won't argue that many think this is a bad book. HOWEVER, there are at least three items inspired by this book in my current performing arsenal while some "great book" items have never made it out of the book pages. Maybe it's because of the flaws of the book that I started adapting or reworking some of this material and got inspired. All books should be the starting point for your own inspiration. Somehow Korem Without Limits was mine and as such is one of my favorite books.

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Postby Bill Duncan » 08/29/01 03:59 PM

Originally posted by Tom Stone:
Bad books?
Well here's a few:
[snip]
Kort, by Stephen Minch.
The content might very well be excellent. But I wouldn't know as the biographical passages cause me to throw the book away in distaste. I know that Milton Kort is a legend, yet I want to hit him in the head with a hammer when I read the passages between the effects.

Couldn't disagree with you more old buddy...
I read the inserts and enjoyed them greatly. I don't really want to do any of Kort's material (I think I know too many tricks already) but the "in his own words" stuff was lots of fun for me.
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