Do you skim, or absorb? How do you read a magic book?

The other day I was sitting in my chair and flipping through Gambling Sleight of Hand, like you do, and my wife asked me a pretty simple question. She asked: "how do you read a book like that?"

Now, she wasn't implying that it was a bad book. On the contrary. The context was that a "magic book" was perceived to be more like a textbook. Perhaps like a science manual? Of course, my answer was "to get all the secrets and be the next Sorcerer Supreme." But really... how do I read a book like that?

I've thought about it off-and-on and I know I have my own personal bias, as would everyone, so I tried to break it down into different reasonings to see if one way is better than another. I can't wait to finally answer her question 😂

Book Layout and Flow

There are so many different types of magic books out there. I'm not talking about the routines they describe or the size of the book, I mean the actual layout and flow of them are different. A non-magic book, like a story book, builds a setting and flows from the beginning of the book to the end. You know, like a book. But, what's this look like for a typical magic book?

Well, there can be chapters, or sections, or parts. No matter the word they use, there are usually "sections" that group together a handful of things that are related somehow. Like in the Card College Series, each chapter gives an overview of a specific sleight and different handlings and routines for that sleight.

It's also possible that there are no chapters and the book is just full of tricks. The tricks may or may not have anything to do with the others either. The 80's Called is a good example of this where it's literally just a list of tricks, neither follows the other for any specific reason other than that's just where the author put them.

One thing that's almost universal for magic books is how each individual trick or routine is explained though. The flow of each is usually started with a description of the overall effect, followed by any necessary props and preparation. Then comes the longest part: the step-by-step instructions on how to perform the routine. Sometimes, all of this is rounded out by notes or alternative handlings... but not always.

Skipping Around

What's the first thing you do when you get a new magic book? Besides read the back cover and inside of the dust jacket (if you even bother), you likely flip through the book really quick and catch a glimpse of a picture or two and if any catch your eye, you read that section. Or, maybe you have a routine of going straight to the Table of Contents, skimming it for something that catches your eye and then flipping to it?

I know folks who do this whenever they have a magic book - not just the first time through. Whether it's for a book that has sections split out, or just a list of tricks, if you have a page number and can flip right to it you're able to skip around and read anything individually.

The caveat to this approach is that you're likely to miss all of the other information throughout the book, but the main benefit here is you're going after exactly what you're interested in and skipping everything else.

Reading Like a Novel

Now this one's up my alley. Yes, when I get a book for the first time I definitely flip through it to see a few pics and to skim the Table of Contents, maybe even flip directly to a trick that catches my eye and read through it. But ultimately, when I sit down with a magic book, I plan to read the thing from front to back.

I read the Acknowledgements. I read the Preface and Introduction. Heck, I even read the Bibliography if it has one! I don't really do this due to any OCD, nor is it in the hopes of finding some magically hidden secret that's super huge (*cough* Drawing Room Deceptions *cough*). No, I do it because I feel like there's value in each section individually.

In the Acknowledgements page, for example, on several occasions I've come across authors or contributors that I've never heard of before and when I look into them, I find a whole new world of resources. That's the same with the Bibliography too, except in that case now I have references for where certain sleights, theory, or even full routines were obtained from.

I do fully admit that if I'm not interested in a trick after reading the Effect / description, or if it's not my type of magic, I'll skim it though. A lot of times I'll skip full routines too, but that's typically only in books that have mixed content like Card Magic and Rope Magic. I don't own any magical ropes... or real ones for that matter. Normally though, it's cover-to-cover!

Does this take a lot of time? Sometimes, yes. It depends on whether or not I'm actively practicing while reading, and how well written the content is. I've gone through small(ish) books that took forever to get through, like Expert at the Card Table and flew through larger books that are pretty easy to consume, like Principia. This doesn't mean one book has harder content than another, it's mostly based on again, how well it's written and if I'm practicing.

For example, the first time I read through Principia it took me about 4 hours. The second time, I actually had a deck of cards in my hand and took about a week. I had noted which routines sounded good to me the first time through and the second, I confirmed (and even expanded) that list while practicing! Now when I want to go through it again, I know exactly what I'd look at and what to skip.

Practicing While Reading

I touched on this briefly above, but having a deck of cards in your hand (or a coin, or a rope, or pretzels, etc) while reading through a book will drastically change your consumption of that book. Whether you're skipping to an individual trick or reading from cover to cover, if you are actively practicing while reading -- you're focusing on an individual trick (or sleight) and it's going to take you a lot longer to read through.

In my mind, the right way to do it is to read through the routine first and then go back with your cards and practice it. So that's the way I actually do it, right? Well, 9 times out of 10 I have the deck in my hands on my first pass through and if the routine, sleight, or sleight within a routine sound interesting to me I'm giving it a go. I've tried to do the read-first-practice-second thing and it works, but it takes so much more time.

I'm a hobbyist who has over-committed myself to the absorption of content and by doing so, am effectively hurting my ability to perfect any one thing (if you can say that something can be perfected). One of my current 2022 resolutions is to actually slow down a bit and practice more so hopefully that's corrected. However, I do think that there's merit to practicing on your first read-through. In my experience, attempting to follow-along without a full picture of what's coming next has led me to so many different sleights and routine ideas that I likely wouldn't have come up with if I knew what was next on the page. The real trick is remembering those things!

What's Best?

So, do you skim or absorb? Do you practice while reading, or only after you read?

There's not a one-answer-fits-all here. This one's definitely personal preference and I know that my way wouldn't work for others and their way wouldn't work for me. I don't think it really matters too much, as long as you're enjoying it in the process!

And then, there's video 🙃

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