Why choose books over videos? Why choose at all? Isn’t this just a false dichotomy?

When I was four years old, my sister got a magic kit for Christmas. We’d be down in our basement playing and she’d frustrate the living daylights out of me.  She performed amazing mysteries such as holding a wand in her hand and commanding it to rise nearly its full length. I also remember a set of luggage tags of different colors. When I handed her one of them behind her back, she could tell me what color it was nearly instantly.

My pleas for answers fell on deaf ears. She took her task quite seriously! I would practically beg, “Pleeeeeease! Tell me how it works!” And her reply was brutal. She’d hold up the instruction book and with an air of authority she’d point to the text, “It says right here that the magician should never reveal the secrets of the magic. So, I can’t tell you!” This would repeat until I was almost in tears. Soon, I stopped watching her magic.

My first efforts to learn magic happened when I was about seven or eight. I remember getting a magic trick by sending in fifteen Dum Dum wrappers and a dollar. A few weeks later, I received plastic apparatus with little door panels on the front and back and a plastic insert with images of rabbits. I can’t recall exactly what the effect was, but I just knew that I performed it terribly.

I guess at this point I should explain that during all this, I was growing up in a very small town in Tennessee. There were no magicians or magic shops that I knew of in my area. I had no resources to learn from. My ability to ‘present’ magic was limited to simply showing the effect of the prop and nothing more. I was rather introverted anyway, so it wasn’t a natural thing for me to create fanciful presentations. The ‘fire’ that many in our field possess never took hold of me. And there was no more interest in magic until many years later…

After I left a six-year enlistment in the Navy, I moved back to Tennessee. I met a guy who showed me a simple coin trick. He took a coin into his hand, and a brief moment later, he opened the hand to reveal it had vanished. Before the amazement could set in, he showed me how it worked.

I was baffled.

Not so much by the effect, but why he would show me the workings. I remember saying to him, “Why did you show me how that works? I don’t know a lot about magic, but I do know that you’re not supposed to reveal any secrets.”

But he taught me; and I learned it. I practiced when I could, off and on, for two days or so. I finally showed it to a friend and she said, “Oh wow, how did you do that?”

My mind was blown. This actually worked! I did this tricky, secret thing and another person was fooled by it! The fire was officially lit and I wanted to learn as much as I could. At the age of 24, I had properly learned my first magic trick.

When I was a little boy, my father would always tell me, “If there’s something out there you want to learn, it doesn’t matter what it is, somebody has written a book about it. So whatever you want to learn, go out and get book on that subject!”

So I did. I found a green, softcover printing of Modern Coin Magic by J.B. Bobo. I browsed through the decidedly UN-modern illustrations and descriptions and fell in love. On a side note, this happened over 20 years ago and I still have (and refer to) that book to this very day.

I got a roll of half-dollar coins from the bank and set to work becoming a miracle-worker. But it was slow progress. After a year of studying that one book, I was…awful. I could competently perform many of the effects described in the book, but I was still lacking in that certain style of presentation. Meeting other magicians certainly helped. As did watching some of the early instructional videos that were released. I saved my money and picked up the VHS taps of David Roth.

Penn & Teller: Fool Us — “Star Spangled Magic” — Pictured (L-R): Teller, David Roth, and Penn Jillette Jacob Kepler/The CW — © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

For those who are just getting into the art, Roth is one of the modern, living legends of coin magic. His series “Expert Coin Magic Made Easy (vols. 1, 2, and 3)” is the definitive work on mastering coin magic. And the funny thing was that when I received that coveted first volume in the mail and popped it into my VHS player, Roth started fooling me badly with the very same magic I was learning from Bobo!

How can this be? I know what those tricks are and how they work. So why did they fool me? I simply had no visual reference. The books can only explain so much. But when I could finally see how it was supposed to look, I became acutely aware of the gulf between my skill and my ambition

Why am I telling this story? Do I think videos are greater than books? Are books better than video? They both have their place. But your journey into magic should incorporate both. When I released The Mexican Turnover: Reborn, I felt it was important to give both methods of teaching. They should compliment one another.

Learning magic is a personal journey, but if you learn only from videos, you’re limiting the scope of material that you are exposed to. If you read only the books, you’re denying yourself that visual confirmation that accelerates the learning process. Find a good balance, but don’t tip the scales too far in one direction.

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