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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Books, Pamphlets & Lecture Notes » » I'll now rate my book collection for you all. (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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asherfox
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This is fun. You make me want to do the same on my trick book collection. I hope you don't mind.
To remind, I am mainly a card guy. And These books are on my bed.
1. Mnemonica – 7(I only use stay stack)
2. Power play – 9(Good tricks, so many good tricks)
3. Totally out of control – 7(I don't use gaff card and some tricks are too hard to me)
4. Card Dupery -6(hard to follow)
5. Randy wakeman present – 6.5(Ok)
6. Smoke and mirrors -8.5(excellent)
7. Dear mr. Fantasy – 10(Bring back good memory)
8. Relaxed impossibilities – 5(I go through the book once without holding cards)
9. Card work, card play -6(no picture)
10. By forces unseen – 9(the bottom palm just too good)
11. The expert portfolio no.1 – 8.5(I still use Jack method to stack four handed game with one shuffle)
12. Modus operandi -7(those tricks are good but I don't like the writing style)
13. Duffie’s Card Compulsions- 7(not my style)
14. Card fiction- 8(not my style but I enjoyi reading those ideas)
15. One degree – 9(good tricks, many good tricks)
16. Paper engine – 6.5(I don't get much from this book)
17. A book in English -9.5(too good, just too good)
18. Reflection – Hard to rate(many gaff tricks and very hard to read)
19. Handcrafted card magic – 10(signed +2)
20. Handcrafted card magic 2- 11(signed +2)
George Hunter
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In responding to the first post, I cannot even begin to imagine the criteria that would warrant placing the Waters book (#30) significantly above the Annemann (20) and Corinda (19) books.

George
John Kokot
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With due respect to Mark Twain’s famous observation (which may have been initially uttered by Benjamin Disraeli) that statistics are one of three kinds of lies, let’s not ignore the virtues of the “normal” (bell-shaped) curve. After all, only in Lake Wobegon is everyone above average.

At the risk of oversimplification, if a group of items (in this case, magic books) were rated on a 1-10 scale, a normal distribution would resemble the following breakdown.

Scores of 1-2 would comprise 10 percent of all scores.
3-4 would comprise 20 percent of all scores.
5-6 would comprise 40 percent of all scores.
7-8 would comprise 20 percent of all scores.
9-10 would comprise 10 percent of all scores.

Under this scenario, the average score would be 5.5.

It is, of course, possible that a sagacious consumer would only buy good books, making her library score higher than average. Nevertheless, if the scores are not normally distributed, it does cast some suspicion on the rating system.

This comment is not meant to belittle or praise anyone’s book collection. The aim is to suggest that we need to be more discerning in evaluating our literature, a goal that would create a more demanding audience and, in turn, better books.

Right now, the magic community tends to overrate its practitioners, its books and its effects. In judging our peers and their products, we’re like the auditorium filled with people who all stand up when the master of ceremonies requests that everyone who thinks he or she is an above average driver to “please rise.”
Vlad_77
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Quote:
On 2014-02-07 16:57, John Kokot wrote:
With due respect to Mark Twain’s famous observation (which may have been initially uttered by Benjamin Disraeli) that statistics are one of three kinds of lies, let’s not ignore the virtues of the “normal” (bell-shaped) curve. After all, only in Lake Wobegon is everyone above average.

At the risk of oversimplification, if a group of items (in this case, magic books) were rated on a 1-10 scale, a normal distribution would resemble the following breakdown.

Scores of 1-2 would comprise 10 percent of all scores.
3-4 would comprise 20 percent of all scores.
5-6 would comprise 40 percent of all scores.
7-8 would comprise 20 percent of all scores.
9-10 would comprise 10 percent of all scores.

Under this scenario, the average score would be 5.5.

It is, of course, possible that a sagacious consumer would only buy good books, making her library score higher than average. Nevertheless, if the scores are not normally distributed, it does cast some suspicion on the rating system.

This comment is not meant to belittle or praise anyone’s book collection. The aim is to suggest that we need to be more discerning in evaluating our literature, a goal that would create a more demanding audience and, in turn, better books.

Right now, the magic community tends to overrate its practitioners, its books and its effects. In judging our peers and their products, we’re like the auditorium filled with people who all stand up when the master of ceremonies requests that everyone who thinks he or she is an above average driver to “please rise.”



Hi John,

Let me preface my comments by stating that I enjoy your posts and what I am offering is really a discussion point. I am curious about your statement that the magic community tends to overrate its practitioners, its books, and its effects. I cannot speak so much about individual tricks as I rarely buy them. Perhaps it's because the trick has to be really special for me to consider it; I would agree that there is a LOT of dross out there. But as to books, I would offer that the recently closed Book(s) of the Year Award attests to the fact that the community is rather discerning when it comes to purchasing books. I am also curious as to whom you might be referring when you speak of overrated practitioners. I don't expect you to name these magicians of course, but, in the area of books, I really have to say that even the one book I mentioned that is in my library that I simply (there's that hint again) do not like is not a bad book; it just never connected with me. Thinking back over the past ten or so years I would offer that the community has been blessed with superb books from authors such as Harry Lorayne, Woody Aragon, John Bannon, Christian Chelman, Peter Duffie, Roberto Giobbi, Ramon Rioboo, Steve Beam, David Regal, Wesley James, Jack Carpenter, James Swain, J.K. Hartman, Darwin Ortiz, Ernest Earick, and many more.

Perhaps it is my subjectivity informing me but I do not consider any of the above authors/practitioners as overrated at all.

I would agree wholeheartedly that discernment is important of course. And what I see as problematic are the lazy questions that merely ask "what is the best?" For me, these questions demonstrate a lack of discernment and a penchant for wanting to be spoon fed. I love good questions; I loathe questions whose subtext is really that of the inquirer being too lazy to research. I think a more appropriate question would be "in your opinion, what are some books that you would consider important and why? The answer should give just enough information to steer the questioner to research more thoroughly based upon her/his needs.

So maybe John, the answer lies in effective educating such that questioners accept and even embrace that there is no black and white. Some people have stated quite emphatically for instance that Card College is necessary for one to become a competent card magician. I love Card College and I respect Roberto Giobbi's work. Yet, I would never dream of stating that one resource is all one needs or that a particular resource is so essential that one could not become a magician without it. Such a statement simply cannot hold the proverbial water.

I guess what I am seeking is a bit of clarification on what one might judge as overrated? That is to say, by what rubric do we establish whether author A is overrated while author B is "essential" (for lack of a better term).

Slainte,
Vlad
nooner
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I completely agree with Vlad. I would like to hear who John considers overrated in the OP's book list.

I also don't think that because the OP's ranking system didn't fit a standard distribution curve that is affects the credibility of his rankings. If he were to rank ALL magic books available for sale in the marketplace, then that stipulation might make sense, but these are books that he wanted and (presumably) likes...which does not, in my opinion, cast suspicion on the rating system. Perhaps his concentration of ratings between 7-10 are actually bell shaped.
John Kokot
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Whew! So many good questions. I hope I can come up with answers that match the quality of the queries. Some of the problems are due to the lack of clarity in my original post.

If, during the course of my pedantry, I appeared to be casting aspersions on OP's or anyone else's list, I am at fault. I tried to ward of suspicions of this with the phrase from my post, "This comment is not meant to belittle or praise anyone’s book collection."

I further erred was with my statement that "if" the scores are not normally distributed, it does cast "some suspicion" on the rating system." I thought the "if" and the "some suspicion" caveats softened my point, making it clear that just because a collection scored "above average," didn't mean it was incorrect. I was remiss in not making it explicit that no criticism of an individual list was implied.

Related to this is Nooner's insightful point about the universe of books being rated. He states that a normal distribution might be applicable if the ratings included all magic books. In that case, he writes, "that stipulation might make sense." I thought I had addressed this with my comment that "a sagacious consumer would only buy good books, making her library score higher than average." Again I should have been more precise.

Vlad's questions are challenging, indeed. So much so that I'm deferring my response until I come up with something commensurate with the task.

By way of a preview, I won't be naming names. Those who disagree with my hypothesis may attribute this to my wrongheadedness or a lack of courage, perhaps both. Those who are more sympathetic with my point may settle for the following explanation for my reticence. Naming names will quickly turn this discussion into a "that-book-is-overrated-no-it's-not discussion. This will blur the methodological focus of my point.

Which, in a way, gets to the crux of the matter. One of my many shortcomings is that I'm often smitten with the process to the neglect of the result. As a basketball fan, for example, the answer to the question who is the better player: Michael Jordon or Lebron James interests me far less than the question of how you would about devising a methodology for answering this question.

I'm also a curmudgeon, especially when it comes to things I like (huh ?). In addition to being a prisoner of the bell-shaped curve, I pledge allegiance to the notion that "the unexamined life isn't worth living." These peccadilloes manifest themselves in the belief that there is an inordinate amount of hero worship in the magic community (to cite one example, the vanilla profiles of magicians in magic magazines).

And while there is nothing wrong with admiring those whose shoulders we stand upon, our devotion may be one of the reasons magic doesn't enjoy wider respect as an art or as entertainment. While our loyalty is admirable, it blinds us to our faults.

None of this, however, gives Vlad's questions their due. They merit more than a laundry list of my personal predilections. I'm working on a better answer (the fact that I don't have one ready at hand is revealing). In the meantime, my apologies for the length of this message. As Pascal said in a letter to a friend, "I'm sorry this letter is so long, I didn't have time to make it shorter."
John Kokot
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In a recent post, Vlad graciously disagreed with my allegation that the magic community “tends to overrate its practitioners, its books and its effects.” While agreeing about the prevalence of dross when it comes to tricks, Vlad presents a strong case for books qualifying as a notable exception to my claim.

Specifically, Vlad wants to know “by what rubric do we establish whether author A is overrated while author B is essential.” As an empiricist and epistemological skeptic, there isn’t a definitive answer that would satisfy my standards, much less Vlad’s (not to mention anyone writing about aesthetics since Aristotle put pen to his “Poetics” and his “Rhetoric”).

If my defense rests on providing Vlad with the definition he is seeking, I plead guilty. Maybe, however, in explaining what led to the error of my ways, leniency may be in the offing. My defense is not an airtight deductive argument based on data; instead, it is mere collection of anecdotal impressions (the equivalent of circumstantial evidence).

In keeping with the spirit of Vlad’s reference to the recently closed Book(s) of the Year Award as evidence in favor of his position, I’ll mention some 2013 books in my response. To avoid misrepresenting the authors, however, please know that I am not implying that they would advocate similar positions to mine.

The Columbia Journalism Review used to give an annual award (maybe it still does) to the magazine that most challenged its subscribers’ values. That’s my kind of rag. While the magic community has writers (Jamy Ian Swiss, for example) that question its shibboleths, it doesn’t have enough of them. We have more cheerleaders than critics.

“Metamagic: A Guide to Using Magic as a Medium for Discourse,” by Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, is a welcome exception to magic’s tendency toward the Pollyannaish. This 2013 book is as intriguing as it is obscure. Its 165 pages offer a semiotic (the study of signs) study of magic that can be denser than some of my clause-filled sentences. The book often reads like a dissertation or thesis on a semiotic approach to magic. But in addition to the non-obvious conclusions that semiotics suggests about magic, what makes “Metamagic” worthwhile is its willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and some of magic’s respected hierarchy.

A good example is DeSouza-Coelho’s thoughts about Eugene Burger’s presentation of the “Cosmic Thread.” Burger, of course, is deservedly considered one of magic’s best thinkers, and his presentations are among the best in magic. DeSouza-Coelho, however, is undeterred. Using Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology as a point of departure, he asks,

“. . . if there is to be any transcendence in an art form, then it must occur within the given frame of that art form. However, in the description of the “Cosmic Thread,” as Burger orchestrates it, the spectator isn’t interpreting the Effect at all. They are interpreting the lofty words about Hindu mythology and the death and rebirth of the universe that accompany the Effect.

Imagine if (a) dancer walks on to the stage and begins his or her routine, which is then accompanied by close-captioned subtitles narrating the story that the dance is supposed (to) evoke: would you say that the dancer has achieved transcendence via the given frame of the dance (or via the captioned story)?

Just as Burger is justifiably noted for cautioning against presentations being “the adventures of props in the performer’s hands,” DeSouza-Coehlo warns against having presentations “being the adventures of the words in a performer’s mouth . . . . There would be no problem here if . . . magicians were standing before our spectators as orators . . . but we aren’t standing before our spectators as orators. We are standing before them as magicians and therefore it is our EFFECTS . . . not our words that should generate the relationship.”

Whether you agree with DeSouza Coehlo or Burger is not the point. (We should all be so fortunate to present as well as Eugene Burger). You may even regard semiotics as claptrap. What still merits acknowledgement, however, is that “Metamagic’s” probing analysis, which undermines some of the magic community’s received wisdom, is much more the exception than the rule among magic books. And to the degree this conclusion is valid, it may be equally prudent to conclude that we may be overrating the rule and underrating the exception.

It’s not exactly news that magic occupies a low rung on the artistic ladder. This despite the presence of some eminently worthy magic shows (Mac King’s jocular show in Las Vegas and Derek Delgaudio’s and Helder Guimaraes’s “Nothing to Hide,” recently in New York, are two that come to mind). The “Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants” show and (from another generation) Al Goshman’s “Magish for You” also meet the standard. And based on the wonderful descriptions in his “The Conference Illusions” book, Mike Caveney performances would also satisfy this criterion. (Full Disclosure: Until I read the Caveney book, my ignorance of illusions was only exceeded by my lack of interest in what I had been peremptorily dismissing as “box magic.”)

There probably as many reasons for magic’s low stature as there are packet tricks. For me, the primary villains are magicians themselves. We are too satisfied with ourselves. If magic were as vibrant as we pretend it to be, there would be more evidence of this in both the artistic world and the commercial market. Since magic is not in as robust health as the magic community thinks it is, this misperception may be due to overrating who we are and what we do.

But what does this have to do with books? And besides, since most magicians are hobbyists, is the hackneyed argument that magic isn’t popular with the public the best measure of magic’s status? Am I really suggesting that Steven Cohen and Richard’s Kaufman’s collection of clever and off-beat Japanese magic (“Japan Ingenious”) is responsible for magic’s low position on the artistic totem pole? Or worse, am I so humorless that I would fail to marvel at the creativity of Gaeten Bloom (“Full Bloom”) when he invents a trick that combines a Zarrow shuffle and an electric deck? No. Magic books contain too much thought and inspiration to dismiss this easily. Witness the exceptional scholarship found in Magic Christian’s “Non Plus Ultra,” a role model for future magic historians.

The problem is not the quality of the books themselves. In fact, as counter-intuitive as this may seem, it may be possible to argue that as magic books increase in quality, the problem becomes worse. How could this be?
Adam Milgate’s “Real Secrets,” offers an answer. “To most amateur magicians, hobbyists and collectors, the trick is the ONLY thing . . . . To an audience it is a vehicle for enjoying YOU” (capitalization reflects Milgate’s emphasis).

Although there are admittedly a growing number presentation and theory books, an encouraging phenomenon, it’s fair to say that “tricks” constitute the nucleus of most magic literature. Tricks thusly form the frame of reference or paradigm that magicians use to evaluate their world. (“Paradigm” in the sense that Thomas Kuhn uses it in his “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” that is an overarching world view that dominate a field of knowledge.) Because magicians are producing better and better trick books (a plausible interpretation) it’s reasonable, maybe even admirable, to praise their work.

But what if all their good work is missing the point? Again we’re back to “Metamagic.” “Magic for the sake of magic is the very reason that magicians aren’t taken very seriously by anybody but magicians.”

To the degree DeSouza-Coelho is correct, one could argue that however good our magic authors are at creating “magic for the sake of magic,” they are overrated in the sense that we overvalue their goods. The fault lies not with the writers (whatever their strengths or weaknesses, they advancing the state of knowledge, a noble goal), but with us -- the readers. When someone or something is overrated, it is those of us assigning the ratings that are culpable. I, for example, prefer Indie rock to mainstream popular music. Given that, I may be correct in saying that Miley Cyrus is overrated. But even if that is true, it’s not her fault. It’s her fans who deserve opprobrium.

What I am hinting at is that the magic community’s whole approach to magicians, books and tricks may be locking the current situation in place, not because the books are without merit, but because they address the wrong paradigm -- tricks and their methods and the cleverness of it all.

There are, of course, some wonderful books on presentation and theory, an admirable phenomenon, but even champions of these works will acknowledge that the ratio of trick books to theory books is probably equal to the number of faro shuffles required to restore a deck to its original order. If my analysis has any merit, then as good as the authors Vlad singled out are (and many of Vlad’s nominees are also in my pantheon), we may have to ask whether our praise for them helps or hinders the state of magic. And if it is a hindrance, are we not overrating them?

I trust that this explains why I would make what might be regarded as unwarranted and seemingly mean-spirited claim about the magic community, its performers, and its products. While I failed to answer Vlad’s specific question, I hope I suggested a rubric, to use his term, which might help us evaluate my hypothesis.

Then again, maybe we’re just talking about card tricks and their fellow travelers. In which case, it may be justifiable to dismiss the above as balderdash and chalk up this and most magic controversies to yet another example of Sayre’s Law. To wit: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time, attention and patience.

----------

(An aside regarding Adam Milgate’s “Real Secrets.” In a year when Jamie Grant’s guide to turning professional (“The Approach”) was the runaway winner of the Magic Café Book of the Year poll, it was surprising to see only one vote for “Real Secrets,” which explores similar territory. I have neither the talent, nor the discipline, nor the desire to be a professional magician, nor have I had the pleasure of reading Grant’s book, so I am not qualified to compare “The Approach” to “Real Secrets.” For those who have read both, I’m curious to know why the Grant book received many more votes than the Milgate book.)
Vlad_77
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Hi John,

You've offered a very well reasoned response - which does not surprise me at all! Smile I am probably not going to do this great response the justice it deserves because I think what you've provided is a firm foundation for a meta-conversation about magic and by extension magicians.

I am involved in other performing arts in addition to magic and you couldn't be more correct in your assessment of magic's low position on the "totem pole" and I find this fact very sad. What's interesting at least for me is when my friends and colleagues in theater and music learn that I am a magician, they are fascinated and always "want to see something." (I want to comment on the "something" in a moment). After I perform, they invariably state - and I hasten to add that I am not by any means touting my abilities as a magician as a catalyst - that they really didn't expect magic to be so so cool and so artistic. Let's face it, we are part of the the only performing art (and I include mentalism under the general subject of "magic") in which a person can pop into a shop or go online, order a few "tricks" and consider themselves "magicians." What many of these casual seekers and their unfortunate audiences do not appreciate is that magic requires as much discipline as any performing art, or indeed, any field of human endeavor beyond the mundane. A few gaff decks and Tenyo curiosities amounts to little more than a beginning pianist knowing how to find middle C on a piano. So perhaps John, an argument can be made that because magic is simultaneously secretive and yet accessible, it wields a double edged sword and is always in peril of lopping its own head off.

I wrote earlier that I wanted to touch upon the "something" that people want to see. Most people for whom I have performed have never seen any magic live beyond Uncle Bob and his tattered pack of cards on Labor Day and the incessant dealing or the kid show magician and his Hippity Hop Rabbits - no offense intended to children's performers. So the desire to see something speaks to at least a couple possibilities in my estimation.

A positive approach to this might be to state that because well performed close up magic is witnessed so rarely, the use of the word "something" signifies a keen interest in witnessing something rare. Yet lurking in this positive is a little demon as well; the question arises whether or not many magicians are truly offering a rare experience?I would offer that many magicians are not offering such and AS such, mediocre exhibitions present this beautiful art in a rather unflattering light. Some months ago, I created a thread whose subject was the "sins" magicians commit when performing. I was gratified to see that more than a few participants had quite lovely lists of these transgressions. Examples included the magician who displays a pack of cards and states, "as you can see, this is a normal. well shuffled deck." When I hear a magician say that John, I literally want to punch him and I am not given to punching people. Smile You are intelligent and I know I need not explain why the statement makes my pancreas implode.

A negative might be that unlike other arts, there is no hook in magic. The bizarreists have been arguing this for years and I believe Tony Andruzzi was a particularly vocal advocate of seeking a hook for magic that resonates in the ways that music does. So many times I read posts about how a certain effect should be presented. How does one answer this? A musician doesn't ask this question. She/he interprets the piece. The actor creates the backstory of the character and if the actor is of the Stanislavski school, "becomes" the part. I would further add that conventions and magic meetings are problematic as well. Now, before everyone breaks out the napalm, please bear with me? While the big conventions are increasingly inviting performers to come and present workshops on performing, the focus of the convention is still on "tricks." Then questions arise about how to perform the tricks. At small magic meetings, I have never seen a workshop or lecture about magic performance.

I've been on both sides of the counter as a customer and as a demonstrator in three magic shops. At one of them, I had suggested that we invite the university's theater director to come and give a talk at our monthly IBM meeting which we held at the shop. The director thought it was a great idea. The owner however felt that we would only see - if we were lucky - ten people when normally 150 showed up every month. I asked him if we could send a mailer out to members to gauge interest in such a lecture. Sad to say, the owner of the shop was right. Only seven people were interested! So it was back to the "tricks."

What does this have to do with books? Everything! Anyone who knows me here is aware that I am an avid Lorayne disciple. I am also most fond of authors who write about presentation, about stagecraft, about ridding one's self of the magicians' tropes. I think that for many of our best authors, the thought is that they shouldn't have to teach the basics of performing in their books. As such, their books are explorations of plots and it is up to the performer to make the trick "tick." If I were asked to name a few authors who provide thought provoking essays on presentation, I would immediately suggest David Regal and John Guastaferro. (Sorry Jamie, I haven't been able to purchase your book yet, but, your columns are invaluable and I sense that given the response here, your book is fabulous). The sad thing in my opinion John is that what magicians seek in terms of good presentation with elevates the art is contained in MANY books, but, the insatiable hunger for more tricks and moves creates a situation in which tons of carbs are consumed, but the rest of the diet is lacking.

I liked your Miley Cyrus example by the way. I am - or was - in a debate with some person on YouTube who adamantly argued that The Beatles are the most overrated act in rock. Despite providing arguments from musicologists, historians, anthropologists, performers, and sales figures, this person felt that the Rolling Stones were the bellweather band - despite knowing that the Stones themselves credit The Beatles for opening the door and redefining the genre a number of times!

So, authors do what they do just as musicians do. The question becomes then what do the practitioners of the art do with the material provided? And I see little in the way of performance innovation or interpretation in the general magic community.

Magic was for a long time held in very high esteem. Then, as with many of the live arts, it hit a wall with the advent of the idiot box. But thanks to people like Doug Henning and David Copperfield, magic enjoyed a resurgence. Now I feel that magic is ebbing again but not because of our authors; the fault lies with the performers who aren't "performing", not gifting audiences with something so beautifully rare. An actor understand that each night when that curtain opens, you MUST give your audience your all and that includes amateurs in community theaters as well as Broadway's best. But with magic, there is the misundertanding/misperception that this art is easy. Too many magicians only do magic for other magicians; their goal is to "fool the boys." So called magicians' magic is fun at times, but, when it becomes the focus of the art rather than something ancillary to it, I find that to be problematic.

I've spoken to too many magicians who want a "book" that will teach them how to perform. A book cannot teach that and I tell these guys that an excellent way to learn is to get involved in an amateur theater company. Even if you don't get a part, you can tech and still learn a lot about stagecraft and performance. Two people have followed that advice and those two are also now full time magicians. I hasten to add that I take no credit for that. Merely that these guys had the stones to get active and recognize that above all, magic is a performance art.

So, I do not think we overrate our authors at all. Rather, we focus on one single tree in a vast forest. Sure, there are many wonderful things to discover about that single tree; it is a miracle. However, the forest holds so much more to discover, and, in any field of endeavor, why limit ourselves?

I realize that this has been one hell of a rambling post and I apologize. I am also aware John that I have not provided satisfactory counterpoint to your post. I am hopeful that the conversation can continue and that more will chime in. Perhaps one or more of our authors might join. I sincerely believe that the conversation is necessary for the sake of the art.

Slainte,
Vlad

PS: I just had to add this: when a band performs badly, a venue will simply book another band. When a magician performs badly, many venues will avoid ANY magician like Ebola.
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