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Organizing Magic by Actionability

Organizing Magic by Actionability

Of the Scarne books that I own, there is little philosophy to be found within their pages. Scarne dedicated most of his enterprise to explaining card tricks, cutting out all the slack and talk so his readers can get what they came for as fast as possible (sounds exactly like modern times byte-sized content).

Before heading further, if you've never heard of his books, or never heard of Scarne until now (though, I highly doubt it), here's a couple of sources where you can put yourself up to date.

Who is Scarne?
See Scarne in Action
Scarne's Books on Amazon

This book of his from 1951, "Scarne's Magic Tricks" fashions conjuring ideas with all sorts of objects from cards and coins to silks and whatnot, advertising itself as teaching magic that anyone can do with no prior skill. After going through it, I can attest that this is mostly true, as there are many tricks that still require you to practice dearly in order to execute them smoothly.

A quick google search will render you a few places where you'll discover people have reviewed this book. A lot of these reviews will complain about how outdated the tricks inside are. 

While I can't completely contradict them, there's plenty of material between these pages that even the social media unicorn will find utterly amazing and useful to perform on platforms such as TikTok or Instagram. A few such tricks are "The Magical Shirt" (page 14), "It's in the Ashes" (page 53) or "Breaking a Pencil with a Dollar Bill" (page 90). 

The reason I brought up this book as an example is that I found out my style of reading magic books has changed over the years. When I was 16 I would skim through Marlo, only looking at the images and trying to make out how the sleight or trick was done. Later on, I would open the book at titles that I found interesting or just at certain types of sleights.

The way I've been reading magic books lately is by going through the book, reading each effect and circling it if I found it useful for what I was working on now or for other projects that I might be working on in the future. This is called, I found out recently, organizing things by actionability (term coined by Tiego Forte in his book "Building a Second Brain").

In one of his books, Andi Gladwin talked about what a magician can think of a trick upon reading it. That,

a. One can like it and learn it.
b. One can like it and learn it later.
c. One can dislike it and not learn it.

Upon these classic reactions to reading a trick, he added a fourth which I really loved, that being:

d. Saving a trick which a friend will like and sharing it with them.

I loved this last reason, as I find many times tricks I won't particularly perform myself, but I know someone that will. 

I opened this subject as I believe a fifth! item in the list can be added which partakes to our modern times and habit of trying to do as many things as possible.

e. Saving a trick which can be useful for another project in the future.

And this is where organizing things by actionability comes. I might not like a trick for any of the projects that I am involved in now, but I might find it useful later on for a certain article that I'll be writing or a video that I'll be making.

Hopefully this idea might be of some use for some of you out there.

Until next week, tell me - how do you read magic books? 


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Gordon - December 12, 2022

I make a list of page numbers on an index card, then stash that card inside the first cover. Later, when I return to the book. I’ll go back to that page and try to identify why ‘past me’ notated it. I find this helps me with noticing things anew.

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