Fooling Houdini

fouling houdini alex stone I first heard about Alex Stone's book, Fooling Houdini from Alex Stone. He was at a party I attended at Book Expo America and was luring people to talk with him by showing off his impressive card tricks. I didn't get a change to talk to him until the end of the night, at which point he showed off one of the tricks in his book and gave me a signed card. I tried to find it to take a photo and put it in this post but alas, it has disappeared into the black hole that is my office. (My office is also where business cards go to die.)

I don't want to say that I'm not a fan of magic -- that's not really true -- but I'm not someone who has ever really looked for magic shows or sought out card tricks. What really lured me into Fooling Houdini was the reference to math geeks. I kind of, not completely secretly, love math. I was curious about exactly what he'd be exposing during the book. We he tell us how the tricks were really done? How much math and geekery would be involved? The answer is just enough.
"Magic, at its core, is about toying with the limits of perception. And any neuroscientist will tell you, one can learn a lot about the brain by studying those bizarre moments wherein it succumbs to illusion. Magic lives in those moments." Page 6

Stone lifts up the curtain a lot but he didn't, in my opinion, reveal everything. Yet I often found myself wondering how other magicians felt about the book. Stone doesn't hide the fact that after he wrote an article on a very similar topic, he found himself blacklisted from many magic circles. He had broken the commandment, "Thou shalt not reveal any secrets."

This is what it comes down to for me -- he reveals how some things are done but he also reveals that other magicians can watch each other and still wonder how someone does something. He pointed out that you can know exactly how something is done and still be blown away by a move. After reading this book, I can have an idea about how some tricks are performed but I can't do it myself nor can I really "see" how someone does it.

In a way, magic is a lot like writing. I can know the letters and the grammar. I can know how to write. That doesn't make reading something someone else wrote any less spectacular. I may know an author's writing process. I could even follow it. But my end result would not be nearly as fabulous as theirs, not even if I spent my whole life practising.

A good magic trick is like the best novel you've ever read. To write a novel the author had to sit down and write words and sentences and tell us a story. The execution and the end result can still leave you breathless.