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Session (Regular Edition) Review

September 16th, 2007 11:33pm
Reviewed by James Sanden
Session: The Magic of Joel Givens is a book of magic by Joel Givens, a full time professional magician in North Carolina. It’s written as if the reader were a fly on the wall to an all night “session” of magic between Joel and the author, Joshua Jay. There is also a companion volume available, Five Forty Seven, which contains additional material, as well as commentary from Mr. Jay about the book.

For me, the conceit of using a narrative style to present magical content was not particularly effective. While the idea has been done before and has much potential, I don’t think that potential was realized in this case. I applaud Mr. Jay’s interest in trying something different, but I don’t believe his execution added much to the book overall.

Between the book and the companion volume there are about 33 effects, 5 sleights or improvements on sleights, 2 card revelations and 1 bar bet. The effects use cards, coins, straws, bills and even q-tips. Thankfully these are the products of a professional who has been working as a magician for a long time, so they aren’t the half baked ideas and impractical effects that plague much of the literature on the scene today. At the same time, I don’t think that all of the material is truly worthy of print. I’m sure many would disagree, and I would be the first to admit there is a lot of good, solid material in this volume, but not enough of it is as good as it should be. I know I’m picky, but I feel that if it’s not new in method or effect, or if it doesn’t contain a significant contribution to an existing effect, the item should not see the light of day (outside of, ironically, perhaps an actual session.)

While the production and design are of high quality, there is a problem with the layout, specifically with the photographs. To be clear, great effort was made to take detailed and clear photos. Misters Jay and Givens even went so far as to include background items in the photos, in order to give the reader the feeling that they are looking at moments in time of the session itself. Unfortunately, the photographs are frequently placed several pages away from the section of text describing what’s occurring in the photo. This is perhaps one of the most annoying problems to encounter when reading a magic book. To make matters worse, unnecessary photos take up additional space, moving the photos the reader really needs to consult even further from the relevant text. I never thought I’d complain about too MANY photographs in a magic book, but in this case it is a problem.

There are also a number of errors in the text. There were several instances of “left” and “right” being reversed, as well as at least one instance where an entire section of handling was left out. Given the amount of time spent in putting this book together, I’m not sure how errors of this type were not caught and corrected.

These quibbles aside, there are a number of interesting items to be found in Session. Among my favorites are a very magical method for causing cream to appear in a cup of coffee, an interesting book test using silly putty, a very deceptive multiple selection routine using a great presentational hook of Juan Tamariz, a wonderful impromptu memory feat with a deck of cards that builds to a solid climax, an interesting (and potentially controversial) effect to do in response to a heckler, and an impromptu ring flight that has the ring travel to the magician’s watchband.

There are other great ideas, as well as some fun ones with potential. Unfortunately, there are also predictable and not particularly notable versions of Triumph and Collectors, as well as effects like “Matches to Straw” with a fairly easy-to-figure-out method. Bob Cassidy coined the phrase “logical disconnect” to describe the element of a method that makes the audience discard the most obvious solution (even if it’s correct.) Several effects in this volume lack this logical disconnect. Derivative variations and obvious methods should be left out of books such as this and saved for, yes, I’m saying it again, actual sessions.

Lastly, given that Mr. Givens is a working performer, I feel that the author could have included more details that make these items “workers.” These kinds of details are one of the things I most look for when deciding on books to purchase. I want to know as much as possible about the how, the why and the development of the effect. While some of these details were included, I felt much more could have been shared with the reader.

Despite my concerns, I feel this book does have a number of items to offer the discerning reader. I just wish that more care was taken in choosing what was included in the book. Despite this book being an attempt to create the feeling of a “session,” which frequently includes variations and unfinished ideas, I feel if I’m paying money, then more discretion should be used. Still, while this isn’t destined to be a book I reference year after year, to be honest, most books don’t make that cut. To ask a book to be a “classic” is a high standard to ask for and one that isn’t required for a book to still have value. All in all, this is a solid addition to the literature and I may very well use some of the contents in my own work.
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Product info for Session (Regular Edition)

Author: Joel Givens and Joshua Jay
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $40.00
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Manufacturer's Description:

This book is geared toward magicians (sorry normal people) and details the magic of an incredible talent: Joel Givens. He's also a longtime friend.

We bucked all the trends and did something very different. You see, for nearly five hundred years, magic has been conveyed "recipe style" in books. Tricks are a list of materials and steps to follow. But can a magic book tell a story?

Session is my answer. It's not for everyone, and I'm sure there will be readers who can't be bothered with plot and context. But for those who have always wanted to curl up with a magic book and just read, I think Session will be a welcome addition.

Each trick is set within a scene - protagonists, antagonists, hecklers, and a cute waitress - it's all here, and it's all explained.

Click HERE for an essay on writing Session and an excerpt from the book.

Pages 277 - Softbound

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