Magic Menu: The First Five Years by Jim Sisti

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2005)

This hefty volume reprints the first five years of Magic Menu, a magazine devoted to restaurant and, secondarily, bar magic. What is perhaps notable about this publication, at least in the historical sense, is that this journal presents a forum which enables restaurant and bar performers to consider ideas about their shared interests and experience. All performers are not created equal, however—just as there are significant differences between sports bars, fern bars, family restaurants and so on up the scale— and so the result is a mixed bag of good news, bad news, and various other kinds of news, and the wisely cautious reader will bring his or her own skepticism carefully to bear when considering the advice proffered here. The good news is that most of the issues include feature sections from notable contributors including Bill Malone, Mike Close, Scotty York, Jerry Camarro, Eugene Burger, David Acer, and others. There are terrific articles and essays from Mike Close, Kirk Charles, Charles Greene III, Simon Lovell, and many more. Considering the price for the volume of material from contributors of this caliber, many will undoubtedly regard this as a bargain. There are also several indexes included as well, and the pages have been renumbered overall for this purpose. Original references to the independently paginated issues have not been corrected, however, so you may have to search through a few pages here and there to locate the completion of a given article. (And my copy appears to contain a misprint; pages 160 and 184 are duplicates.)

In other news, there are less-than-wonderful tricks, as in some of the slap-dash "bonus section" of new material appended at the tail end of the compilation. There are columns from working professionals who are experienced in their fields, but are in some cases less-than-elegant writers (and we can only guess at the varying quality of their performances). This material runs the gamut from professional advice to anecdotes to mere chatter. You needn't savor every word, and some you might want to taste and spit out. In an interview of this writer you will find my discussion of what I call the "journeyman magician," and you will discover this ilk strongly represented in many of these pages, presented by writers who in some cases seem to keep their fingers firmly on the pulse of the prestidigitating proletariat. Since much of this publication is geared to the business side of restaurant magic, here you will find a columnist who describes an entire "typical" day of shows, follow-up calls, business letters, and other marketing and process-oriented tasks, with nary a mention of time to think about a new trick, read a new book, or practice. But you will also find sound business advice, especially from the likes of Charles Greene, in a series reprinted from the now defunct Magical Arts Journal. And more news is that I now know that I can skip subscribing and wait five years until the next bargain reprint.

As to the editor's own contributions to his journal, how does one assess someone who seems unable to recognize a good trick unless he sees it performed on video? The critic reveals that "I bought the first three volumes of The Vernon Chronicles... when they were released. I glanced through them, walked through a couple of the effects, and promptly put them on the shelf. Handsome books, I thought, but not as much there as, say, in The Dai Vernon Book of Magic [page 101 ] or the Inner Secrets series. Well, it turns out I was wrong and it took the three volumes of The Vernon Chronicles Video to show me the error of my ways." Precisely

8-1/2" x 11" hardcover w/laminated dustjacket; 392 pages; illustrated; 1995 Publisher. L&L Publishing