TL;DR: Recommended with reservations. Andi Gladwin’s contribution to Vanishing, Inc’s Astonishing Essay series is a solid overview of how to study magic and good starting point on a critical subject that does not receive the attention is deserves, but it doesn’t go anywhere close to deep enough and the price point is steep for what this is, especially considering the poor editing/proofing.
Focusing on Magic is #6 of a planned 10 booklet series called “Astonishing Essays” by Vanishing, Inc. These are long essays published as individual small square paperbacks.
Andi Gladwin's contribution to the series is an essay on how to study the art of magic. This, for me, is a critical aspect of magic that has not had nearly the focus in the literature that it should. While Andi moves the ball forward a bit. The definitive book on this topic remains to be written (at least to my knowledge).
Andi starts with a nice discussion of how to set your goals for your study. He spends a significant part of this talking about how to select books on which to study, how to build a reference library and how to focus on what you have rather than hoping the NEXT book will solve whatever problem you have. As a magic bibliophile and book collector, I found this material strong, but wish he had done a version of the "Five Foot Bookshelf" to give those who are drinking deeply from the well of magic literature for the first time some direction to key books that are useful for nearly all students of magic even if he is anti-syllabus. I am blown away by how many magicians I have met who have no inkling of who Harlan Tarbell is or who have never seen a copy of the Mark Wilson course, or are unfamiliar with Bobo, Royal Road or Card College. They are generally focused on the download, YouTube lesson or gimmick of the day. Andi could have done someone like that who stumbled onto this essay a great service by giving them an initial push toward good literature.
Andi talks about setting up a study area and time and even gives us some pictures of his work space. Maddeningly, his photos and text give little indication of how he organizes his books or his props--and organization is key to effective learning both in terms of efficiency of time and focus. In the photos, that information is frustratingly hidden within the boxes on his desk or in the books just out of frame. Andi discusses his practice of organizing his notes and ideas using Evernote as his tool of choice. We even get a picture of his main Evernote screen. But once again, Andi shows us the door but doesn't unlock it. Show us how an individual note is structured, how you organize the notes within Evernote, and how you keep track of and return to the notes. This needed a lot more about the workflow than it provided.
We also get an outline on how to study an individual trick and Andi does spend some time here. I wish he were not as adamant about avoiding using a provided script--magic seems to fetishize the need to toss out good scripts even when the performer is not an adept writer in an effort to make it "their own", but that is a different essay I need to write sometime--but that aside, this is section by far is the meatiest, most useful, and most critical to study section of this essay.
I like this book because it does put the focus on the under-appreciated area of studying the art. Too many magicians spend their time learning the next trick, but not how to put in the study time and effort to really become masters of the art. There is some good information here, albeit it at a 30,000 foot level, and is worth the time and effort to read. For that reason, I recommend it.
The book presents two problems for me though that cause me to place reservations on my recommendation.
One, it doesn't go nearly deeply enough on this important topic. There is SO much more than can be written on studying, rehearsal, organization, and practice. I suppose Andi's argument for not going deeper is that this is an essay and not a true book and I suppose that's true. And while the market for such a book SHOULD be wide, I suspect that the work it would ask of the reader would keep it from actually selling widely. That said, there is a lot of missed opportunity here.
The other issue is the price point. This book is $25. It's a small paperback-- I'm guessing about 5" x 5" or so. It's certainly nicely produced for a paperback on excellent paper and attractive gold ink on the heavy textured cover. But it's still a small paperback booklet at just 72 small pages. It is a terrible size for shelving with most other books. It is hard to argue this is a $25 product. (Given my astonishment at the price, this may be why the series is called “Astonishing Essays….).
Bear in mind this is a 10 book project so to acquire them all (which I have as a book collector) is going to be $250. If Vanishing then goes and prints them as a compilation volume at a later date, I am going to be especially unhappy.
This pricing issue becomes even more bothersome because the book has a number of glaring and obvious typos in the text. The proofing/editing team was asleep at the wheel here. Given the price point, quality control should have been better.