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Works: Peak Performances

An unpublished review from July 2001

Peak Performances
By Richard Busch

7” x 10” hardcover with dustjacket; 209 pages; illustrated with 47 photographs and several diagrams; 2001; Publisher: Magic Inspirations, 3613 W. Clay St., Houston, TX 77019-3705; Price: $65.00.

Most mentalism is based upon revealing information gleaned via not only a concealed method, but at a concealed time. Typically you obtain the information and then reveal it later; but sometimes you gain the information and reveal later that you apparently had revealed or obtained it before, as in a prediction, for example, that does not rely on a force. Peak Performance is a book of mentalism thematically based upon the revelation and presentation of information secretly obtained via, in general terms, the act of peeking. In an interesting preface, author Richard Busch outlines his theory about types of peeks, identifying seven kinds of peeks, essentially defined by the following questions: Who is looking? What is visible? And, Why, for what purpose? The contents of the book’s remaining pages may be seen as an expansion about this set of theories.

That Mr. Busch applies such a strong theoretical underpinning to all of his material is one of the more interesting aspects of this book, a somewhat atypical approach to a mentalism text. The manner in which he pursues his theoretical commentary is not always pleasing or readily accessible, however, in that he tends toward a heavy-handed reliance upon self-created jargon, which may make it easier for him to think about his ideas but does not always make it easier for a reader to follow. Jargon and other specialized terminology should be used only when it facilitates a reader’s understanding, not when it serves as a complicating barrier to engaging with and manipulating the presented ideas. The balance can admittedly be tricky to achieve, and while I applaud Mr. Busch’s tendency to analyze his work theoretically, he sometimes errs on the side of obfuscation over clarity. This tendency is worsened by the relative paucity of illustrations; considering the kind of complex instructions, often concerning the folding and turning and flipping and twisting of billets, the book could have been significantly improved with the addition of a greater quantity of diagrams and line drawings.

As to the material, the book ventures around and through the expected territory, with methods including center tears and billet switches and concealed writing and the like, and effects including book tests and invisible coin tosses and watch divinations. The work on the center tear may be of interest to some; after acknowledging the contemporary trend toward center tears that are read in the course of the tear, as in the popular Bruce Bernstein method, the author provides a variant approach that manages to accomplish the same goal while slowing down the peek to an almost leisurely pace, and providing a relatively easy technique for use with business cards and also index cards (the author’s preference). This is reasonably practical work, and the 24-page section also includes a host of mildly clever if elaborately contrived excuses to compel the subject to write in the necessary location on the card.

The author apparently has a background in card conjuring, and spends quite a bit of time and space on methodology of an almost Marlovian bend, particularly regarding work on the Fingertip Peek, and various card glimpses. Much of this material may fall outside both the interest and the technical capacities of many mentalism enthusiasts. While professionals might find something useful amid the center tear section and elsewhere, the book ranges far and wide more in the manner of any amateur magic book, with explorations of methodology generally outweighing presentational inventiveness, and variations provided more for the fun and challenge of technical variety rather than a rigorous insistence upon practical application. It is perhaps an unusual phenomenon to consider a book of mental magic geared primarily for amateurs; whereas we take such works for granted in other conjuring realms, I wonder – can there even be such a thing as amateur mentalism? What effect is being achieved? The answer depends, I suppose, on what effect we consider an appropriate goal for mentalist. It’s an interesting question – theatrically and theoretically – to ponder.

The book is flawed in several ways, not the least of which is the amateurish design, seemingly taken from the Ransom Note Designer’s Handbook, being that virtually every page is littered with a colorful variety of capitalized, bold and, yes, even underlined text. Elsewhere the author fulfills his mentalist credentials by repeatedly haranguing the reader about the alleged difference between doing mentalism with the mentalist’s attitude versus the dreaded magician’s attitude, and all the attendant hoo-hah and blah-blah we have come to associate with this extremely dead horse. At moments, all of these elements – the disorderly design, the jargon-laden text, the lack of clarifying illustrations, the mental-vs.-magic harangue, and finally, the author’s excessively chatty style that is often long on words and short on point – combine to induce the mental phenomenon known as a headache. No factor is more likely to make your head pound however than the inflated price of $65.00 for this 200-page volume. Where do mentalists get this crazy idea that mentalism books of even average if thoughtful content can fetch prices almost double that of other conjuring books? In this case, perhaps the formula was a dollar-a-font. In considering this purchase price, and at the risk of an absolutely unintentional plug to Hermetic Press, let me simply remind the reader that Barrie Richardson’s Theater of the Mind sells for $35.00, Ted Lesley’s Paramiracles sells for $37.00, T.A. Waters’ Mind, Myth and Magick sells for $60.00, and all three books are currently in print. Peak Performances is not a terrible book – it’s thoughtful and at times thought-provoking, and I enjoyed much of it – but while it’s not as good a book as any of the three I just mentioned, I might recommend it at a price comparable to the books of Mssrs. Richardson and Lesley. At almost double, you might be better off simply re-reading any of those.

And in related news … if you own a copy of any of the first three printings of Mind, Myth and Magic by T.A. Waters, you might not be aware that as of the fourth printing, the book included an index. As an accommodation for purchasers of the earlier editions, Hermetic Press can provide you with a self-contained paperbound index to the Waters book – a handy reference guide even if you own a later edition – for only $5.00. Contact Hermetic Press for details.

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