“Here is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World”
By Nate Staniforth
c. 2018, Bloomsbury
$28, $37 Canada; 256 pages
Wow. Just … wow. Did you see that? Wasn’t it awesome? It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight and you almost missed it; now, you’ll never forget it. You just don’t have many moments like that anymore, and in “Here is Real Magic” by Nate Staniforth, that’s a wonder.
All Nate Staniforth ever wanted was to be a magician. As he remembers, much of his Iowa boyhood was spent at the Ames Public Library, reading books about magic before going home to work on a vanishing coin trick. He’d stand in the bathroom of his family’s home, watching himself in the mirror as he dropped the coin over and over until his mother kicked him out of the bathroom. Until he stopped dropping the coin and finally made it disappear.
All he ever wanted was to be a magician, and so when he graduated from college, he moved to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune. Just before he ran out of money, he received a call from an agent who offered Staniforth a slot on a college tour.
It was a toe in the door. And it sounded like a dream come true: every night was a new opportunity to wow an audience. Every show was a chance to enhance the magic that Staniforth was creating, but there was no glamour: he criss-crossed the country on airplanes and adrenaline, rarely remembering which city he was in because they all looked alike. He missed his wife. It was a recipe for burn-out, which happened in Wisconsin after years of touring.
But bills needed paying and magic was money – or, at least enough to make ends meet. Staniforth didn’t know if he wanted to be a magician anymore, but he couldn’t think of anything else and so, because he wanted to find real magic, he headed for India where it was hot – much hotter than an Iowa cornfield. It was dusty, too, and overwhelming and Staniforth wanted to go home. But he stayed.
He stayed to see snake charmers, gilded rivers, one-armed monkeys, and holy sites. And he stayed long enough to hear a truth his soul needed to hear.
Wow. And to think that I thought this was just some run-of-the-mill old memoir …
Nope, it’s much more than that. With a beautiful bit of literary hocus-pocus, author Nate Staniforth lets readers watch the birth of a magician, right from the beginning. That’s a familiar story to anyone who’s practiced nonstop to follow a dream but Staniforth also shows the drudgery it takes to be successful, beginning with a strange sort of travelogue that’s loaded with exhaustion but that ultimately becomes this story’s reason.
Admittedly, that may sound disheartening – and it is. But, like a good magic trick, you have to wait for the pay-off which, in this case, is so incredibly lovely, a bit humorous, and woven with a plea that readers won’t be able to resist. In the end, Staniforth lets you in on the wonder and for that, “Here is Real Magic” will wow you.
“School of Awake: A Girl’s Guide to the Universe”
By Kidada Jones
c. 2017, New World Library
$18.95, $27.50 Canada; 160 pages
Twinkle, twinkle. For as long as you can remember, you’ve known how tiny you are among the stars. They’re huge and there are millions of them but you’re strong and, like the stars, your light shines bright - brighter, maybe, when you read “School of Awake ” by Kidada Jones.
When Jones was a young girl, she had a lot of trouble in school. She says she didn’t want to be in a traditional classroom; she wanted to be “in the classroom of the heart,” knowing that it would someday allow her to “be helpful for girls” who need to learn about their own “true power.”
To begin your journey, the first thing you need is a shoe box. It doesn’t have to be fancy. That will become your “Soul-Soothing Tool Kit,” to help you when you need calming. First in it: put wishes you send to the stars because even Neil deGrasse Tyson says that we are all stardust.
Second, learn to recognize your “Heart Star.” That’s the little voice inside you that keeps you happy and protected. Learn to listen to it. Never ignore your Heart Star.
Learn mindfulness, and find out how bubble gum can teach you to breathe slowly. Know who you really are. Spend as much time as you can with nature; it’s a “true gift” that gives back. Learn to think before you speak; use your breathing exercises to help with this and remember that words are very powerful. Visualize “hater blockers” to keep your feelings safe; along those lines, be sure you understand what makes a bully, so you know how to deal with one. Be happy with yourself and what you’ve got, and never compare; it steals joy. Eat food that nourishes your body, get plenty of sleep, and be aware of night dreams; they can reveal messages to you.
Finally, when things get overwhelming and you’re feeling bleak, try using color to boost your mood. Then, lean on the “Super Powers” of music and pulse point taps and remember that “this, too, shall pass.”
When it comes to “School of Awake,” there are really two kinds of readers: those who will celebrate the fact that a book like this even exists, and those who will dismiss it as overbearingly new-agey.
For both camps, author Kidada Jones has something to offer, but with caution: this is a girl-power book all the way, but its content sometimes literally veers off into space. It includes exercises meant to calm an upset adolescent inside and out, but those helpful actions are often buried in pages loaded with affectation. Parents will be happy to see chapters on manners and kindness, but the truth is that a girl who’d get that far in this book probably doesn’t need instruction on those points in her life.
For the most tenderhearted 9-to-14-year-old dreamer, this book may make her twinkle like the star she is. For the girl whose feet are planted on the ground, though, “ School of Awake ” will still leave her wondering what she are.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.