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5 Books Every Cardist Should Read

This quarantine has given me ample time to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: reading.

There’s something about staring at numerous, carefully arranged ink blots on sliced trees and morphing them into ideas in your head that’s still magical to me. Even better when they’re ideas that you can use and apply directly to your own discipline, i.e. Cardistry.

As an avid reader, I often get asked for book recommendations. Usually I first ask the person what kind of material they’re looking for, and examples of what they’ve enjoyed in the past, so that I can make a suggestion that’s tailored for that specific individual. But since I can’t poll every single one of you on your particular tastes, I figured I’d write a catch-all article listing 5 books that have influenced me the most as a Cardist.

I hope they can do the same for you.


#5: The Little Book of Talent

“Practice.”

It’s the clichéd, go-to response that many advanced Cardists give to beginners who are looking to improve at the craft. And while practice is indeed the correct solution, simply stating the ‘what’ instead of the ‘how’ isn’t very helpful to the person seeking advice.

Luckily, The Little Book of Talent has 52 (coincidence?) tips, secrets, and strategies on how to specifically tackle the process of getting better at any skill – Cardistry included.

Topics include:

  • The difference between ‘hard’ skills and ‘soft’ skills
  • Breaking every move down into chunks
  • How long to practice each day
  • Using your imagination to aid your physical practice
  • How to sustain your progress
  • What to do when you get stuck

…and much more. The book is written from the perspective of a sports coach, but if you just replace every instance of ‘sports’ with ‘Cardistry’, you’ll see that the advice applies equally as well.

Whereas the author’s previous book on the topic, The Talent Code, is equally recommended reading, The Little Book of Talent‘s strength is that it takes the same concepts from TTC and breaks them into palatable, bite-sized chunks for easier reading, in the format of accessible, actionable bullet points which you can apply to your own practice regimen right away.

“Small actions, repeated over time, transform us… You are born with the machinery to transform beginners’ clumsiness into fast, fluent action. That machinery is not controlled by genes, it’s controlled by you. Each day, each practice session, is a step toward a different future. This is a hopeful idea, and the most hopeful thing about it is that it is a fact.”

excerpt, The Little Book of Talent

Buy The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills


#4: Understanding Comics

Compared to the previous suggestion, which is a very direct series of ‘how-tos’, Understanding Comics comes highly recommended instead as a standout work of pop philosophy. Who would have thought that one of the most accessible books about art theory would be a comic book… about comic books?

Comics used to be belittled as a low-brow, geeky subculture (just like Cardistry is), but now we have billion-dollar franchises such as The Dark Knight and The Avengers dominating box offices and rising to the forefront of pop culture status. Cardistry has the potential to be the same, especially if it can become self-evident to others that it is as beautiful to anyone watching as it has been to us from our insider point-of-view.

In the book, Scott McCloud defines comics as ‘sequential art’, and I’d argue that Cardistry is a sort of sequential art in and of itself. From a move’s opener to its closer, we all strive to create attractive ‘snapshot moments’ in our Cardistry, and nowhere is this clearer than the selection process one goes through in creating the perfect thumbnail for our Instagram uploads. When someone taps on your Instagram post based on the thumbnail, what they seek and expect is essentially a sequence of moments that lead up to and then follow that snapshot moment, all in a satisfying or surprising manner. And of course, how do we typically respond to the work that we enjoy? With emojis: comic-like icons expressing our emotional responses.

Reading Understanding Comics will not only give you a much deeper appreciation for comics, it will also make you completely reexamine the ‘Artistry’ inherent in the portmanteau that is ‘Cardistry’. Plus, Chapter 7’s incredible deconstruction of the 6-layered ‘art apple’ (it’ll make sense when you read it) is completely worth the price of the book alone.

Buy Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art


#3: The Music Lesson

I was recommended this book by magician Norman Beck, who described it as ‘the best book on magic that isn’t a magic book’. That was enough to sell me on reading it, so shortly after our encounter I bought it on the Kindle store. It’s now the book I’ve gifted the most to people over the years.

Someone once described Cardistry as ‘Music for the Eyes’, and so I can’t think of a book that acts as a better metaphor for the spirit of Cardistry than this book by Victor Wooten.

Unlike the other books on this list, The Music Lesson is a work of semi-fiction, chronicling the encounters of the narrator as a mysterious teacher, Michael, enters his life and breaks down the fundamentals of music into its key components: Groove, Notes, Articulation, Technique, Emotion, Dynamics, Rhythm, Tone, Phrasing, Rest, and Listening. Each chapter delves deeply into one of these topics, and if you read them with an open mind, you’ll soon learn that Wooten, through Michael, is talking about more than just Music alone.

A deck of cards can be seen as an instrument that we ‘play’ when we’re performing Cardistry. Growing a deeper understanding of how to create beautiful art through our practice and performance is what this book can teach you, and in a fun and entertaining way, no less.

“Play like a child with an air guitar,” Michael advised. “A child playing an air guitar never plays a ‘wrong’ note.”

For the first time in a long time, I played like a child.

I loved it.

excerpt, The Music Lesson

Buy The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music


#2: Origami to Astonish and Amuse

So we have a book on sports, one about comics, another one centered around music, and now a book on… Origami? What the hell, Kev? Where’s The Encyclopedia of Playing Card Flourishes? Cardistry From Time to Time? Not even any of the theory books from Touch? What gives? And what the hell does Origami have to do with Cardistry anyway?

There, there, my dear readers. While the aforementioned publications do seem more pertinent to the subject of Cardistry, I find that it’s often the material that we discover outside of our immediate comfort zone that we can learn the most from. And Origami to Astonish and Amuse is no exception.

Try and recall the time you first entered into the world of Cardistry. With each additional video that you watched, you learned more and more that so many things you’d never before imagined were possible with a pack of playing cards, and this discovery was likely both intimidating yet awe-inspiring at the same time.

So if you’ve never shown an interest or dabbled in Origami before, then this book will serve you give you the same feeling as a complete neophyte to an art form. The creations that Jeremy Shafer showcases and teaches in the book are absolutely bonkers compared to the stereotypical animal sculptures that many people dismiss Origami as.

There’s a piece where a piano plays itself. Another that forms eight interlocking rings. Nail clippers. A (functioning) Swiss Army Knife. A car with human legs. A flapping bird that appears to folds itself. And over 80 other insane creations that will baffle you that it’s even possible to create pieces like this out of a single sheet of square paper, with no cuts or gluing involved.

But more so than just the creations in the book, what I find to be the most valuable segment of OtOaA is the Introduction written by the book’s author: in it, he chronicles his entry into the world of Origami, what inspired him to create his first original piece when he was 10 years old, how that blossomed into an obsession with creating more original material, the influences that other people’s work had on his own, how he gets his ideas, his experience first meeting other Origamists at a convention, what his process is when designing original folds, the concept of ‘Origami Purism’ (adhering to the ‘rule’ of only using a single sheet of square paper, without cutting or gluing), and the ethics and politics surrounding proper crediting in the Origami world.

One of the biggest factors that’s boosted Cardistry’s growth over the last couple of decades is the ‘permission’ that Cardists have been given to believe that there is still so much more than can be expressed and created through the art of Cardistry. Origami to Astonish and Amuse serves as a reminder of that permissive, progressive, and optimistic attitude. So even if you just own this book as a coffee table addition to flip through and refer to the intro and the models every once in a while, I’m sure that the world that Jeremy Shafer has created is inspiring enough to encourage you to create worlds of your own.

“It is not difficult to come up with new folding themes. Even just looking around my room, I see ideas that I have never folded or heard of anyone else folding: computer, video camera, TV, ruler, globe, toothbrush, somebody drinking, window with curtains. Going outside, the foldable world opens up… I have found that there are endless ideas out there that haven’t been folded yet, and I think that by trying to cultivate some of these ideas rather than struggling with old ones, the process of designing is more satisfying, and also furthers the art.”

excerpt, Origami to Astonish and Amuse

Buy Origami to Astonish and Amuse


#1: Steal Like An Artist

aaaand of course the #1 spot goes to the namesake of this blog, Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist.

A while ago I was interviewed by Theory11 about my 2012 talk at Magic-Con, where I name-dropped SLAA while discussing ‘remix culture’ as it applies to Cardistry:

This idea of adapting cross-cultural concepts is something I believe in to this day, as evidenced by the other 4 recommendations on this book list: none of them are about Cardistry per se, but all of them contain ideas and concepts that you can apply to Cardistry nonetheless.

You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.

excerpt, Steal Like An Artist

What’s more, this idea of ‘Stealing like an Artist’ is only the first of 10 tips on creativity that Kleon outlines in the book. The following 9 chapters delve into everything from finding motivation, creating a conducive working environment, the importance of side hobbies, interpersonal relationships, how the internet has changed the world, and ‘The Secret’ (hint: it’s not what Rhonda Byrne claims it is).

Written in a simple, easy-to-digest manner and charmingly illustrated, I recommend this book to any aspiring creative person, regardless if you’re into Cardistry or not.

It’s a life-changer.

Buy Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative


Have a book recommendation of your own? Tell us which one(s) and why in the comments below!

7 replies on “5 Books Every Cardist Should Read”

LOVE this. I know many cardists (and many people, for that matter) don’t read much these days, but it’s such a revelatory experience if you choose the right book.

I also love that you’re emphasizing the “artistry” in “cardistry.” I get the sense that the majority of cardists see it as merely a series of mechanics, a causal chain, when it can be so much more than that.

A few recommendations of my own:

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. While this can get a bit head-in-the-clouds at times, it has so many good insights on the process of creation. Even though Pressfield believes in natural talent (which I vehemently disagree with), he also believes in the process of creating art and the fact that it’s the process that molds you and helps you grow.

Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff. This book addresses a lot of the phenomena we see in the cardistry community. We’re encouraged to scroll and scroll on Instagram, looking for the next “banger,” without stopping to smell the roses. Rushkoff discusses how digital media is placing us in a state of existential shock and what we can do to mitigate it.

Deep Work by Cal Newport. Along the same vein as Present Shock, Deep Work discusses the increasing levels of shallowness in all kinds of work. This is true for cardists, too––we rarely do actual deep, focused, intentional work. That’s hard to replicate, but it’s valuable. I think many cardists could learn a lot from the work ethic described in this book.

Wow, these are great recommendations, Christopher! The only one that I’ve read is The War of Art, which is really good- I’m also a fan of some of Pressfield’s other work like Do the Work and Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. Will have to check out Present Shock and Deep Work as well!

That origami book makes so much sense now, I’ve been folding for quite a while and know techniques that can spark some ideas. The complexity from going from one square piece of paper, making the base, and then shaping the paper to create something beautiful. Cards are very similar. Thank you for putting this up man, genius.

Thank you so much! Also, happy to see another Origami fan out there. I assume you’ve seen Between the Folds? The similarities between the Cardistry and Origami worlds are bountiful and astounding.

Great recommendations, one book that I think would fit nicely with this ones is “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, it talks a lot about quality in art/life and has some pretty good insights about the creative process.

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