Normally you come to the Speccie Books blog, brainy bunch that you are, for high-minded literary comment. But this is August. Holiday month. A time when you simply can’t be fagged with the latest trends in Proustian scholarship. The only French words you want to hear at the moment are ‘Ambre Solaire’. What you really want from the blog right now is an utterly mind-blowing book-based trick which will amaze the friends you’re sharing that Dorset holiday cottage with. A genuinely astonishing piece of mentalism that’ll have them scratching their heads like Horrid Henry in front of the nit nurse. Well, here it comes.
Get your friend to choose any two of the books in the cottage (or house, or flat, or wherever you happen to be at the time. The effect is particularly stunning if you perform it in a bookshop). Then ask them to choose one of those two as their own book, leaving you with the other. Having first flicked through their book to show them it’s a genuine book, and not some trick copy you secreted on the shelf beforehand, you hand it over. You then start flicking through your own book, telling your friend to say ‘stop’ whenever they want. Whichever page you’re halted at, you ask them to turn to that page number in their book – without, of course, letting you see it. ‘Look at the first word,’ you instruct them, ‘and think about it intently.’ At this point you add whichever Derren Brown touches take your fancy: looking into their eyes, asking them to really focus on the word, picking up on their ‘thought waves’ … you know the kind of thing. Then you tell them what the word is.
How can you possibly know? The books really have been chosen at random, you really did stop at exactly the moment they told you to, you really didn’t see the word in their book as they looked at it. The secret, like the secrets of all astonishing tricks, is itself astonishingly simple. When you do that first cursory flick, ‘just’ to show them their book is a real copy, you mentally note one of the page numbers at which you momentarily pause, together with the first word on that page. (Make sure it isn’t a page right at the beginning or end of the book.) Then, when you’re flicking through your own book, you do it with the pages tilted towards yourself, so your friend can’t see the numbers. Wherever they tell you to stop, you pretend it was the page number you’ve memorised. (As long as you flick at the right pace you’ll be able to stop in roughly the right area.) So when they turn to that page in their own book they’re simply turning to a page you’ve already seen. And whose first word you know …
A doddle. As Proust never said. Happy holidays.