Pearls of Juggling – book review

I’m a keen juggler that doesn’t practice enough. As young teenager I was given a few basic “learn to juggle” books and although they are handy references, I find them difficult to learn tricks from (online videos work better for me). However, I do enjoy books on the subject of juggling and its theory so I was keen to get my hands on Pearls of Juggling after seeing it promoted on social media and juggling conventions.

It’s unusual for a book on juggling be a “coffee table” book, that is to say, one you could leave lying around for casual browsing but Pearls of Juggling achieves whilst simultaneously being an in-depth discussion on niche topics. It works as the former because the presentation is executed perfectly. The illustrations are from the students of the Scuola Internazionale di Comics and their beauty cannot be overstated. It would be no exaggeration to say the artwork is calendar worthy. A Pearls of Juggling calendar? I’d be tempted!

The layout has clearly been carefully considered, from the symmetry of the Egyptian/Indian illustrations on the opposite sides of the front and back cover to the structure of the paragraphs. Another nice touch is that Instead of regular drop-capitals at the start of a chapter, little juggling figures in the shape of the first letter are used.

If the aesthetics capture your attention then the contents keeps it. So many pretty books don’t have enough substance, that’s not the case here. Anthony Trahair has enough juggling experience to fill the pages without resorting to fluff.

The book begins by exhorting the joy of juggling and its benefits. For me this was preaching to the converted but it’s nice to be reminded why jugglers love to juggle. Perhaps the most pertinent chapter for me was about “Improving your training”. To be honest, just doing any training would be good in my case because I fall in and out of routine practice. Circumstances in the last year have meant my clubs and balls haven’t seen much action.

I liked the anecdote about Anthony Gatto’s training session at the British Juggling Convention. Luke Burrage uploaded the footage from his video camera about a year ago and it is worth watching. Mr Gatto commanded a large audience and it clearly has made an impression on many of people.

The tips are both practical (eg. warning that practicing over concrete will damage your props) and more theoretical (discussing Maksim Komaro’s “fun wave” theory). There is also “wisdom philosophy” such as the reminder that a beginner knows there is much to learn and if we can keep that mindset then perhaps we won’t get stuck in a rut. I think most jugglers who have stuck at the hobby would admit there are periods of great frustration and its important to have the right mental aspect to get past these times.

There are also nice bridges between different expertises. For instance, contemporary dance is something I am unlikely to ever spend time studying, however, there are tools such as the Laban effort categories that are relevant to juggling. It’s this kind of knowledge that I enjoy learning from workshops at conventions but it’s nice to see it presented in a clear and concise way on paper.

The only aspects of the book I disliked stemmed from my technical background.  Extraordinary claims like a movement technique that allowed masters to position themselves so that they “cannot be picked up or moved” are sometimes presented without any qualification. This dislike is perhaps literalness taken to excess but I like claims to be backed up. Another example would be the claim that one of the four qualities a Native American warrior must have was humour. I wanted this to be true but there was no source and a 5 minute search on the internet came up with nothing.

I am a strictly amatuer juggler with no intention of performing but I enjoy watching jugglers on the the stage so I still appreciated the chapters discussing these topics. There is good advice such as that simply putting on a costume is not enough to build a character. There are times that  I have been confused about why a performer came on stage and didn’t make any apparent attempt to stick with their character except for some token use of a prop at the start of the act. I enjoy a routine that just has good juggling but when the performer gets the rest of the act right it really makes the performance.

It is also good that pauses get a special mention because when used correctly they really improve the experience of the audience. The instructions given in the book about how to do this and other techniques well should improve my critical appreciation of a juggling act. I would particularly recommend the “Juggling and Comedy” section which contains extended quotes from successful performers.

Pearls of Juggling is unlike any juggling book and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the artistic side of juggling. There is easily enough to appeal to anyone that likes to throw stuff around on a regular basis For the non juggler, the artwork alone is reason enough in itself to own a copy and the inspiration from the next text should help convince the unconverted”. There is something inexplicably nice about Pearls of Juggling, it is the kind of book you can take out repeatedly and find pleasure from reading it.

Disclosure: I received a discounted copy of Pearls of Juggling from the author (Anthony Trahair) when he was promoting his book. I was not obliged to write this review and this review has not be influenced by the author.

Juggling club keyrings

Next Wednesday will be my goodbye party at Glasgow Juggling Club. Since I’ve been doing a lot of turning recently I thought I should get round to making some juggling club keyrings as gifts for the guys I’m leaving behind. It’s a project I’ve been meaning to do for ages and I had the mini eye pins and keyrings ready. I chose pine because it turns easily so I could get them finished in a day. The grain is also really nice!

I used a 4 jaw chuck to hold the blank in the headstock and a live centre on the tail stock. After completing most of the shaping I ‘cut’ the wood and the knob end of the club and move the tail stock out of the way. I didn’t use the parting tool to completely separate the club, instead, I took the whole piece of wood out of the chuck and cut it with a bandsaw. Finally I used a disc sander to tidy up the end. I needed to get myself one of those skinny parting tools but until then I trust my bandsaw and disc sander to do a cleaner removal! I used the morse taper drill chuck in the live end to make a small pilot hole for the eye pin screw that connects the club to the keyring.

I used relatively coarse sand paper (120 grit) and single coat of mineral oil as the finish. I don’t think beeswax would have lasted given the application and it would have also added time to the making process. I need to invest in a wider variety of finishes, I think I a good lacquer might be valuable for a projects but like this. However, I need to educate myself further on this topic! On the whole, I’m pretty happy with the outcome.

Burr Bowl

AThis is the first time I’ve turned a burr, it came out quite well! The inside is not perfect because I didn’t sand it enough and it’s not a continuous curve. However, I now possess a power sander attachment so future bowls should be perfect! I like the bark feature on the outside face, it came out really well.

Before turning:

After turning:


Dumfries to Sanquhar cycle ride

I needed to drop off and pick up some wood from someone at Sanquhar so it seemed like a good excuse to get the road bike out for a long trip. I spent 2 hours chatting so that should be taking off my time!

Total distance: 111.35 km
Max elevation: 337 m
Min elevation: 60 m
Total climbing: 2646 m
Total descent: -2647 m
Average speed: 21.24 km/h
Total Time: 07:19:23

Glenkiln heart rate monitor test

The Glenkiln loop that starts from Dumfries is my favourite road ride just now. This isn’t the fastest time I’ve made it round but it was the first time I have tried it while wearing my new heart rate monitor.

Total distance: 39.54 km
Max elevation: 217 m
Min elevation: 9 m
Total climbing: 487 m
Total descent: -488 m
Average speed: 26.65 km/h
Total Time: 01:29:03

Party Popper Alarm Clock

Start your day with a bang and possibly a heart attack! I made this years ago (before I had access to a 3D printer – the structure is a bit ugly) but I though it would be worth posting on my new website.

You can find more information about it at Letsmakerobots and it was also featured in The Latest in Hobby Robotics where it was described as a “classic” that has “silly written all over it”. That’s praise that I am happy to receive any day!

Omega Man Unicycling

This video was a one man job.  I rode, filmed and edited! I’m not happy with the colour balance and exposure from some of the shots so I’ll need to work on that. I have lots of practice using my Canon EOS M for photos but not videos. It was filmed at the Omega Man at the end of the Red Route in Ae Forest.

DIY Radio Show Mixer

One of my friends, David, has just bought a second hand Berlinogo. It’s a great car but doesn’t have any modern multimedia connection capabilities, only a CD player. I took it upon myself to start doing “radio shows” with the free DJ software Mixxx and burning them to CDs. The look on my friends’ faces when my voice came over the car speakers was priceless! Controlling the faders, volume levels and buttons with a mouse is tricky and I wanted something a bit more professional so I made this little gizmo. The case is made from 3mm plywood cut with a laser cutter (file here), the white knobs are 3D printed and the microcontroller is an Leonardo Arduino.

Right click the image to save the OpenSCAD code.
Right click on the image to download the code. You will need to install the libraries mentioned in the code.

sub-2 hours Ae Red Route on a unicycle

One of my unicycling goals has been to do the whole red route (no sneaky shortcuts) in less than two hours. Unlike the two-wheel cyclists on Strava I start the clock from the car park next to the cafe, not the one along the short drive. This is not so I have an excuse for the extra minutes on my time compared to theirs, it’s because my parents like to have their lunch at the cafe! I will do a longer unicycling post sometime soon but I wanted to test out the fancy new GPX viewer I installed to WordPress.

Total distance: 19.72 km
Max elevation: 395 m
Min elevation: 177 m
Total climbing: 1012 m
Total descent: -1009 m
Average speed: 10.16 km/h
Total Time: 01:59:14