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.