Adding Bite To Book Tests With ‘The Raw Shark Texts’


While book tests can be great (I do one myself), they’re often a bit dry. So let’s dive in to discover a way to make them more interesting.

There’s an old saying in creative advertising (my other job, when I’m not magic-ing) that if you’re really stuck for an idea for an ad, just stick a dog in it.

So, twisting that to magic, here’s my version – when it doubt, stick a shark in it!


There’s a marvellously mind-bending book called ‘The Raw Shark Texts‘ that came out a while back. As Wikipedia summarises it:

 It is the story of an amnesiac re-discovering his past life through a surreal collection of clues he has left himself while evading a steampunk villain and the shark of the title.


But the really fun part is the ‘word art’ or ‘concrete poetry’ that’s sprinkled through the book, including the bit we’re most interested in – a section of pages that act as a flip book. They start blank then a shark made of type ‘swims’ straight at you.

You can get a sense of it from the first 8 seconds of this video:

The Trick

Essentially, we can use this book to fix one of the common weaknesses in book tests – the reveal. With a few notable exceptions (like Luke Jermay’s lovely routine), the reveal is usually just saying the word or writing it on a board. Not deeply dramatic.

This book allows you to do a flip book reveal instead, which we know from Dan Harlan’s work is much more engaging. Plus, you know, sharks.

To try it, get the book, and replace the cover with one from a different book. It can be almost any, as long as it’s the same size and the title doesn’t tip the chosen word too soon. Oh, and add a long bookmark made of stiff card where the flip book section starts, so you can start flipping from the right place (an idea I first came across in Tom Stone’s Siamese Book-Test, I believe).

If you want to add a comedy reveal, pick a book with a generic title about the sea (e.g. a guide to sea fishing), then have the spectator ‘choose’ shark from a list of sea creatures (e.g. with the DFB). Now reveal the generic title and say it’s bound to be in there somewhere. Then flick through to show the real animated reveal.

Alternatively, if you can’t find a suitable cover, just re-cover the book in brown paper, scuff it up a bit, and say you found this mystery book in the bargain bin of a second-hand bookshop, but it was missing the cover, so even you don’t know what it’s about, and proceed from there.

Also, if you’re audience is there in person, you could even let them flip the book themselves.

Beyond Sharks

As usual, the more you can put your own twist on routines, the better. With a little thought and a graphic designer (try Fiverr), you can create your own flip book reveals of other animals and objects. Just like with reading, your imagination can take you almost anywhere.


As ever, if you give it a go, let me know.


We’re coming up to six months since I started this blog, so I’d love to hear what you think of it.

What are you enjoying? What’s been most useful? What would you like more of? Any tricks or topics you’d like me to cover? Anything you’re stuck on?

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