As a mnemonist I collect books on memory improvement. Love ’em. And even though I have no trouble remembering new stacks, I purchased The Memory Arts just out of curiosity; I wanted to see what kind of pedagogical approach the authors would take for this subject. After all, the claim is that you can learn a new stack in a matter of minutes. Is this true?
Well, it’s definitely true if you’re already conversant — nay, fluent — in memory systems and routinely apply them. But if someone with no background in advanced mnemonics picked up this book and tried to learn a stack in 15 minutes, I think I’d have to bet against the individual’s success. Perhaps a few hours is more realistic for such people.
I’m also not a huge fan of how the authors go about laying out a journey system. It’s more akin to a set of disjointed loci. I realize their intent was to have a set of shared loci for the sake of description, but it’s hard to beat recommending that someone use his or her own home or office as the primary set of loci. Each locus is in that case already familiar to the student.
On the bright side, the authors do lay out 26 solid number-shape mnemonics (in case you’re trying to build up that system). Then they place cards within each scene — 2 per locus/scene — with the location within the scene indicating the suits. Wait…what? I’m not a huge fan of this. I prefer to have an image and action for each card. The image (typically a character) can then interact with other cards’ characters if needed. But let’s look at an example of how their system works. Imagine my image for number 1 is a telephone pole. Depending on where I place my images around the pole, the images signify hearts, diamonds, spades, or clubs. Sorry…but this is just a bit overcomplicated and too unreliable for me.
Instead of this book, I recommend buying books by Dominic O’Brien and learning his card system. It’s not that this book is bad…it’s just that there’s much better material for learning how to memorize cards.