Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Believer

As may be clear by now, I have access to a fair amount of literary magazines, working at a bookstore as I do. And I may love one or several articles, stories or poems in any given issue. But there is currently no magazine or literary journal I love as much as a whole as The Believer. And this has been the case pretty much from its inception. Originating out of that same group of ultra-cool San Francisco writers that brought us McSweeney's, it is in all senses the distaff side. It's emphasis is literary yet non-fictional, and is edited by McSweeney's founder Dave Eggar's wife, Vendela Vida, along with Heidi Julavitz and Ed Park. Yet to my sensibilities, it partakes of little of the McSweeney's flavor.

The way I start to read an issue of The Believer: I'm working at the front cash register, and Joe, our go-to periodical guy (and also a member of an outstanding Cuban music band, Bailongo), hands me a copy hot off the presses--or at least hot out of the shipment. I jump for joy for a few seconds, ring up a few more sales, and then, in the next lull, start in. I always start at the same place--with Nick Hornby's column, Stuff I've Been Reading. I always want to know what he's been reading, and what he's been doing instead of reading as well. If you've missed the magazine so far, you can still catch up on Hornby's columns by looking at his first collection, The PolySyllabic Spree, or his second collection Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt. Hornby is extremely funny, yet serious about the books he's reviewing at the same time, and that's not an easy feat.

After that very necessary beginning, my wending my way through the thing is pretty much up for grabs. The magazine's index is on the outside back cover, which is pretty much a stroke of genius all by itself. This month, I thrilled to see that there was a new poem by Ilya Kaminsky, who I learned of at his thrilling AWP conference reading in New York this January, and an article about a long time deity in my pantheon, Elizabeth Hardwick. But there is always something like that--things you thought you had discovered they are already on to, and the writers you revere but fear are too old guard for them turn out to be in the next issue. This month, I devoured the Julie Hecht interview ahead of much else I am intrigued by. Hecht has been interviewed quite rarely, given her level of success, and it's a tribute to the magazine and to Hecht herself that this took place,thorny as the conversation was.

I sometimes read the magazine at our information desk, and wonder what the people who haven't heard of this rag must think. That despite our liberal surface, a zealous religious spirit reigns within? Certainly the cover of the magazine does not give much in the way of a clue, although given the illustrations, it would have to be a very odd sort of a cult.

I hope people who would respond to it with the same thrill of getting news they didn't even know they needed to hear will find this magazine. By way of aid, the link is here:

You can read quite a lot on line before you even have to hunt it out.

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