Normally the launch of a heavy hitting literary magazine would be a big event, but The Believer snuck up on us lit-crit types. There were a few vague hints from reclusive publishing dynamo Dave Eggers that he was toying with a project called The Optimist (or The Balloonist or somesuch) and then—bam!—out came The Believer, fully formed as Athena with 128 pages of review essays, articles, diversions, and interviews with famous and/or very odd people.
The Believer's crew hit the ground running. The editors' note assured readers that though there would be a brief pause between the first and second issues "this is a monthly magazine" which would be unlike other literary endeavors in that reviewers would "focus on writers and books we like" and "give people and books the benefit of the doubt." Co-editor Heidi Julavits opened the issue with a 9,000 word essay in which she attacked "the snarky dumbed-down world of book reviewing" and attempted an explanation (of sorts) of the magazine's odd title. Affirming her faith in the unrealized possibility of literature, Julavits called for a whole new "era of experimentation, and a book culture that will support it." The Believer is meant to usher in that culture.
That's quite the tall order for any magazine to fill. One need not be overly cynical (or "snarky") to doubt that the Believer/McSweeney's talent pool will be up to it. The amount of genius and enthusiasm needed to sustain such an enterprise simply beggers belief (apologies for the lousy pun).
Then again, if The Believer fails to live up to its own expectations, it won't be for lack of enthusiasm. So far, two issues have been released, and a preview of the third has been posted online. The articles have been uniformly well edited and ...1
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