The Believer, issue 113: Chippy (fall 2015)

A little background: I’m working on developing as a reader and a writer, and approaching another graduate degree, this time in creative writing. As part of that process, I’m trying to read more literary journals. This is something we’re told to do if we want to get published by those journals, both to familiarize ourselves with what individual publications like and seek, and to support them. Over the course of six months or so, I’ve done a decent job of acquiring a bunch of print issues, but not such a great job of reading them. This summer, my resolution is to read a journal every Tuesday.

I don’t expect I’ll be writing about every one, but those I appreciate should certainly get a little space here at pagesofjulia. And that’s why I’m writing about The Believer today.

believer113The format is a little different. The table of contents is on the back cover, rather than in the first few pages. One element, the interview with Sheila Nevins (of HBO Documentary Films), is presented in pieces – “microinterviews” – spread throughout the issue. There are very few ads, and The Believer is printed on heavier, off-white paper, with nearly cardstock-weight covers. I’m sorry I don’t know the terms for these paper characteristics, but it’s got a nice feel in the hand. Oh, wait, here it is (from the website):

Each issue is perfect-bound and 128 pages, printed by friendly Canadians on recycled, acid-free, heavy-stock paper and suitable for archiving, framing in a very thick frame, or reading in the tub.

And despite the title, it’s got nothing to do with religion, or anything like that.

Also from the website, The Believer is

a bimonthly literature, arts, and culture magazine. In each issue, readers will find journalism and essays that are frequently very long, book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and interviews that are intimate, frank, and also very long.

In other words, overwhelmingly nonfictional and unafraid to go on a bit. I found the writing consistently very fine, and the widely-ranging subjects consistently fascinating. This is, in short, a magazine I want to read regularly. I am less sure that there is a place for my own writing on these pages (and if that’s self-centered, recall my original motivation in reading lit mags regularly), but that’s okay. I like finding good reading – obviously.

As to timing, I will note that the website still shows this issue, from Fall 2015, as the current issue. So I wonder a bit about their bimonthly-ness.

The highlights of issue 113, for me, included:

  • Kea Krause’s “What’s Left Behind,” about the nasty environmental disaster of a flooded copper mine on the edge of Butte, Montana. This piece made me think of Robert Michael Pyle, and hope that they know about one another.
  • Daniel Handler’s “What the Swedes Read,” a column in which he’ll read one book by each Nobel Laureate – this time, The Sovereign Sun by Odysseus Elytis, trans. by Kimon Friar. Handler’s often confused reading of these allusive poems, with frequent research digressions (“Out of my way, poem! I’m trying to understand you! Surely my loopy research was a disservice to poem and reader alike.”), really spoke to me and summed up some of my problems with poetry.
  • Ross Simonini’s interview with Miranda July finally got me really intrigued by this woman I’ve heard about here and there: now I want to check out her novel, The First Bad Man. Also, I was wowed by Simonini’s question, when July mentions that some of her early work embarrasses her: “Embarrassing because it wasn’t done well, or because it revealed something?” That is an exemplary interviewer: quick on his feet with an insightful question I wish I’d asked.

I’m excited to have discovered The Believer. I hope the missing issues of 2016 turn up, and I hope I can find the time to make this part of my regular reading.

Rating: 8 articles long enough to get lost in.

2 Responses

  1. […] resolution to read a lit journal every Tuesday has gone a little bumpily so far. It’s a busy life. But I […]

  2. […] these pieces feel a tad less polished than the essays that appear in The Believer or Oxford American, which is not all bad: I’ve written before about the value of amateur art, […]

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