I subscribed to The Believer because of Nick Hornby, and the only regret I had in ending the subscription was Nick Hornby. His column, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” is my favorite column from any publication.
I first read The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of Hornby’s first columns in one slim paperback, at the prompting of Millie, a good friend who is an invaluable literary resource. I was immediately entranced by Hornby’s refreshing wit and verve in discussing the never-ending tide of books into his home, so I decided to subscribe to The Believer to get a monthly dose of Hornby.
At first, the obscure topics covered in the publication–the creation of the vinyl record, a Communist kazoo concert, the racial politics of procedural police stops–were interesting to me. I felt like I’d entered a new tier, a class of people who spend their days reading articles like “The Audubon of the Tramp World” (and enjoying it).
But more often than not, I found myself flipping through the long-winded articles and “handsome drawings of rocks to please petrologists” to get to Hornby’s column.
Aside from enjoying the rare article on M.I.A. or the origins of the word “hysterical,” I began seeing in the publication a kind of intellectually superciliousness. A wry condescension to “interesting” or “newsy” or “understandable” articles. I began to wonder: Are the articles accepted because they are incredibly opaque, surprisingly obscure, and/or intensely boring?
More than anything, I was confused. Isn’t this supposed to be a literary journal? Did I miss something?
I have not been disappointed with Hornby’s writing over the past year–on the contrary, his immense critical talent has been a continuing inspiration for me. In more recent issues, Daniel Handler has begun a column titled “What the Swedes Read“–a great review of authors recognized with a Nobel Prize for Literature. What a cool idea!
When The Believer deigns to write about books–interviews with authors, reviews of old and new titles, and, of course, columns from critics such as Nick Hornby and Daniel Handler–it shines. No other publication has a such an irreverent sense of humor blended with a high-brow sensibility.
However, the rest of the articles hit a low note for me the entire year, and I allowed my subscription to run out. At $8 an issue, I simply can’t afford to enjoy only a few pages every month.
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