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New magazine has an abiding faith in the good book review

Dave Eggers-backed Believer aims at the 20-ish crowd with an optimistic sense of literary community.

March 31, 2003|Renee Tawa | Times Staff Writer

"My idea of the perfect book review is where ... you get to talk about a ton of other books, so you're not just limited to this one thing, and also you get to put it in this context so you can see where this book is coming from, and it ends up having this weird kind of interactive effect like, 'Oh, I never did read that [John] Updike book that influenced Nicholson Baker.' " The Believer is aimed at cultivating a community of readers, particularly in their 20s, who flip past traditional book reviews, Julavits said.

"The fact that books are treated as if they all exist in a vacuum accentuates the loneliness of the experience and the rarefied quality of that experience, and, really, when you're reading a book you should feel like you're just getting zinged in all these different directions and connected with other writers who have influenced the writer of the book you're reading.... I feel that books can provide this real sense of community if you're aware of the community you're tapping into by reading a book." Julavits laughed, acknowledging that her aim "sounds like the corniest thing ever."

The Believer is a "pro-bono, pull-your-pennies-together real labor of love," Julavits said. She, Vida and the other editors -- including Ed Park, a senior editor at the Village Voice and Andrew Leland, "most recently a student at Oberlin College" -- are not getting paid. The editors contributed money for the magazine's start-up costs, and McSweeney's provided publishing and distribution services, Julavits said.

So far, delivery of the magazine has been erratic. The magazine was due to land mid-March, but by last week, Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore and City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco had copies while Skylight Books in Los Feliz did not. At Skylight, customers haven't been asking about the Believer. "I don't think many people even know about it yet," said the store's buyer, Charles Hauther, who was sent one advance copy. "It looks really good," he said. "It's going to catch people's eyes."

Kevin Larimer, associate editor at Poets & Writers magazine, hadn't heard of the Believer. A quick look at the Web site, though, sold him, said Larimer, who edits the Literary MagNet column for Poets & Writers. "It seems like it would combine the work of a literary magazine with the kind of social awareness of something like Harper's," he said. "I'm sure it'll bring a strong identity and the aesthetic muscle that Dave Eggers brings to any project he touches. It seems like it'll be a great thing, that it holds a lot of promise."

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