The latest issue of The Believer comes with all the usual goodies we’ve come to expect from this quirky but edifying lit mag: lengthy book reviews, personal essays and clever interviews. Steered by the dynamic team of Heidi Julavits, Ed Park and Vendela Vida, The Believer continues to trump its literary challengers.

beliver sept 09

Highlights in September include Rich Cohen’s personal essay, ‘Closing Time’, which examines the (strange) history of the American automobile industry, Stephen Elliott’s ‘My Father’s Murder’, which recollects a violent moment in his father’s life in Chicago, and Sara Gran and Megan Abbot’s compelling re-evaluation of V.C. Andrew’s bizarre ‘children’s’ literature.

There are some intriguing interviews, too. The Believer’s interviews always take a standard format – question/answer – and on the whole it works quite well, as they are always discursive. This month there is an interview with the journalist, essayist, environmentalist, historian and art critic Rebecca Solnit, and Philip Zimbardo, the academic infamous for the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 (which saw 24 undergraduates play the role of prisoners and guards and live in a mock prison in the basement of the university’s psychology building). Here, Zimbardo contemplates the experiment’s implications for ethics, free will and the notorious prison, Abu Ghraib.

Towards the back, Tony DuShane talks to Nick Cave during the ‘Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!’ tour with The Bad Seeds. Cave offers telling insight into the formation of the score for the filmic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which is to be directed by John Hillcoat (who worked with Cave on The Proposition). Cave also reveals that his new novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, began as a screenplay – and that he ‘basically did it on tour’: it was written by hand, on the bus, as the band drove through Europe (does this come as a surprise to anyone?).

The Believer always remains quite tongue-in-cheek. Especially fun is ‘Sedaratives: A Monthly Advice Column’. This is my favourite:

Dear Sedaratives:

I’m interested in finding a new job in this shitty economy. Can you advice me which field to look for work in? I’m good at nothing.

Kevin Albert, Oshkosh, Wis.

Dear Kevin:

I would advise you to go into accounting or health care, two sectors that are growing even as the economy is shrinking. Based on the current condition of both our health care and financial systems, you should be fully qualified to succeed in either field. Failing that, you could always be a special advisor to the president.

The Believer has a playful, kitsch aesthetic that continues to endear – as does its basic, committed ethos: ‘we will focus on writers and books we like’. In part reactionary, the magazine was established in response to the shrinking space on American broadsheets for literary review content. Oh, and its original title? The Optimist.

Keep an eye out for October.