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September 17, 2009 4:05 AM   Subscribe

You are a subscriber to McSweeney's and/or The Believer. Convince me that [either magazine, or both] is worth the not-insubstantial subscription costs.

I've heard great things about both of these periodicals, but living in Hawai'i (not the most literate or quirky of places) finding these to peruse through and form my own judgment will be next to impossible.

And, although there's a special offer ($90/both for a year), that's still a pretty penny for someone like me, fresh out of school with meager wages yet an insatiable need for literary input.

Please convince me to:
- subscribe to one
- to subscribe to both
- to subscribe to neither
based on what you've experienced of McS/TB.

Thanks, MeFi.
posted by the NATURAL to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
McSweeny's is not a literary quarterly; it's a full on fetish object. In general, McSweeny's is like collecting G.I. Joe guys for adults. Tell me you don't want this. If you can honestly say getting that in the mail would not bring the same sort of glee you got when unpacking motherfucking he-man figures when you were 5, then a subscription is probably not worth it.
posted by milarepa at 4:35 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I subscribed to McSweeney's for a while, but gave it up because I didn't have time to read them while keeping up with all the other stuff I read. But as milarepa implies, they're worth it for the design (though the content is a matter of taste, and I don't know what your tastes are). An average year has something like one paperback, one hardcover, and two books that are insane--they'll have a story that's printed on a deck of cards, or a series of stories that are all separately bound, or an issue that's carefully crafted to resemble a pile of junk mail.
posted by Prospero at 4:59 AM on September 17, 2009

I gave up my McSweeny's subscription a long time ago, for the exact reason Milarepa and Prospero point to : Too clever by half, and serving to make actually reading the material a chore to boot. Now, don't get me wrong, there's an occasional gem in there, like a story that makes sense no matter what order you put the pages in. In general, though, not worth it if you're looking to sit down and read something. I have cigar boxes and faux junk mail and all kinds of crap cluttering up my house, and all of it a pain in the ass to do anything meaningful with.

Believer, on the other hand? Fantastic. In depth, long-form articles about subjects arcane and common from very talented writers. Amazing interviews. Small bits of humor. Long bits of humor. Solid regular columns. Great artwork. Very, very expensive, and with every issue you can really see where the cost is going. You're talking a magazine that, last I checked, was pushing a hundred pages, which doesn't sound like much, until you consider every square inch is filled with actual, honest to god Content. You will receive one a month, and you'll be lucky to have read everything fully before the next one comes.

I cannot comment on Whorphin, if that's even still going. I got the free one, and it was pretty cute, but I'm not sure that such a creature can thrive in the era of YouTube.

The believer is, maybe, the closest thing one might find to Metafilter in print.
posted by absalom at 5:25 AM on September 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

I agree with absalom. McSweeney's is gimmicky, The Believer is good stuff.
posted by headnsouth at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2009

As others have said, The Believer is the best of the options above. However, I'm gonna throw in my opinion that it has been, at least in part, going down hill lately. The interviews, which are something it does better than any other, have stayed for the most part at a high level, but the feature articles have increasingly tended towards facepalmingly narcissistic post-grad-school confessionals that barely discuss their putative subjects at all. I'd throw out the story about the guy insulting Bret Easton Ellis and the 'kiwi pop' story from a few months ago as examples of this trend.

That said, it still shines at moments, and there really is nothing like it. I owe this magazine a great debt for introducing me to one of my favorite authors, Jim Crace. I am, however, at the point of considering stopping my subscription and looking over issues at the bookstore before buying them. It sounds like this may not be an option for you, but a big chunk of the content from each issue is put up online, so you can at least get a taste before deciding to bite.
posted by monocyte at 6:38 AM on September 17, 2009

In depth, long-form articles about subjects arcane and common from very talented writers.

Wholly accurate endorsement. Skip McSweeney's, get The Believer.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:39 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm still a McSweeney's fan, although much more as a design guy than as a reader. Even the issues where they phone it in are crazy good if you're a design nerd. As a reader, Believer is far superior (championing Gary Lutz out of nowhere, for instance).
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:05 AM on September 17, 2009

Buy choice back issues of McSweeney's in bulk for $5 a pop when they have their occasional close-out sales. The content doesn't go stale. If you need a monthly fix, Believer.
posted by thejoshu at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The McSweeney's back issues are a great bargain, as thejoshu says. Personally, I subscribe to McSweeney's because I pay $50 once a year (although this year, it was a gift from someone), and then a few times a year I get a surprise present in the mail that basically delights me and sits on my end table for months until I finally finish reading everything in it. I used to subscribe to The Economist too, so it was a nice fictional counterpoint to that. Now I just read The Economist online, but McSweeney's is too pretty not to still want it.

The Believer is beautiful and full of great content, and I like the comparison to "Metafilter in print" For me though, I get enough of that from Metafilter, and find that I have trouble making it through a whole issue of the Believer, so I don't subscribe to it.
posted by booknerd at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2009

Older McSweeney's have an insanely high resale value, and I have every reason to believe that future issues will eventually have value as well.

(I read it for the articles, I don't intend to finance my son's college education with it.)
posted by anastasiav at 11:24 AM on September 17, 2009

I rarely read magazines, but The Believer is beyond compare, for the reasons others have noted above. It's a superbly designed publication packed with content I wouldn't know where to find elsewhere, with almost no advertising diluting things. I'm surprised that no one here has mentioned the annual special issues, each including bonus material in the form of a cd (Music issue), dvd (Film issue) or 2d art insert (Art issue). I really enjoyed this year's music cd in particular.

I find McSweeney's more interesting for its form than its content, and usually just stick to buying the good ones (the comics issue edited by Chris Ware is by far my favourite). Keep an eye on the McSweeney's store for their excellent sales, though - I've been picking up back issues of Believer that way.

Get The Believer, you won't be disappointed! Like you, I have to pay the extra shipping, and it's terribly slow to arrive in the mail, but every issue is worth it.
posted by oulipian at 4:25 PM on September 17, 2009

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