Reading The Believer‘s just-released book of advice, You’re a Horrible Person, but I Like You, it’s hard to remember that the magazine once wore the working title ‘The Optimist’. A week ago, hundreds of advice-seeking Americans and I piled into the San Francisco JCC to hear comics Larry Doyle, Daniel Handler (aka children’s author Lemony Snicket), Eugene Mirman and Marc Maron doll it out at an event cosponsored by The Believer and Litquake. The event, sidesplitting as it was illuminating, did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the book falls short of that high mark.
Here’s why: As the working title might imply,The Believer is, at it’s heart, enduringly optimistic and intelligent, a mix managing editor Andrew Leland describes as what might happen ‘if the New Yorker drank some beers, then went to Central Park and read the New Yorker‘. The same darkly funny little one-offs that feel like a breath of fresh air in the magazine’s ocean of serious-minded (if not always serious) copy sour after about the first hundred pages. Though the marquee names in the collection (among them Aziz Ansari, Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman and the original Believer Dear Abby, Amy Sedaris) each deliver their unique brand of terrible advice, the conceit that worked so delicately in its short form gets bogged down by the sheer volume of absurd questions and their unrelentingly malevolent answers.
Still, they’re pretty funny. Not as funny as an entire book by Daniel Handler maybe, and certainly not as funny as Eug-Tube, but funny. So here’s my unsolicited advice: if you’re the sort of person that needs something slim to read for several 15-minute intervals over the course of maybe two or three weeks, your $13.95 is money well spent to LOL once or twice and silently hehe a few more times before updating your Twitter status with a new nugget of anti-wisdom. For those commuting by train from Flushing, Queens each morning, try on the more serious, less-ROFL inducing, un-tweetable Believer instead.