Books & Culture, the long-standing Christian magazine, is ending. Christianity Today International, the magazine’s publisher, announced on Wednesday that, “The November/December 2016 issue of the bimonthly review Books & Culture will be its last after a run of 128 issues over 21 years. Earlier this month, the ministry of Christianity Today made the difficult decision to end the beloved publication.”
The loss of Books & Culture is significant for Christian intellectual life. Alan Jacobs, a professor at Baylor University and frequent Books & Culture contributor, gives a good picture of the magazine’s reach:
For twenty-one years, Books & Culture has been one of the most consistently interesting magazines in the English-speaking world. I have often been surprised at the number and range of people who agree with me on that. Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.
It’s no exaggeration when Christianity Today president and CEO Harold Smith says,
Books & Culture provided a needed platform for the Christian mind to have a ‘voice’ in the cultural dialogue.
Books & Culture brought that ‘voice of the Christian mind’ to bear on diverse aspects of culture, from Star Wars to major league baseball to the latter years of the life and work of twentieth-century poet W.H.Auden (and if you weren’t interested in any of those things, the magazine’s breadth was such that you would certainly find something of interest in each issue).
I only started subscribing to Books & Culture back in March, with hopes that reading it would stretch me as a writer and an editor. Would it be possible to write about work and vocation with the depth and insight Books & Culture‘s contributors brought to their reviews, interviews, and criticism? I was stunned by the first article I read, “The Call of the Nightingale.” In it, Michael Toscano analyzes the career of Iranian director Majid Majidi. I had never heard of Majidi or seen any of his films, but Toscano’s craft and analysis brought Majidi’s career to life in a way that broadened the way I view and think about all the movies I’ve seen since. To trace consistent themes through any director’s body of work with the skill Toscano exhibits is a massive undertaking and a monumental achievement. What’s impressive is that nearly every article in Books & Culture features the same level of quality. B & C talked about the true, the good, and the beautiful in a way that was true, good, and beautiful.
That is why B&C‘s end is such a significant loss for Christians. If, as Dorothy Sayers argues, the first demand placed on us by our religion is “to make good tables,” John Wilson and his vast list of contributors helped us better understand what good tables looked like. They gave us the intellectual tools to recognize good cultural crafstmanship, and sharpened our ability to judge and appreciate the true, the good, and the beautiful in the books, films, and, consequently, the ideas shaping our lives.