Westmont Magazine For the Thoughtful Reader
What do a computer programmer, a stay-at-home mom with a master’s in English literature, a scientist, and an Episcopal priest have in common? They all regularly read Books & Culture, a bi-monthly tabloid edited by John Wilson ’70.
Established by Christianity Today in 1995, the publication defies cultural trends by providing lengthy, in-depth book reviews and articles on everything from postmodernism to The X-Files. It targets thoughtful Christians who are passionate readers and includes articles by Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians as well as Jewish writers.
While it features scholars and appeals to the academic world, Books & Culture achieves a much broader audience. In this sense, it reflects the background of its editor.
An English major who considers two of his Westmont professors (Arthur Lynip and Ed Ericson) as “fathers,” John initially considered an academic career. After earning an M.A. in English at California State University, Los Angeles, he taught for awhile. But he quit in 1980 to get into book publishing. He spent 13 years in this industry before joining the staff at Christianity Today.
“Westmont was a wonderful place, and I made most of my lifelong friends there, but I have a love-hate relationship with academia,” John volunteers. “I like the fact that publishing is controlled by the marketplace and puts more emphasis on performance than credentials. Some things about the academic world rub me the wrong way—its inbred quality and obsession with degrees, for example.”
But the life of the mind matters to John, and he likes working with scholars. He’s kept one foot in academia by reading widely. “I think of myself as a mediator between scholars and lay people,” he says, “and I try to keep the lines of communication open.” The substance and readability of his publication attest to his success in bridging these worlds.
“My goal is covering a wide range of issues and viewpoints,” John explains. “I want readers to feel a sense of anticipation and freshness—I never want to be predictable.
“One of the weaknesses of the Christian community is the absence of honest debate on serious issues, particularly between liberals and conservatives,” he continues. “Too often we view our opponents in non-nuanced ways. I would like to provide a forum that begins to change that approach.”
Interjecting a spirit of delight is also important. “We’re lucky to have a great design team,” John says. “They help make the magazine fun as well as intellectually stimulating.”
Book reviews proliferate throughout the publication. Special sections feature a range of works on topics such as the aftermath of fundamentalism, assisted suicide, the Holocaust, and the presidency of Jimmy Carter. One issue discussed Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World by Anne Roiphe, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship by George Marsden, and The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles by Hillel Schwartz.
Articles on cyberspace and evolutionary psychology join reviews of films such as Contact and The English Patient to provide Christian viewpoints on current issues. It’s a feast for people who love ideas and seek to live out their faith in the larger world.