Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Christ the stranger

My little book on Rowan Williams is available now in the UK. The print edition won't be available for another month yet in the US, though the Kindle edition is available now. You can also preview the contents at Amazon. Here's an excerpt from the start of Chapter 1: 
One afternoon in the middle of the 1960s, a scruffy Welsh teenager sat cross-legged on the ground upon a windswept headland, intently reading a dog-eared paperback while the crying gulls wheeled above him and the grey sea foamed against the rocks along the shore. He finished the last page – it was something by Wittgenstein – and looked for a long time across the bay, while the book lay open in his lap and his bare toes twitched in the grass. Then he got up, shoved the book in his coat pocket, and made his way slowly back up the hill towards the house, limping slightly as he went. Rain clouds had darkened the sky; tonight it would be cold, even indoors.

Rowan Williams grew up here, in Swansea, a coastal town in the south of Wales – a group of villages held together by gossip, as a local saying has it. One former resident, the poet Dylan Thomas, called it an ‘ugly, lovely town.’ That may be true enough: the town’s inauspicious brick houses squat in the shadow of the old copper works, the little suburbs huddle modestly in their white caps along the hills, a towering viaduct rises up above the poisoned river. But it is also a place of wild anarchic beauty: the town looks out across the brooding darkness of the sea, while the vast open moors stretch away to the north. Swansea is known for its strong university and rich intellectual heritage, and the young Rowan Williams, an uncommonly quiet and bookish boy, was shaped by that heritage. As an infant he had been very ill with meningitis, and he was never able to play sports or ride a bicycle or generally run about as most boys do. So from an early age he withdrew into the slower, solitary consolations of literature, philosophy, and history.

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