I confess, I kind of blew it with my first ever BookSneeze review. Eager to get back on the book touring bandwagon, I signed up for an account way too close to my month of insanity. But now that I’ve had time to refocus, I present some thoughts on a book I finished a while back, Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. Fortunately, this was memorable enough that I shouldn’t have a problem recalling it for this review.
As far as I’m concerned, Surprised by Oxford speaks just about all my literary love languages: spiritual memoir, Romantic literature, England, academia, and an allusion to dear ol’ Jack in the title. I prepared myself for something heady and intellectual for all those 450 pages, but was happy and surprised to find her style accessible and unpretentious, as well as beautiful to read. With warmth and wisdom, Weber invites her readers into the story of her first year as a graduate student at the esteemed Oxford university and how a skeptical agnostic found God along the way.
As a student of Romantic literature, references to classic poetry abound throughout this book, which might either fill the reader with nerdy glee or dredge up scary English class memories. For me, it just made me want to pack up my life and move to England. Her descriptions of Oxford are charming and beautiful and sound like a real-life Hogwarts, a faraway magic place where she transforms and grows and finds her elusive faith. The students, teachers, and intellectuals that fill her life are catalysts for deep conversations and spur her discoveries in varied ways, but it’s TDH (Tall, Dark, and Handsome), an American student who first introduces her to honest Christianity, who pulls her story along the most.
The most compelling part of the story really is the arrival in Oxford, her discoveries in the faith, and her eventual conversion. After that, the book becomes a string of episodes and conversations that can drag on in some parts, but like the best memoir, these little vignettes show some lovely writing and capture fragments of mood and thought. Weber is an intellectual, so a lot of her conversations are grounded in thinking and debate, but the story is more concerned with her internal goings-on than actually offering concrete answers, and a poetry student’s keen eye for detail and symbolism balance the headier moments with mystery and beauty. In that respect, her storytelling is compelling.
For bookish types and lovers of spiritual memoirs, Surprised by Oxford is a gem that might slip by quietly. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of reader friends who might be moved by her story and relate to her as much as I did. If literary refrences and rolling English countrysides move you or you enjoy contemplating the crossroads of faith and intellect, this just might be your cup of tea. (pun totally intended.)
About the author: Carolyn Weber is a believer, wife, mother, professor of literature, author, and speaker from London, Ontario Canada. Surprised by Oxford is her first book. She blogs about reading, writing, and living the word eternal at Pressing Save.
Disclaim’d! I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”