Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir [NOOK Book]


"Well written, often poignant and surprisingly relatable." - Kirkus Reviews

"A hugely readable ...
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Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

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"Well written, often poignant and surprisingly relatable." - Kirkus Reviews

"A hugely readable journey of cultural and spiritual discovery, sparkling with wit and wisdom." - Alister McGrath

"Carolyn Weber's memoir reads like a fast-paced novel. I loved the humor, skillful use of language and her compelling account of her steps to finding God at Oxford. I was totally captivated from beginning to end." - Marilyn Meberg

Surprised by Oxford is the memoir of a skeptical agnostic who comes to a dynamic personal faith in God during graduate studies in literature at Oxford University.

Carolyn Weber arrives at Oxford a feminist from a loving but broken family, suspicious of men and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she grapples with her God-shaped void alongside the friends, classmates, and professors she meets, she tackles big questions in search of Truth, love, and a life that matters.

From issues of fatherhood, feminism, doubt, doctrine, and love, Weber explores the intricacies of coming to faith with an aching honesty and insight echoing that of the poets and writers she studied. Rich with illustration and literary references, Surprised by Oxford is at once gritty and lyrical; both humorous and spiritually perceptive. This savvy, credible account of Christian conversion and its after-effects follows the calendar year and events of the school year as it entertains, informs, and promises to engage even the most skeptical and unlikely reader.

"Surprised by Oxford is a sprightly contribution to the genre of spiritual memoirs in the vein of C.S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy and Lauren F. Winner's Girl Meets God. Carolyn Weber is an unconventional thinker whose engagingly told faith journey will speak to folks who still believe that thoughtful people cannot be Christian." - Lyle W. Dorsett
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Editorial Reviews

Chris Schoppa
…this charming book…will take you willingly on a highly personal and revelatory odyssey.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Following in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis, another Oxonian famously surprised by joy, Weber chronicles her encounters with God and Jesus while studying at Oxford University, in an honest and earnest tale structured around the university's trimester school year. Her narrative bares not only her internal conflicts during her time in England, but also her family life and how it shaped her distrust of religion as she grew up. The tale of her coming to Christianity from an intellectual agnosticism is woven with poetry and song lyrics that punctuate and, at times, encapsulate key moments of her study and discovery. The metaphors and allusions don't make the text inaccessibly erudite, but instead illustrate the beauty and struggle of her conversion. Some readers might question the length and apparent happenstance of some of the events included, while others will allow the professor of Romantic literature her poetic license, and enjoy the prose ride in the city of dreaming spires. (Aug.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780849949319
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/9/2011
  • Sold by: THOMAS NELSON
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 147,135
  • File size: 863 KB

Meet the Author

Carolyn Weber holds her BA from the University of Western
Ontario and her M.Phil and D.Phil degrees from Oxford University. She has been
Associate Professor of Romantic Literature at Seattle University; she has also taught at Westmont College, University of San Francisco and Oxford University.
Carolyn and her husband share the joy of parenting three spirited children in
Santa Barbara, CAand London, Canada. Find her online at

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Read an Excerpt

Surprised by Oxford

A Memoir

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2011 Carolyn Weber
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-4931-9

Chapter One

All That You Can't Leave Behind

I was not sleeping, you are not waking me. No, I have been in tears for a long while And in my restless thought walked many ways. In all my search, I found one helpful course, And that I have taken: I have sent Creon To Delphi, Apollo's place of revelation, To learn there, if he can, What act or pledge of mine may save the city. —Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

My arrival in Oxford, England, that early October of 1994 came with plenty of baggage. Anyone who has tried to move a suitcase full of books before will tell you how deceptively heavy such a load becomes. Fortunately I shipped most of my books ahead of time, leaving room for other important considerations, such as fashion. Like any self-respecting girl (especially one about to relocate near the magnificent city of London), I brought many shoes. I had no idea at the time of the significance of all these soles accompanying me. All I knew was that the suitcases were unbelievably cumbersome and that I had to drag them (as they were the cheap kind without rollers) quite some distance before I would reach my college.

Very early that morning, after a long overnight flight, I landed amid the hustle and bustle of Heathrow Airport. The flight had been stuffy, hot, and very long, so I went into the restroom, held my head over the sink, and rinsed my hair in the cool water.

The weather was still very warm for autumn, and though tired I felt refreshed, so I headed in search of the X70—the bus that runs regularly between the airport and Oxford. Again I was directed down another mazy corridor, which wound past the train and tube options. I had no idea that getting to my destination would require such labyrinthine efforts. But then again, I had no idea.

The bus ride was pleasant enough, despite feeling as though we might smash into our death at any moment on the M25 freeway. The rest of the world drives so much faster than North Americans. Here I thought we were manic, and we are in our diurnal living, but on our streets we are sedate by comparison to our global neighbors.

I love buses. You ride up royally high, so you are able to look down into passing cars like an artful voyeur. You also get to people-watch on the bus itself, which is always live theater. I took numerous buses to school and even more to work. Later I drove the old rundown Buick I shared with my mom and sister, the kind of car in which you hold your breath at every stoplight. Will it keep running? Will it start when I come out in the dark? Should it be making that queer sound when I brake? The trunk did not open, the gas tank leaked into the backseat often, and the driver's window was stuck at a crack. Sometimes my brother loaned me his beat-up green Chevy, which we lovingly referred to as the "Tank." It was about as reliable as the Buick but with one major advantage: it was so big that no one messed with you on the road. I hung a little transistor radio from the rearview mirror, since running too many things at once, such as a turn signal, wipers, and the radio, caused everything on the dash to short out. To this day I still feel an exhilarating sense of luxury when I sit in a car built after 1975.

Our driving mantra was, "Just get me there."

Funny how you become what you think.

I dozed, jolting occasionally at the driver's loud pronouncement of upcoming stops. At this early hour the bus hummed along quietly with few passengers, so the stops were infrequent. In the hazy surrealism of predawn, there really was not much to see—what I could make out was mainly countryside, though not what I would call quaint, and certainly no Shakespearean cottages or fairy folk peeping from the trees. I kept an eye out for Oxford University, certain that I would eventually be able to see the campus on the horizon stretched out gloriously like Stanford's, which is so big it has its own shuttle system, or the famously sprawling campuses of Virginia marked by languid trees. At the very least fine towers surely would girdle the campus, like those to my own undergraduate alma mater, the University of Western Ontario. When you met those crested columns, you felt as though you were entering divine real estate indeed, the mother of all gated communities. "All those who enter here will learn."

So you can imagine my confusion at the driver's last call for Oxford. Last call? Only a little while back, we had come upon a pretty little bridge. At that point the architecture seemed more archaic, but this was England, so was everything not supposed to look old? According to instructions I should have rung the bell for the stop soon after passing Magdalen College, but I had been listening for "Magdalen," as in Mary Magdalene, not "Mawdawlynn" as the Brits crazily pronounce it. All my soles and I should have disembarked at the stop in front of All Souls College. Ironically I had missed the call.

As I continued dozing the bus whistled through a busy intersection, jolting me into the realization that I should inquire of our whereabouts. Without warning we took a sharp turn onto Worcester Street, and the next thing I knew those annoying little beeps were sounding, indicating that the bus was backing up. Only three passengers remained, including me. The driver came down the aisle and prodded the one passenger awake, helped the elderly lady collect herself, and shouted at me to come get my luggage. I stepped off the bus with the dawn; the station was still but slowly coming to life. A young man in a rumpled tuxedo slept on a nearby bench. Wow, I thought, the homeless sure are spiffy here. I asked the driver how far a walk it was to Oriel College. His answer did not encourage me.

"Why didnae get off at All Souls, luv?" he asked in turn.

"I didn't know we were in Oxford yet," I replied. "There was no sign. Where's the campus? Where are the gates? The rows of fraternity houses? Where are the pillars? You know, the ones with the crest?"

The driver scratched his head. "I havena idear what you're talkin' boot, miss, but everyone knows that the High Road marks the way inna Oxford."

* * *

The music of the enduring Irish pop band U2 was deemed "alternative," but everyone I knew growing up liked it. Once acquainted with the power of metaphor as an English major, however, I began to see their lyrics differently. On one level they suggested eros, or erotic love; at another level they conveyed agape, or the self-giving love of God. The former beckons the latter, and yet the latter does not need any predilection. Indeed all other forms of love will be healed and function most beautifully when subsumed under agape's rule. However, the intertwining of sex and spirituality has always haunted literature and art, perhaps because we crave the intimate and are most immediately assuaged by the sexual, and so we know of no other more appropriate language.

For their cover to the album All That You Can't Leave Behind, photographer Anton Corbijn photographed the band members in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. In the background the departure notices read "J33-3," a reference to chapter 33, verse 3 of Jeremiah: "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and hidden things which you have not known" (ESV). U2 was obviously deeper than I thought.

Before I started listening to U2, a picture framed my life. My parents stand poised on the edge of promise, steps spilling beneath them under the arch of my hometown's cathedral. They look like Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. Literally. It is a bittersweet thing, being the ruddy daughter of a Helen, the filial beloved of a Lear. The wedding was breathtakingly beautiful as though silvered and inlaid, like its frame, with mother-of-pearl.

Money grew tight, but it was not always that way. We used to live in a large home in a comfortable neighborhood with luxury cars. We enjoyed a sailboat and a cabin cruiser and a lakefront summer retreat. My father played Santa Claus to the neighborhood children, bought them all gifts, took entire Little League teams regularly out to dinner. My earliest memories involve his extreme generosity and indulgence. I breezily did the sort of things normally denied children, like sitting on my father's lap while driving golf carts or eating lobster dinners in darkened restaurants with fussy waiters. Dolls from all parts of the world decorated my room. As a challenging toddler I liked to throw things away, such as my father's expensive items, and then pronounce them "all gone." A fishing rod over the side of our boat, or a putter through a sewer slot. My father would just chuckle and buy replacements—another for himself and usually a smaller version for me. He winced a bit when I flushed his Rolex watch down the toilet, but still laughed good-heartedly at my mother's admonitions. He was handsome and tanned and smelled wonderful, like a mix of the ocean and fresh-cut grass, except when he smoked his pipe, which also smelled wonderful, as how I thought wisdom must smell, when it curls about your head.

Winters enveloped us in a fun flurry of sledding, skating, and coming home to hot cocoa. We huddled together, watching old movies in quilted succession by the fire. My mother sang all the show tunes. I would bury my face in her apron, resting against the bump of my sister and soaking in her scent of all things comforting and good. Often at night I would creep into bed next to her, just to be encircled by it. Anyam aug in Hungarian, my mother's first language, conveys the nuances of a "mother's bed."

Summers gleamed alive in sunshiny memories filled with splashing in the pool or lake and eating ice cream at the park. Tepid evenings relieved muggy days; black velvet nights were filled with points of light, either boundless fireflies or, on long weekends, fireworks and sparklers. After dinner, my father and I picked still-sunwarm cherries from the tree in the backyard, popping them into our mouths and spitting out the pits while sprawled together in our lawn chairs.

At age six I took my first piano lesson. I never took my second. A week later the piano was repossessed.

A freak storm hit that winter complete with thunder and lightning. Our beloved cherry tree sat on a blanket of snow, magnificent, glazed with ice. Like Jane Eyre, one night I awoke to a violent crack. When I looked outside, the iced cherry tree had been smitten almost perfectly in half. It looked back at me, bewildered, broken, smoking from its lightning hit, frost hissing. I never forgot the paradox.

Shortly afterward, we lost our first house.

These were the early days of the Great Fear, to be followed shortly after by the Confusion Era. My mom became efficient at packing and unpacking. We learned not to answer the door, to ignore the strange questions. My little sister cowered, and my big brother clenched his fists. Holding hands tightly, we walked home quickly from school, ignoring the cars that followed us or the phone calls late at night that made my mother's hands shake when she came in to check on us and we feigned sleep. Whenever it came time to move again, Mom kept us busy. Eating fried chicken and singing songs, I would sit on the counter, swinging my legs to her singing as the men went by with our things. Mom always filled the house with music, poetry, and books. Regardless of what poured out, she poured beauty back in. Somehow she managed dance and skating lessons for us and the occasional magical treat of a ballet or opera. My dad now remained absent, but no one spoke of wheres or whys. Of such things no one spoke at all.

I learned that things did not matter. Nor did homes. Things came and went. Houses changed. Stuff was just stuff. It was yours one minute and not yours the next.

* * *

"Are you sure you donnae want a cab, miss?" the driver asked, looking concerned.

"No, thank you, I'll manage," I smiled. Besides I did not have enough British currency on me for purchasing the cab fare. While I knew that Oxford consisted of thirty-eight self-governing colleges and six permanent private halls, I did not fully understand how these comprised the campus, which was thereby embedded within the city of Oxford itself. You could walk the city streets and admire, of course, the magnificent architecture of the more public common buildings, such as libraries, museums, and churches. But a college could easily be passed by undetected. Only once you entered through its deceptively humble portal did the college reveal itself in its entire serendipitous splendor.

Then it was as though you had entered another world in another time, and yet one that remained timeless, evocative of castles, palazzos, columned walkways—magical places of learning, some dating at least as far back as the eleventh century. Fountains danced in the midst of pristine lawns; rosy arbors offered peepholes into luxurious grounds; worn wooden benches nestled in miniature English country gardens. And the color! Lush green ivy embraced ashen stone; lavender blew against tea-stained brick; copper reddened in the sun against true blue sky. Gargoyles. Angels. Grottoes. Secret gardens and yellowed paths. The effect evoked my childhood haunts, like Narnia after the thaw.

Behind the urban commotion the sanctuary of each college sprawled inconspicuously toward the next.

My scholarship had assigned me to Oriel College, established in 1324 and owning the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford. It also sits almost exactly across the city from the bus station. Without a ride and beleaguered by shoes for every occasion, let's just say I was in for a long haul.

* * *

At the interview for my first formal job, I lied about my age so as to dodge the work hour limitations for minors. I easily looked older when I dressed older. From my early teens throughout my undergraduate degree, I followed the same pattern almost every weekday. Got up early and went to school, attended practice or some student council event, then left straight for my job, getting home shortly before midnight, usually to my mom sitting alone with a drink in the dark. After she was safely in bed, I would reheat dinner and then study late into the early morning, catching a few hours of sleep before getting up for class all over again.

While I worked various jobs after school, I most consistently worked at a ballet school, a jewelry store, and a lingerie shop. For anyone who has worked retail, you know that Sundays are not sacred, nor are holidays, so I worked those, too, gift-wrapping like a madwoman for people in more of a foul than festive mood. When I did have the occasional free evening, I usually spent it cloistered in the college library wrapped in the distinctly comforting scent of old books. I spent every moment between classes studying and countless late nights at the computer lab until my senior year, when my mom surprised me with a used laptop that weighed, oh, about five hundred pounds.

My full undergraduate scholarship depended upon keeping straight As across all courses, every year, for all four years. Without that scholarship there would have been little or no chance of getting my first degree. As it was I could barely scrape together enough for supplies and books. I learned that the coffee-and-cookie combo at the kiosk in the college common room could last you most of the day. Any spare cent went toward buying books. I snuck these "friends" along with me to my jobs, clandestinely reading Aristotle, Dickens, and Tolstoy behind the counter. I wonder what Jane Austen would say, herself used to hiding her own writing beneath table blotters whenever someone entered the room, to having had her pages read secretively behind racks of black lace teddies? Or the Brontë sisters to having been smuggled in and enjoyed among silk leopard-print knickers? Romeo's comparison of Juliet's beauty to a jewel hanging in an Ethiope's ear fills your vision when you arrange diamonds on black velvet with the night pressing against the glass of the shop windows.


Excerpted from Surprised by Oxford by CAROLYN WEBER Copyright © 2011 by Carolyn Weber. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface: A Note on the Text and Terms....................xv
Prologue: Doubt Wisely....................1
1. All That You Can't Leave Behind....................11
2. The Father (W)hole....................25
3. Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs....................37
4. The Storm Before the Calm....................45
5. The Poison Tree....................53
6. Shaken, Not Just Stirred....................63
7. Sweet-Talkin' Son of a Preacher Man....................81
8. Jesus, the Great Polarizer....................87
9. The Conundrum of Time....................99
10. Does Love Justify All?....................115
11. Tide Out: Have a Heimlich/Un-Heimlich Christmas (Home, but Not Home, for the Holidays)....................135
12. Tide In: Am I My Sister's Keeper?....................141
13. Tide Out: Forsaking All Others (Including the Self)....................153
14. Tide In: More Than a New Year....................169
15. Book Ends....................183
16. What If Jesus Had Been a Woman?....................191
17. Sehnsucht....................207
18. Butterflies in the Bookcase....................217
19. Professor Von X....................223
20. Throwing the Baby Out with the Baptism Water....................237
21. Psychomachia....................253
22. The Ultimate Valentine....................263
23. Tide Out: Good Friday, Riding Westward....................275
24. Tide In: Confessions of an Introverted Convert....................283
25. Tide Out: Do I Have to Be a LOUD Christian?....................297
26. Tide In: Dance Like a Fish....................305
27. Church Going....................321
28. Looking for the Loch Ness Monster....................331
29. Miss Georgia....................337
30. Bald in the Land of Big Hair....................345
31. Mary and Me....................369
32. Parousia....................381
33. All Joy Reminds....................393
34. Trinity Sunday, Trinity Term....................401
35. St. Margaret's Road....................413
36. Annus Mirabilis....................425
Epilogue: Believe Wisely....................435
About the Author....................457
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 32 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Agnostic turned Christian...this is Surprised by Oxford.

    An agnostic turned Christian...this is Surprised by Oxford. Can God get through to even the most non-trusting of souls? Is there such a thing in this world as a genuine Christian? Does God really care? These are all questions that Carolyn Weber asked on her journey to discover her need for Christ.

    Carolyn Weber is a beautiful writer. I thoroughly enjoyed her wonderful use of language and her descriptive sense of style. The people and places were so vividly described I could almost taste the scones and feel the cool British rain on my face. This book was an absolute joy to read. There were times when I almost could not put it down. What a treat!

    Her story is sadly one with which all too many people can relate. Surprised by Oxford is the story of an absentee father, an emotionally and financially struggling mother, and a young girl who had hardened her heart to God and love. I enjoyed experiencing God's sense of humor throughout this book as He used anything and everything to get Carolyn's attention - even street signs. I appreciated how transparent she was when describing her difficulty in trusting Christians and God.

    *There is a word used in the prologue that is considered strong language so be forewarned. This is not used gratuitously but rather in the recounting of a conversation Carolyn had with a professor which shocked her enough that God was able to start getting her attention.

    This book is a memoir. An actual account of Carolyn's first year at Oxford University and for me, the most beautiful and inspiring part of this book was the realization that God only needs one moment from us to start seeking Him. Just a moment. A blink of the eye and He is there answering the questions, "Where are you?" "Are you real?" "Do you care?". He does not need some cataclysmic event He just needs a split second of searching. Carolyn's moment of searching began when she challenged by a professor to discern the real stuff from the garbage in this world began to take personal responsibility for finding the meaningful in a world full of meaninglessness.

    I would recommend this book to both those who have found Christ and those who are searching for Him. If you have found Christ then you will be encouraged by this memoir. Encouraged that it isn't always the "right" words that get through to someone. That real Christians living a real life can have an impact on those who are searching. If you are searching for Him then be encouraged by Carolyn that you can ask God the hard questions and He not being offended will answer...sometimes in the most unconventional of ways.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher's book review 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."

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2011

    Great book on discovering faith

    As a professional who works in college student development I have always enjoyed reading about the spiritual journey of college students. Ms. Weber's experience at Oxford not only includes her spiritual journey, but combines her love of literature, her appreciate of friends and family and beautiful descriptions of Oxford and her experience there. Others may compare her writing (as I first did) to Girl Meets God or even Blue Like Jazz. Ms Weber's book far surpasses both of these. She openly admits to going to Oxford as an agnostic but is quickly challenged by friends to explore her faith. As someone who has through her whole life focused on reason and intellect, this is the way she begins to look at faith. She is however changed by what she learns about God's love and grace. This is an enjoyable read for anyone who appreciates reading about the spiritual journey of others, strong writing and an appreciation for beauty. Ms Weber is a gifted writer.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    I couldn't put it down!

    I really enjoyed this book. It's the story of an agnostic graduate student's journey to belief during her first year of Oxford. It follows the school year, and through her struggle with belief, her salvation, and the adjustment of her life and relationships because she can no longer be spiritually blind. I devoured it in less than 24 hours. One things I loved about it was the way she took you through the thought process of her 'seeking'. I was delighted to read this book mainly for that reason. I was raised in a somewhat Christian home and my own journey went from weak belief to sanctifying my life with Christ and making Him the ruling force. I have unbelieving friends, and from conversations roughly understand their world view. But that stage from unbelief to belief is amazing and beautiful to me, and it was lovely to read about. I could see how Jesus was already working in her and calling to her heart, transforming her to faith. This book also turned on the intellectual, academic part of my brain. I love Weber's writing style. As I said, it was hard to put down! I received this book from Thomas Nelson's booksneeze program in exchange for my impartial review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    Will this Canadian Atheist and Oxford Student Find God?

    Surprised by Oxford, A memoir Carolyn Weber © 2011 Thomas Nelson Inc. ISBN 978-0-8499-4611-0 (ppbk) 440 pp. plus notes I give away many of the books I'm sent to read and review, but this one's a keeper. Surprised by Oxford is one of the most delightful volumes I've ever received. Intelligently written, witty, as absorbing as a novel, this memoir tells briefly of Carolyn (Caro) Weber's childhood in Canada, then relates her sojourn as a student at Oxford College in England. An atheist, Caro meets TDH, an American student who shares with her about Jesus. In nearly every chapter she struggles with different questions about Christianity. TDH sometimes offers answers, as do several professors and their wives. Caro writes about her search for truth, her friendships, her classes, and historical people and places around Oxford. With honesty she explores aspects of knowing God that she doesn't understand. Anyone searching for the truth may relate to her questions. Curiosity about her final decision and its results will keep readers involved in the story. They'll also want to know the outcome of her relationship with TDH, which she doesn't reveal (or his real name) until near the end of the book. Carolyn Weber eventually becomes a professor at Oxford as well as at other colleges. I hope to enjoy more writing from this astute and articulate woman.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Boring Fake PREACHY Conversion Story

    5 HIGHEST - 1 LOWEST STARS: 2 Stars


    People who love Christian fiction or Oxford might enjoy this book. Anyone who is annoyed by "preachy Christianity" or "unrealistic salvation stories" will not like this book.

    This book was boring and disorganized. The author skipped about in an odd fashion and most of the writing was really pointless and boring. Would you want to read 15 pages about getting off the bus and having to walk to Oxford? Booooring! And how about a chapter on getting lost looking for Stonehenge? The author seems to lose her timeline in several places, as you end up back in time and this makes the story choppy and illogically organized.
    Then our main character meets a guy. But just when you want to know what happens to them, the chapter ends and you get a very boring chapter inserted to break up the timeline. You must wait to find out about the guy. Our main character girl is agnostic. But the guy gives what he calls a "brief" summary about his Christian beliefs into a SUPER long SUPER preachy SUPER fake summary of the Christian gospel. It sounds very fake and very revolting (even though I am a Christian). No agnostic would be receptive to this kind of preaching. Especially, when the guy is using Christian terminology that the girl would probably not know in the real world. I certainly didn't buy this "conversion" story as real - and this is supposed to be a memior!
    Who wants to read about a "real life memior" that sounds like a completely unrealistic fiction? And it's boring and disorganized to boot!

    Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher Thomas Nelson for this review. I am giving my honest review, as positive reviews are not required

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2011

    Well-Written and Fast Read!

    I'm a sucker for books about people encountering God through the University setting. I loved my college experience for many reasons, and I think it is one of the most finest places for wrestling with issues of faith, belief, and truth. Carolyn Webber, now a professor of literature, writes about her experiences with this very thing while studying at Oxford in her new book, Surprised by Oxford.

    Surprised by Oxford is very well-written. Although it's a thick book (400+ pages), it is a fast read- it reads like fiction! Webber uses many references to poetry and literature to help illustrate how she was thinking about and interacting with God. Although I'm not super into classical literature or poetry, I could appreciate how God used those things which Webber loved to help woe her to Him. This is a great testimony to the Lord's character. I loved it!

    Webber's experience also shows how key relationships are in our faith journey. Carolyn didn't experience God in a vacuum. Instead, many different kinds of people genuinely loved her and shared their life and faith experiences with her in an authentic way. College students would really benefit from reading this book to see how to talk about God in a way that isn't focused on selling Christianity to someone.

    Thanks, Booksneeze, for letting me read it and review it. And thank you, Carolyn, for writing about your experiences.

    These were my own thoughts about the book- Thomas Nelson publisher gave me the book to review but gave me the freedom to say what I really thought.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2014

    Surprisingly Good Read

    Spiritual memoirs can be a slog. Not this one. The author's background in literature studies really shows. A wonderful surprising story structured in a wonderful way. The vignettes Weber recreates are exceptional. I particularly enjoyed her story of attending the famous speaker who advocated post-modernism. Hilariously funny! Her story is remarkable in its most unexpected series of encounters and conversations, each taking her step by step to a place she was not looking for. Weber's honesty is refreshing. This is not a rah-rah, let's go Jesus kind of story, but one that is candid in its hostility to the Gospel, a hostility that transformed into love. A final endorsement. As soon as I finished this book, I immediately read it again. So many lovely and deep passages that kept my highlighter busy.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    A delightful read!

    What first drew me to this book was a recommendation by a dear friend and the fact that I had spent a lot of time in Oxford during my second assignment with the USAF in the mid 90's. But what really kept me enthralled was Caro's wonderful way with words and her candid and humorous retelling of her faith experience at Oxford! A definite must read for fans of Tolkien and Lewis and any who have been blessed enough to wander Oxford. If you want to have a virtual journey, Caro will be am excellent guide!

    Her real faith and excellent writing make this journey an absolute delight!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2012

    I'm not much into all of the poetry, but I loved all of the thou

    I'm not much into all of the poetry, but I loved all of the thoughts going on in her mind that lead to her salvation and then gaining boldness in sharing Christ with others after she was saved. Our book club meets next month to discuss this book and I anticipate a long and lively discussion.

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  • Posted December 6, 2011

    surprised by oxford

    ¿Surprised by Oxford¿ is Carolyn Weber¿s account of the time she spent studying classical literature at Oxford University in 1994. The memoir is pretty hefty, and Weber shares many of her experiences as an American living in England, falling in love with a fellow American, and discovering religion. Although many pages were dedicated to Weber¿s religious outlook, many other pages were full of details about England, Oxford, and the author¿s relationship with the above mentioned American¿referred to as ¿TDH¿ (Tall, Dark, and Handsome) in the book. Weber discusses her fellow international classmates, her classes, and her adjustment to her new life (she¿s from a poor family, and spent nearly all her life working multiple jobs and scraping away every penny¿being able to attend Oxford based on a full scholarship). The writing also evokes nostalgia for the early nineties (for instance, the author¿s boyfriend teaching her to use email¿something the author had vaguely heard about but had no idea how to use--so she doesn¿t have to spend money calling her mother in the U.S.) Overall, a well written memoir.

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  • Posted October 26, 2011

    "Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir" by 'Carolyn Weber' - BOOK REVIEW

    "Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir" by 'Carolyn Weber' is a reflective read of her experience in embracing Christ. A unique story. A tailor made story. It gives us a detailed glimpse of her college days in Oxford. Being a student and teacher of literature, her writing reflects the poetic and ornamental style of narrating the incidents. She must also be credited for preserving the suspense till the climax of the story. Moreover, the traditions and culture of Oxford form a beautiful background for the story.

    "TDH" (Tall, Dark, & Handsome) deserves a special mention here. After being awarded scholarship, Carolyn moves to Oxford to pursue her studies. She goes with the loads of questions in her mind. And, in that journey, she befriends several believing and non-believing friends and professors. Being a lover of God, TDH challenges Carolyn in her spiritual quest. For the first time in her life, she reads a Bible and starts going to church. She asserts that Bible is the most compelling piece of creative nonfiction she had ever read. Her story of conversion gradually kicks off from there.

    Throughout the book, Carolyn maintains a fresh and personal perspective with her intellectual arguments and thoughtful questions and takes us into deep theological space. Her description of events, places, conversations and incidents are refreshing and strikes a chord with the readers. Carolyn sounds philosophical at times and I was mesmerized when she writes about the eternal paradox: nothing matters and everything does.

    Overall, this was a very good book. It spans over around 450 pages. It could have been made little cheekier. I give this one four out of five stars.

    Carolyn Weber holds her BA from the University of Western Ontario and her MPhil and her DPhil degrees from Oxford University. She has been Associate Professor of Romantic Literature at Seattle University, and has also taught at Westmont College, University of San Francisco, and Oxford University. Carolyn and her husband share the joy of parenting three spirited children in Santa Barbara, CA, and London, Canada.

    Please note that I received this book from Thomas Nelson through its book review bloggers program Book Sneeze in exchange for an honest review. Also be informed that the opinions I have expressed are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Surprised by Oxford

    The author's "Acknowledgement" page begins with the following thoughts: "It takes a village to write a book. And, it would seem, a city to publish it."

    Can this statement be any less true of the journey one travels to complete faith in God and the Trinity? Especially, if one comes from a place that has ". no polite need of a Savior."

    Dr Carolyn Weber has written the story of her spiritual journey that begins at the oldest surviving university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University. It is her first year of graduate school and she uses the University's three term calendar which coincides with the Christian liturgical calendar to frame her account.

    As a young woman, Ms. Weber believed in reason, intellect, and education. God, if she thought about Him at all did not lurk ". among families like mine - loving enough to get by without Him, but broken enough not to deserve his attention." It is during this year that her unbelief is challenged and her reason and intellect tested. Using an abundance of literary quotes, and poetry Dr Weber tells her story of her conversion.

    In the end, she is able to acknowledge God's real presence in her life because of the love and support of the community, including TDH* and her own unique village of faithful friends and colleagues.

    *TDH is the very handsome, tall and dark American student.

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  • Posted September 25, 2011

    Smart, Whitty, and "TRUE" Storytelling.

    Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber is an extremely smart memoir of the authors conversion to Christianity during her formative years at Oxford University. Weber weaves a poignant tale of a less than picturesque upbringing in a home where religion had very little to do with her day to day life. In a brief instance, she meets a man, TDH, (her name for Tall, Dark, and Handsome), studying theology who opens her mind and allows her to question if the path she is on is truly fulfilled or is it somehow lacking the presence of grace and god's love.

    Weber, who is studying literature during the time of the story, has a very clear voice and sense of purpose in her writing. Her love of literature proved to be distracting at times. Primarily the distraction resulted in her own personal voice being watered down. While the connection to literature excerts is quite obviously a large portion of Weber's life and therefore relevant, it also felt repetitive and almost "crutch" like. Her authentic story telling voice was lost at time as a result.

    Surprised by Oxford is a beautiful memoir eloquently written in a straightforward style that I found to be a page turner. The b0ok, while perhaps not on the top 10 list of all time, is most certainly a fun and insightful read.

    As part of booksneeze's blogging for books program, I received the book at no cost. While I am required to write a review of the book, the thoughts and opinions shared are my own.

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  • Posted September 17, 2011

    Great Book

    I loved following Carolyn Weber as she found God (er, God found her) in her book, Surprised by Oxford. The book follows Weber throught her years at Oxford as she is studying Romantic literature. She struggles through issues such as growing up without a father figure, feminism, and questioning how could a loving God let so much bad happen.

    This book is a jem. It's so rich and real, and yet tough and gritty. I laughed, I held my breath, and I pondered. I also fell in love with TDH right along with Weber, that Sweet-Talkin' Son of a Preacher (Chapter Seven's title).

    There is some language in the Prologue, but you can skip it and start on the first chapter.

    I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011


    A book with a beginning that grabs the attention of the reader, dragging them in, is a wonderful thing. A book that manages to hold that reader captivated throughout is beyond wonderful.
    Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber begins with a surprising bit of truth shared by her professor. This bit of truth is a sampling, an introduction, a foreshadowing of the many truths exposed by this epic memoir.

    "'The truth is in the paradox, Miss Drake. Anything not done in submission to God, anything not done to the glory of God, is doomed to failure, frailty, and futility'...

    Dr. Deveaux stopped and looked at me hard. He leaned in and whispered, 'The rest is all bullsh*t, Miss Drake. It's as simple as that. Your purpose here in life is to discern the real thing from the bullsh*t, and then to choose the non-bullsh*t. Think of the opportunity that God has given you to study as the means by which to attain your own personal bullsh*t detector.'" - Surprised by Oxford, Weber, page 3

    Please do not mistake my use of words like "epic" as romantic exaggeration. I recognize the subjectiveness of my opinion, but I thoroughly loved this book. It is an inspiring coming-of-age conversion story filled with wisdom, grace, and humanity.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    Prepare for a long read...

    Surprised By Oxford is the extensive journey of "Caro", Carolyn Weber's, awakening to salvation through Christ Jesus while attending the historically active college of Oxford. My first thoughts after reading this book are "Wow that was a long book." Not previously knowing this author's writing style I was slightly unprepared. However, I will say that most of this book kept my attention with Weber's figurative recollection of events that built up to her personal eye opening of who Jesus is. Specifically, Weber recalls many moments with TDH, a tall, dark, and handsome gentlemen, in which he asks the author thought provoking questions while answering hers with love and respect, in much the way Jesus did himself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2011


    I received a copy of SURPRISED BY OXFORD: A MEMOIR by Carolyn Weber
    from Thomas Nelson, via BookSneeze. I was originally enchanted by the
    cover, depicting historical architecture at Oxford, but once I started
    reading, I was enthralled. While I read, I kept forgetting it was a
    true story. As Marilyn Meberg states on the back cover, it really does
    read like a novel. The fact that it is a memoir makes it all the more

    The memoir begins with a touching prologue, that clings to the mind
    long after the book is closed. She had a wonderful professor who
    helped her a great deal, only to die at the end of the semester. This
    prologue brought tears to my eyes.

    After that, the book jumps between her life at Oxford University and
    her life growing up. The writing is smooth and the dialogue is
    fascinating. For example, on page 15, the driver says, "I havena idear
    you're talikin' aboot." I could hear it perfectly in my mind, making
    the experience all the more real.

    She also mentions the Irish pop band U2. I'd never listened to them
    before, but after hearing her explain their insightful lyrics, I looked
    them up online.

    I found her experiences with God touching and enlightening. Her
    experiences cling to my memory bank even now that I've shut the book.
    This memoir will appeal to anyone looking for an enjoyable read, and
    especially someone who enjoys spiritual journeys.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2011

    LEARN to live in a glass box, like this author obviously does! AWESOME

    how many readers are trapped in the pity of their own story, their own life worries that they fail to admit what their own childhood was like or even who they really are today. this author is clearly as gifted as they come in the academic circles, and yet the realness of her sharing and admitting her struggles brings a reader to a TRUE desire to live honestly and call out those parts of ones life that stink and you wish you could do differently. we live in a world where folks that don't act like they have all the answers don't have anyone sitting by them on the bus. personally, I like a world like this authors' world where you say what you see and live who you are. Blessings on you, for taking the time to write down your very real life.

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  • Posted August 23, 2011

    Surprised By Oxford

    "Surprised By Oxford" is a memoir by Carolyn Weber telling us her own journey of graduate studies at Oxford University. The narration is broken down into the three terms established by the liturgical calendar.
    Carolyn Weber received a scholarship to study at Oxford for graduate school. She arrived there in the mid-90's as a fairly typical agnostic student somewhat allergic to the world "Christian" (since as we all know, Christians are rigidly judgmental and irrational). But Weber also feels a great lack in her life, and as she gets to know some truly wonderful Christians are and reads the Bible, she unwillingly feels the hounds of heaven stalking her. This is the best that I can sum up the narrative.
    I feel that it is a tad too long. Actually at the end I really got bored and somehow trudged my way along. Apart from this it is a good book especially for those who have been to Oxford or feel a special connection with it.

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  • Posted August 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great for new Believers and refreshing for "life-long" Christians

    Agnostic girl meets atheist boy. Agnostic girl meets God. Atheist boy loses agnostic girl. Born-again girl falls in love with Christ. (Oh, and meets another boy along the way!) This is not the makings of a fairy tale or soon-to-be-released blockbuster film. This is an honest and colorful memoir reflecting on Carolyn Weber's transformation from second-guesser to Believer. Weber takes readers on a journey back into the early 1990s, when she was a first-year scholarship graduate student at the University of Oxford. Identifying herself as agnostic and very aware of the damages those closest to her could inflict, she arrived on the campus of the world's oldest English-speaking university certain of many things. She wasn't, however, aware of how deeply the university's Christian foundation would create uncertainty within a matter of weeks. (One who doesn't believe in Christianity probably experiences difficulty more often than not when the University's motto, Dominus Illuminatio Mea, is so prominent.) Weber's love for words and intrapersonal intelligence carve out a powerful story of spiritual awakening. Although the memoir has the capacity to be a great read over the course of weeks, one cannot help but dive in. You agitate yourself by reading about her resistance. You sit on the edge of your seat with excitement when she speaks of "TDH." You fall in love with the Holy Spirit, perhaps for the first time, or the millionth. But you read it too fast either way. Thus, you're left with wanting more of her story. -- Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review whatsoever. The opinions I have expressed are completely my own. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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