Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Surprised By Oxford (Carolyn Weber)

Fun little story about this book:  I got through the bulk of it on our recent trip to & from Portland, Oregon-- well, more precisely Boring & Damascus, Oregon.  While we were there, we attended and enjoyed the Church of the Good Shepherd.  Our friend who invited us there talked a bit about their founding pastor, stating he was in the special forces a long time ago and was friends with folks high-up in the military, so they do a lot to honor veterans & current soldiers.  As I was reading this book, I "met" the narrator/author's future father-in-law, who was a pastor in Boring, Oregon-- he founded a church out there after serving as a Green Beret in Vietnam and feeling a call to leave military service and enter pastoral.  The thank yous in the back gave his name as Stu Weber.  A quick google revealed that he was indeed the founding pastor of the church we'd attended on Easter morning, mere days before I read about him on the page!  Kinda cool, huh?

Ok, anyway about the book itself.  Reminiscent of Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy in both setting (Oxford) and content (beautifully written account of grappling with the Gospel and coming to faith in Christ) and of Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God in both content and layout (the liturgical/scholastic year), it is a memoir narrating the author's journey into academia and faith.  Carolyn is a diligent Canadian graduate student who arrives in Oxford from a broken but loving family, with her work ethic and literary bent to stand on, and the nagging memory of a favorite professor who happened to be a Christian.  She is surprised to find herself befriended by several Christians who are surprisingly normal, especially one American Oregon boy she dubs "TDH" (for Tall Dark & Handsome).  Surrounded by fellow searchers as well as those who claim they've been Found, she is surprised that her former categories for the Believing are hard-pressed here.  She meets Christians in all sorts of surprising places, from the Provost to respected professors, all in the intense intelligent atmosphere that Oxford exudes.

I highly recommend this book, both as an engaging story (it's a romance, it's a faith journey, it's a coming-of-age) and as a Biblically-sound apology of Christianity. In fact, the human romance is a mere reflection of the Divine Romance unfolding in Carolyn's life.  There is meaning her nickname, "Caro,"-- Italian for "beloved." She realizes just how Beloved she is, and it sets her free. Some passages I highlighted with specific struggles of my own in mind.  Others I marked thinking of friends who seem to be struggling to believe.  I hope this book's story helps me portray the Story all the better to those around me still in darkness.  Fans of Lewis & his ilk will also smile to find nods to him in particular passages.  Fans of Milton will rejoice as well.  Personally, I'm motivated to read Paradise Lost!

The writing is beautiful.  Many thoughts are profound.  I dog-eared many pages, starred passages and underlined many a line.  This book re-kindled in me a desire to embrace poetry, particularly ancient poetry.  I love Oxford more than any place I've visited, and it was wonderful to read about events occurring in places I myself had been.  (It seems Oxford has the same effect on many people.)  For those who have never been to Oxford, you'll want to go.  Mrs. Weber does a great job bringing its sights, smells and feel to life.

Teachers and parents-- especially mothers-- take heart!  You will be encouraged as you see how much influence you can have and just how valuable your work is.

Perhaps the book could have been shorter... but she is an academic, so what do you expect? :)

4 1/2 stars.

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book through the Book Sneeze program in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

1 comment:

Patty said...

Have I told you that I grew up in Troutdale, OR? That's approximately 10-15 min from Boring/Damascus area! I actually am super jealous that you were able to take a trip to my little part of the world...I love it there and only wish I could make it that way more often (all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. are out there)!

Also, thank you for the tip about the breastmilk for eye infections! I did do that somewhat, but it became a pretty full-blown pink eye case pretty quickly and we needed up needing the eye drops too. Plain old breastmilk has definitely worked though for just a little clogged tear duct here and there!