“I still remember the birdsong. Despite the walled gardens, the magnificent castle-like buildings, the cobblestone streets, there is always birdsong in Oxford.” – Carolyn Weber
When I was in 7th grade, I fell in love with a group of writers called the Inklings. After devouring The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I started reading everything I could about J.R.R. Tolkien and his friends. I discovered that, of course, he was friends with my favorite childhood author, C.S. Lewis, and that they both attended and later worked at a magical place called the University of Oxford. I have a vivid memory of sitting outside, reading a biography of Tolkien sometime in the 8th grade, and promising myself that some day, some how, I would make it to this magical place that birthed such gifted writers and thinkers.
Spring of 2010, my dream came true. As part of UGA at Oxford, I attended the University of Oxford (more specifically, Keble College). I lived in Oxford, I studied in Oxford, I participated in way too many cream teas at Oxford. And I bought way, way too many books (40 pounds worth, and I mean weight, not money). Five years have passed since my great Oxford adventure, and I was growing a little homesick for the old buildings, green meadows, and “dreaming spires”.
Enter Carolyn Weber’s spiritual memoir, Surprised by Oxford. In the mid-90’s, Weber attended Oxford University as part of her graduate studies. While there, she started asking a lot of questions about Christianity, which until then she had considered an ignorant and cultish religion. Spoiler alert: over the course of her first year of study, she converts to Christianity.
I enjoyed Weber’s memoir so much. It is beautifully written, intelligent, and contains frequent references to Keats (my dead poet crush) and the Romantics. Weber is gifted in writing conversation, which is fortunate, as they make up the bulk of the book. Her conversion came not as a sudden thunderclap over the head, but in a slow, steady changing of her heart. She speaks with professors, scientists, and her own friends about what she is learning or asking, and through these conversations, she comes to faith.
There were so many good quotes and ideas throughout the book that I took several pages of notes while reading. One of those notes was, “I wish I could send this book back to high school Sarah.” A lot of the questions she struggles through are questions I wrestled with as I made my faith my own. She comes to conclusions that are full of “grace and truth”.
I’d highly recommend this book to lovers of Oxford or literature, or to people with questions, who wonder how one can be a person of logic and a person of faith. I wanted to shout “Hooray!” any time she wrote about a place I recognized, whether it was a physical place in Oxford, or a place of grace I’ve come to in my own faith. This book is a love story – to a place, to a God who pursues, to a love of learning – and I think you, too, will be Surprised by Oxford.