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Surprised by Oxford

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,725 ratings  ·  428 reviews

A "girl-meets-God" style memoir of an agnostic who, through her surprising opportunity to study at Oxford, comes to a dynamic personal faith in God.

Carolyn Weber arrives for graduate study at Oxford University as 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 alongsi

Paperback, 456 pages
Published August 8th 2011 by Thomas Nelson
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 ·  2,725 ratings  ·  428 reviews

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Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, memoir
I am not going to lie, when I saw that the memoir I had agreed to read [Surprised by Oxford] by Carolyn Weber was well over 400 pages, I was a little disappointed in having chosen this title to review. Thankfully, this book is a beautiful narrative filled with poetry and quotes from classic literature, deep and intriguing questions about meaning faith and God, and even a little bit of love and friendship thrown in for good measure. This is not a boring 400+ pages filled with an author droning o ...more
kwesi 章英狮
Oct 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to kwesi 章英狮 by: BookSneeze
There are times that a person will ask for his faith to God. Asking God's existence, the problem's that he is currently into, or why God did not stop evilness in the world. A normal person can't answer why God created everyone equal and why evil lurks in the earth. Maybe soon, we will be like Carolyn Weber, the girl who meets God in Oxford and how her life change.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber, is a four-hundred-page full of questions and answers about God. Ways on how she manages to overc
Douglas Bond
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber's memoir--O my goodness, I've been loving this read. Powerful and imaginatively crafted spiritual autobiography of a recent work of the Hound of Heaven in a devoutly devoted irreligious secularist feminist, hater of everything about God Bible, Jesus, faith and grace, graduate student in literature, surrounded by Christians (dead and alive ones) at Oxford.
Anne Bogel
Feb 09, 2012 rated it liked it
I'd give this one 3.5 stars if I could. I wanted to love this book; I'm afraid it may be the victim of my high expectations. My major complaint (and it's a big one) is that the LENGTHY soliloquies in the mouth of a major character just didn't ring true for me. This is memoir: it needs to feel real. But people just don't talk like this character does in the book.

Unless they do at Oxford, of course.

But I doubt it.
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
First, a disclaimer: I am atheistic/skeptical and therefore read the book and its contents critically - which is not the same as reading it without an open mind. Of course, if you're looking for a preaching to the choir then I suggest the five star reviews.

My expectation from this book was an insight into belief in god, and good (not necessarily rational) reasons for that belief. I also love a good story and value good writing above all other properties of a book.

I did enjoy many parts of the b
Incredibly powerful. Incredibly moving. Highly personal and uncomfortably profound.

This book is about an English Major who studied in Oxford and became a Christian through her studies and conversations... Being a Christian English Major who studied at Oxford for a term, this book was highly personal and highly impactive for me. It was a long read, but still somehow a quick read. I kept wanting to find some passages tedious by nature, but then I found myself re-reading certain sentences and passa
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, oxford, memoir
I love Surprised by Oxford for so many reasons.
I love this book because of Oxford. On more than one occasion, I shouted to whomever happened to be closest, "St. Ebbes! That's my church!" or "New College! That my college!" Yet on an even deeper level than passing references to places I know, Caro's experience as a abroad student resounded with me. I understand getting lost, being confused by the strange pronunciations of names, even the wonder of the tutorial system. I understood Oxford and her
Carolyn Weber truly has a way with words and has produced a beautiful memoir of her conversion to Christianity while attending Oxford University. I admire her thoughtfulness, eye for the symbolic, and the depth of her writing. However, I was really plagued with doubts about the truthfulness of her account. Several things nagged at me: she recalls past conversations with a clarity that is truly stunning (down to the tiniest facial expressions and quoted word perfect), every person she talks to (a ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it liked it
How do you criticize someone's personal faith journey? It's impossible. This book did not have the depth to serve as anything more to me than an interesting look at just that: an individual and personal faith journey. I was frustrated by the struggle between unbelieving and Christianity: should it not be unbelieving and simply believing? After all, all religions are right and all religions are wrong: "any idea of Him we have He must in His mercy shatter."

It would have been far more compelling i
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. More specifically, I wanted to live in it. I didn't want it to end. This world where people read and quote poetry to each other for fun and drop classic literary references as if they were pop culture - I want to live there. Atmospherically, I felt so at home in Caro's head and related to the way she creates large metaphors in her mind. It felt familiar.

The story itself is just really good and is very well told. She walks the reader through her spiritual journey to Christianit
Linda Joy
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps one of the greatest books I have ever spent my time reading. Wow. A must read.
“Books come alive not only when read, but when shared.” Pg. 238
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book is not a style that I enjoy. It is biographical to a point, but it is also didactic and introspective. I don’t mind that as much as I struggled with the constant discussion of symbols and metaphors. Not that I don’t see the point, it just makes it a hard read for me. It distracts too much from the flow of the story for me. There are also numerous elegantly descriptive passages. Each one was beautiful, but again they distracted from the story for me. Then she also describes lots of dif ...more
Reading a story that hews closely to your own experience can make you acutely aware of the points of difference, and I think that's the case here. There's a frustrating, like-but-unlikeness to Weber's memoir for me, that increased by the form Surprised by Oxford takes. Both a conversion story (with an eye to evangelize) and love story, and written 14 years after the events, both stories have a sense of smooth inevitability to them, as if any possibility of *not* ending up an evangelical and marr ...more
Rick Nau
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Five stars for this wonderful book. You can read my review at ; or read it here:

It was a summer ago that I read Carolyn Weber’s Surprised by Oxford. I was working on a novel, an attempt to resurrect a story that lingered in the distant past. I needed something to inspire me, to move me forward, to push me out of the rut I was stuck in.

I can’t remember how I found the book. Not at a bookstore. Almost all of them had long since closed their doors. The days
Calen Brantley
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is now in my top ten of favorite books. Her coming to believe in Christ was not merely an intellectual endeavor, but an endeavor to find the meaning of love. I will revisit this one every few years.
Kim Elder
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Lovely memoir of a woman who became a Christian while studying at Oxford.
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Listen, if you want to find a five star review of this book, it won't be hard to find. But I simply can't overlook the fact that the recalled conversations from 14 years ago (or more) simply don't ring true to me. I can't believe the memoirist can recall the setting, casual gestures, and complete conversations from her past in the detail she portrays here, which makes me believe that these conversations are largely fabricated. This explains why all her friends seem so deeply insightful and all t ...more
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Great book! I became quickly immersed in Carolyn's conversion and was delighted to read about her experiences in Oxford. Although her writing gets a bit overdrawn at times, it is a pleasant, easy read, and loaded with apt quotations from some good poems. Like a kitten in yarn, she gets very wrapped up in similes and metaphors which felt a little forced.
But her transformation from an unbelieving academic to an authentic Christian scholar was honest and quite inspiring. Her friendships at school,
Deann Harris
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved this - got to hear Carolyn Weber at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College, April 2014...intrigued by her presence, character, content of her speech. Compelled to get this book and could NOT put it down. Her story of coming to faith in Christ, navigating tricky waters of family/friend relationships, her thinking process while attending Oxford, her wit and brilliant literary references were all pieces of a delightful puzzle well put together by the Providence of God. Our book clu ...more
Joey R.
Not what I expected!

If you plan on reading this book (as I did) expecting an Oxford educated scholar to discuss apologetics and in depth analysis of Christianity — this is not the book for you. If, instead, you want to read an enjoyable book written by a very intelligent woman that describes what a year studying at Oxford is like that touches on religion and romance in equal measure then this is the book for you. Oh and a lot of poetry quotations and references that were not very enjoyable.
Ashley Cobb
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“...and tell them (the author’s children) the story of how God loves a good story” (pg 438)

If God loves a good story, I have a feeling He is delighted with this one. I had the pleasure of hearing the author speak at an educators conference in the summer of 2018. This book had just come out. The author was a fantastic speaker and I put this book on my “to read” list which always seems to grow exponentially when I go to a conference.

This book is a wonderful trip through the author’s first year at
Šarūnė Ti
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it
It's a great memoir full of funny and relatable stories to read. Loved the way it was written for the most part, however, the ending simply killed it. Writing for so long on one topic and then finishing up it all in three sentences.. Not cool! Not cool at all, Caro!
Faith Hough
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely conversion memoir that makes me want to travel to England. :)

Beautiful story full of great poetry. I found the dialogue forced and formal, which unfortunately distracted at times from the otherwise well written events.
Helena Sorensen
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely beautiful!
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: x-2016
To remember:

"That is the bizarre thing about the good news: who knows how you will really hear it one day, but once you have heard it, I mean really heard it, you can never unhear it. Once you have read it, or spoken it, or thought it, even if it irritates you, even if you hate hearing it or cannot find it feasible, or try to dismiss it, you cannot unread it, or unspeak it, or unthink it."

"It was occurring to me that believing in the Bible was an all-or-nothing affair. Either you believe it is t
Frank Peters
Feb 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading surprised by Oxford, was a very happy surprise for this reader. The book is an autobiographical account of the faith journey of the author – Carolyn Weber, who had just left Canada to start a Masters program at Oxford University in the UK. The book recounts her spiritual journey as she wrestles with her past and with God. Weber bravely opens her heart using her pen as she recounts and deals with all of the real issues of life that are so important to us. The book also contains a lovely r ...more
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was unsure if I would enjoy this book, worried that the author's esteemed Oxford background would make me feel less than intelligent. However, she faces a classic question, "What will you do then with Jesus?" on her faith journey. I liked that she took time to grapple with the questions she had, and how she worked through them with a thoughtfulness and consideration that we often do not afford others or ourselves. Grace is such a prevalent theme, and one that challenges the reader to spend wha ...more
Hannah Flowers
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grad-school
Sometimes you pick up a book, read it and think it's great, then promptly forget about it. That's what happened with this book the first time around. I read it fresh out of college, enjoyed it and then promptly forgot that it existed. Fast forward to 2020 and I'm on the hunt for good going away to school books for grown ups and stumble upon this one on Amazon. It looks great and so I buy it only to be reminded by Goodreads once I start it that I had read it before!

I enjoyed it very much the fir
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
As someone who is planning to depart for Oxford come February, this book wooed me with its detailed descriptions of the city. The imagery Weber uses is absolutely stunning, as she takes the reader to lively pubs, across rainy streets, to indulgent academic dinners, and near-magical formal balls, among other places. The descriptions she crafts of the people she meets have immense depth and never feel like caricatures.

The way she writes her story is raw yet also polished. She’s studying literatur
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I was torn between three and four stars for this one, but ultimately landed on "a highly enjoyable three-star book". I do love a good adult-conversion story, and while I admire Carolyn Weber as an inquisitive student, and loved the backdrop of Oxford, I can't say I was a huge fan of her writing style (a bit TOO many metaphors, and a bit TOO many puns. And I'm a fan of both.).

Also, and I acknowledge how unfair this is, but I couldn't help comparing this book to the wonderful, ten-star read that
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Hi I'm Carolyn. I taught literature to undergrads for 15 years, but resigned my tenured position in a ginormous LEAP WITH FAITH (blogpost). When I am not enjoying time with husband and 4 spirited children under 8, I enjoy reading and writing. My previous (even bigger) "leap to faith" is detailed in my book SURPRISED BY OXFORD . You can download a FREE PDF of Ch.1 ...more

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“Ahhh, teaching literature. A noble calling! For we are all stories.” 9 likes
“Dr. Deveaux stopped and looked at me hard. He leaned in and whispered, 'The rest is all bullshit, Miss Drake. It's as simple as that. Your purpose here in life is to discern the real thing from the bullshit, and then to choose the non-bullshit. Think of the opportunity that God has given you to study as the means by which to attain your own personal bullshit detector. Sometimes that will be particularly difficult, because those who proclaim to know the truth, well intentioned or not, are spewing the most bullshit. But you will know when you have been properly ravished. And then you'll see, how the entire world is eyeball deep in it and that we choose it, and that we choose it every day. But the good news is that, although we struggle with it, there is a way out. Yes, there is a very worthy antidote and option to all the bullshit.” 7 likes
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