Well. It's been awhile.
About 7 months, in fact. I don't know how this year has flown by so quickly, what with summer nearly over and my first semester of college looming in the distance. The last half of July I spent in Toyko, Japan, helping out with a VBS and exploring the city with a couple friends. It was an incredible experience and opportunity, and saying goodbye was rough.
Anyway, my reading this year has consisted mostly of nonfiction and lots of audiobooks. This summer I got back into fiction, which usually happens when I spend a lot of time at the lake getting sunburnt and doing nothing. Summer is just the time for fun books. Naturally, I had hoped to post some summer reading recommendations, but it didn't happen (*see above reference to rapid passing of time). That said, I did read a book while I was in Japan that was just so good I couldn't help but talk about it as soon as possible. I'm thinking it's the best book I've read so far this year.
The book is called SURPRISED BY OXFORD and the author is Carolyn Weber. It has been on my wishlist forever, and when I was thinking of books to take/buy for my trip, I chose this one. And let me tell you, it kind of blew my mind.
SURPRISED BY OXFORD is a memoir, which initially put me off, as my experience with memoirs has been mixed. But man, I am so glad I picked this one up. In this book, Carolyn arrives at Oxford as a graduate student of literature. She is a skeptical agnostic from a loving but broken family, waving the flag of feminism, suspicious of men, and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she attempts to grapple with big questions, she meets classmates and professors who struggle with the same God-shaped longing, and one friend in particular, who lovingly draws her to the Father she never knew she needed. In this memoir, Carolyn writes about faith and conversion with the same honesty and depth of the writers and poets she was studying, and tackles issues of fatherhood, feminism, doubt, and love in ways that surprised and captivated me. There is such a depth of theology and honesty of doubt and love in this book, and it felt real and relatable, despite the Oxford setting. I finished it on a crowded train in Tokyo, the crazy white tourist trying not look like she was crying and failing miserably. I immediately wanted to reread it.
Maybe it was the tear-jerker of a love story in here, maybe it was the Oxford setting, maybe it was the fact that Carolyn was studying literature, maybe it was the writing (which is amazing), maybe it was the romance of reading it in another country, but I totally fell in love with it. I just want everyone and their mother to read it. It is achingly beautiful. It is full of theology and literary connections and insight that feels very C.S. Lewis-esque to me, it is an incredible conversion story, it's an awesome perspective of the Gospel, it's a very honest look at doubt. It blew my freaking mind, and I cannot wait to read it again and again and again. I desperately want to go to Oxford now, and I am convinced the man in this book, affectionately referred to as TDH, is the most perfect member of his species alive. I just basically want to be Carolyn Weber.
This book is so great, and please just read it. Whether you do so in the waning weeks of summer (you'll fly through it, trust me), on vacation, or on a train in Toyko, just do it. And thank me later. Also, if you are like me and listen to music while you read, I would suggest Alanna Boudreau's new album, "Champion." It's what I listened to through most of my trip and while reading this book, and it is fantastic and seemed to correlate in lots of ways.
College begins for me in a couple of weeks, and so I don't know when I'll be back, but I just had to talk about this book, since I've already gone on about it IRL. Just read it, and thanks for sticking around. xo, Ella