I’ve mentioned my favorite book of the year (so far, anyway…though I highly doubt it’ll be unseated) several times in past posts, but here’s my more detailed review that’s been a long time coming. The book that everyone should read, but should especially read this winter because it’s perfect for curling up with in winter, is Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. 

A college friend recommended this book to me several years ago, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get around to it until a few months ago. I found it for 99 cents on Kindle, so I snagged it without much thought, but then proceeded to do little but read it for the next week or two. I’ve now read it a second time since then and will likely pick it up again before the year is out.

The Charming Basics 
This book is Carolyn Weber’s personal memoir of how she became a Christian while earning her Master’s degree in Romantic Literature at Oxford in England. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the transparency, grace, wit, and hopefulness that I ended up finding on every page. I honestly had to remind myself that it was a true story and not a novel. Though “suspenseful” doesn’t really fit the book’s genre, Carolyn’s narration does draw in the reader amazingly well, and every person she brings into the story feels like a significant character that you want to know better. I was amazed at the many specific conversations she was able to recount, the detailed inside looks into her thoughts and feelings that she gave, and the beautiful word pictures she painted of her experiences at Oxford. I felt particularly connected to Carolyn and the book because of her love of literature and the England setting. She uses both to their full advantage as she tells her story and I soaked up every bit of it so gladly.



What’s to Love 
I loved this book for its setting, its literary motif, its engaging narration and people, and so many other things. But underneath all of that, Carolyn’s honesty and joy as she shared her testimony went straight through any defenses I might have had up and touched me deeply. It encouraged my heart and strengthened my faith to read how she – a hardened feminist and agnostic at the outset – gradually accepted that her trust in self and reason were crumbling and that her only hope was Jesus. I was reminded that God pursues his children and meets them wherever they are. For Carolyn, that was in her books, her studies, her philosophy, and her need for reason. She discusses how she began reading the Bible partly from curiosity and partly from a cynical desire to find a chink in Christianity somewhere; but despite herself, she began to look forward to reading it and found it to be “the most compelling piece of creative non-fiction” she’d ever encountered. Additionally, there are so many people and conversations that she recounts in the book that seem inconsequential at first, but later clearly prove to be tools the Lord was using to soften her and draw her to Himself. Early this year was a difficult season for me, so I’m really thankful for how Carolyn’s story encouraged me to remember that our Lord purposefully saves and strengthens His children, no matter how far gone they seem or how discouraged they may be in their faith. 

Why it’s Perfect for Winter 
There’s England and literature…what more can I say?! Granted, these are perfect for any time of year, but who doesn’t love a good book by a blazing fire in December? What’s more, Oxford apparently goes all out during the holidays, and Carolyn gives it in glorious detail. I loved picturing Oxford covered in snow and Christmas lights. And the change from winter to spring in the book’s timeline fits well with the spiritual awakening she was experiencing. She describes a number of significant turning points in her conversion that occurred during the Christmas and winter period, and her descriptions are so vivid and aesthetic that it’s easy to imagine you’re right there with her. I felt like I was a guest right across the table from Carolyn at the splendid Christmas “high table” dinner for Oxford elites, an event where she wound up in a conversation about God’s existence and His part in the world. When she talked about her first Christmas break back home in Canada, I could almost feel the cozy fire in the log cabin where she took the painful, courageous step of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend. And I rejoiced with her as I read her description of the sunrise that broke over the frost on her first Easter morning as a Christian. Just talking about it right now makes me want to grab the book and some hot chocolate and find a nice fire somewhere. Do yourself a favor and get on it too :) 

Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your story. I’m thankful for how the Lord has used it to deepen my own faith. And what a treat it was for me to visit Oxford this year and see so many of the places described in the book come to life! I’ll leave you with a few more Oxford pictures and some favorite quotes from the book.





No individual, by the very state of existence, can avoid life as a form of servitude; it only remains for us to decide, deny, or remain oblivious to, whom or what we serve. 

An education forced is no education at all. 

I’m like an addict when it comes to books. Compelled to read, understand, savor, wrangle with, be moved by, learn to live from these silent companions who speak so loudly. 

Self-worth that is subject to others’ judgments remains alive only as long as the delay of condemnations. 

As I aimed to become a teacher, God made me a student. My spirit as a questioner does not affront Him; rather, it reflects Him, and honors Him, and pulls me toward Him.

Ahh, teaching literature. A noble calling! For we are all stories.

[The Bible] unwinds and recasts the world and our perception of it: that the Holy Grail is more likely to be the wooden cup of a carpenter than the golden chalice of kings. “No wonder this stuff causes war,” I thought as I read, “between nations and within each of us.”
Let’s get back to Eloquent Finds, shall we?! I’m SO excited about this batch of Internet gems to share with you today, plus some updates about what I’m doing and the quotes I’ve been collecting recently.

Links

Beauty and the Beast Trailer 
OH EM GEE. GUYS. I cannot remember the last time I was this excited about a movie coming to theaters! Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor… AHHHH!! Beauty and the Beast is my absolute favorite animated Disney movie and I can hardly believe that my childhood is now coming full circle with this live action reimagining that looks so gorgeous and magical. And with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as Belle and the Beast… I’m fangirling big time.
I'm doing backflips inside, I'm so excited, y'all. (Photo Credit: HDQ Walls)

Beauty and the Beast Cast on Facebook Live 
And while the fangirling is high, I’ll share this as well. With the film due out in March, publicity has begun, which means cast chats and interviews! YIPPEE!!! Here’s one of the first of hopefully many! Here we have Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, and director Bill Condon sit down together and answer fan questions. Such fun.

Poldark Cast Plays “Would You Rather?” 
Season 2 of Poldark is nearly finished and the drama never ceases! And Masterpiece never disappoints with their collection of fun extras and this is one of my favorites yet as of late! Stars of the show Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Heida Reed play a short round of Poldark-themed “Would You Rather?” and the questions are pretty humorous.
Photo Credit Heida Reed on Instagram @heida.reed: "Squad. #poldark"
 
Adoption: How One Life Touches Countless Others 
At the risk of a bit of self-promotion, here’s an article I wrote for my internship! I was honored to have it published on my organization’s blog and would love for you to check it out! :) 

Personality Hacker Podcast 
I’ve become quite the podcaster in recent months and this is my newest find, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. The hosts of Personality Hacker focus on the Myers-Brigg personality types and spend at least 45 minutes in every episode talking about something personality-related. It’s amazing how much there is to dissect and how much I’ve already learned! Every Myers-Brigg type is explained in its own episode and the topics just expand from there. Probably my favorite episode so far is titled “How Types Say ‘I Love You.’” 

5 Reasons You Need Fiction 
Couldn’t agree more with this excellent analysis! This author does a fine job of explaining the benefits of good stories and how they can increase our love for the bigger story of which we are all a part. As I like to say, we are story-loving people because our God is a God of storytelling. 

Carrot Top Paper Shop 
I felt like I’d discovered a gold mine when I heard about this shop. Literary d├ęcor to your heart’s content! The literary heroines we’ve grown up loving are the focus of this shop and it warms me from the inside out. 

Favorite DC Finds

In the meantime, I continue to enjoy Washington DC. This city is beautiful and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fall colors at this time of year.
See? There's just nothing quite like Capitol Hill in autumn.

The walk out to the Jefferson Memorial is breathtaking. This is by far my favorite tourist spot I've visited so far. Can't wait to see this place bursting with pink in cherry blossom season.

View from the Jefferson Memorial

My roommate and I took a walk in an attempt to see the Super Moon; despite the cloudy night that hid it, the Capitol at night was more than worth it.

What I'm Reading Lately

I’m nearly to 50 including rereads, you guys! That’s the goal by the end of the year and I’m so excited to be close. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been enjoying lately. 

Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan by Winston Graham 
Books 3 and 4 of the Poldark series. The story of Ross and Demelza and their friends and family just gets better! I read these almost simultaneously with the airing of Season 2 of the show, but finished book 4 slightly ahead of the last few episodes. Warleggan is a new favorite so far! If you’re only watching the show, I cannot recommend the books enough! 

Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber 
I’ve mentioned Carolyn Weber’s other book, Surprised by Oxford, as a new favorite, so I was excited to pick up this one as well. As I expected, she is candid, gentle, encouraging, and as literature-loving as ever. She gives essential reminders to cherish the present and trust the Lord with tomorrow. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 
This American classic is a long overdue read for me! Francie Nolan never made her way into my required school reading, but I’m so glad to be reading her story now. A friend recently described this coming-of-age story by saying, “It’s about nothing, and yet it’s about everything.” I think I agree. There’s nothing overly remarkable about this story, but it is a simple, endearing tale of a family who survives much hardship to do everyday life. 

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper 
If you feel starved for joy or affection for Jesus, pick this one up. John Piper will help you regard Jesus with new awe. 

Quotes

You can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table. –C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. –Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling 

I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string. –Anne Shirley, Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery 

I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book. –J.K. Rowling 

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than a woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. –Captain Wentworth, Persuasion by Jane Austen

Don’t wait to celebrate the life you have been given, even if it looks different from the one you thought you would have had. –Jay Wolf, Hope Heals 

I can’t think of a love that is worth its salt unaccompanied by any fear at all. But it is in the facing of the fear and loving still, and through it, that the loving becomes burnished to a precious sheen and transformed into an ever-present gift. –Carolyn Weber, Holy is the Day 

…Candles burning, curtains drawn, warmth, tea, friendship, love. Those are what matter to me. –Demelza Poldark, Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham 

There is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self. –John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ
I think I might have delayed this last official post about my England adventures because, after all, how am I supposed to follow the Downton Abbey visit? Hard to top, right? But honestly, though it was a definite highlight, afterwards, it was nice to have a few days to focus on our immediate surroundings after so many train rides both in Derbyshire and for traveling out to Jane Austen’s house, Oxford, and Highclere Castle. And London was delightful with so much to see. We spent two full days there, crammed in as much of the typical touristy stuff as possible, and it was beyond worth it. For your first time in London, just accept the tourist label and enjoy yourself. It’s a beautiful city with an unbelievable amount of history – soak it all in to the fullest! Here are the highlights in pictures of lovely London for me.
Is it even London without a red phone booth picture? Having Big Ben in the background was such a bonus.

I never got tired of staring at this ornate old clock tower. It just begs to be looked at and photographed from every possible angle.
 The scaffolding was rather a shame, but I still thoroughly enjoyed staring at Parliament as well. It was such a dream to stand on the Westminster Bridge snapping these pictures!



The London Eye looked pretty picturesque against the skyline as well. We had to skip riding it this trip, but next time for sure! 

The Cabinet War Rooms were quite fascinating! They've been so well preserved since their daily use during WWII that it was like stepping into a time capsule.




We took a ride down the Thames River to the Tower of London! It looks pretty formidable as it comes into view!

The famous Tower Bridge over the Thames


Gotta keep it authentic inside the Tower grounds!


It's SO, SO big. Took my breath away!



As a new Harry Potter fan, I was tickled to see Platform 9 3/4! And on September 1st, no less! I'm coming for you, Harry! :)


Hello, Lord Nelson! This pillar to his memory famously marks Trafalgar Square, one of the most iconic locations in London. It was certainly one of my favorite spots! It has such a quintessentially British view with Big Ben in the distance and is constantly bustling with businessmen, talented street musicians, and awestruck tourists (Exhibit A: me).


The lions at the base of the Lord Nelson column are also an iconic part of Trafalgar Square. They are MASSIVE and so impressive!



The red buses always added such a nice London-ish touch to the pictures!

This is the beautiful St. James's Park! It was such a soothing, colorful area to walk when we had a bit of time to relax.




Piccadilly Circus behind us!
Yes, lucky us, we got to see inside Her Majesty's "London Office" as she calls it! It was absolutely stunning. And also lucky for us was the fashion exhibit that was running at the time: a collection of Queen Elizabeth's dresses from throughout her reign all on display! Her coronation dress and wedding dress were unbelievable. 
 
Watching the guard change was such a thoroughly British treat.


 Photo courtesy of our fantastic tour guide, Josh. 

I've saved the churches for last because they're my favorites. First was Westminster Abbey. It's one of the most well-known sites in London and consistently makes the lists of top tourist attractions. It's the place where Prince William and Kate Middleton were wed and has served as the coronation site for British royals for hundreds of years. Multitudes of famous scholars, royals, politicians, and arts experts now lie buried there. I knew I would find the place fascinating, but I was quickly overwhelmed and awed by the history contained in it and the beauty of it all. I'd begun to notice earlier in the week that the British take their churches very seriously. The architecture is breathtaking, careful thought is clearly put into every bit of them, and the inscriptions and art evoke such reverence. Every church I entered in England commanded respect almost instantly, and Westminster Abbey gave that vibe many times over. What's more, so many of the people buried there have influenced me personally, which heightened my sense of gravity immensely. William Wilberforce, David Livingstone, William Pitt, George Frideric Handel, and countless others all lie there, and it was incredible to see. I might have cried.

This is the side entrance, known as the west side, I believe. Hard to decide which I like better, but I usually lean toward this one.



The front, or north, entrance, where Kate Middleton entered on her wedding day.



Just couldn't stop taking pictures. So beautiful.

See what I mean by thoughtful, meaningful inscriptions? I just love it.

Now for St. Paul's Cathedral. Where Westminster Abbey is classic and reverent, St. Paul's is bold and enchanting. The architecture draws heavily from Roman influences rather than the Gothic style seen in Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, and it was awe-inspiring to look at. I think I stood stock-still in the main foyer for good minute or two just gazing at the huge ceilings, colossal pillars, and intricate carvings. Everything about it is so big, audacious, and captivating. I had to stand way across the street for many of these pictures in order to get any of the green dome within the camera frame. And the view from the top of the dome is supposedly the best in London! We had to skip that part this time, but it'll be a priority next time, without a doubt!
 

This statue of Queen Anne was sufficiently imposing, making her fit in well with the rest of the atmosphere.




London, you're a new favorite. England, I love you more than ever and shall return. Thank you, readers, for following my adventures in this land so dear to my heart! I'm sure there will be flashbacks in future posts. :)