As I've been running away from reading fantasy lately just as fast as I can, my shelf recently held both Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman and Susan Gubar's and Sandra M. Gilbert's The Madwoman in the Attic.
For some reason, reading both of these at the same time has raised a good deal of mental static. I find that my empathy with two men involved in making the Oxford English Dictionary is reduced, perhaps because I'm having a hard time shaking the modern judgmental attitude that Madwoman feeds so well. While I suspect that both books intend to engage the reader's emotions, it bothers me that my response is primarily emotional, and that it remains a relatively rigid one.
It's not just reading a critique of privilege that in some sense undercuts the empathy that I possess for men who enjoy that privilege--I have inherited a kind of idea of Oxford as a secular heaven and reading about it and the dictionary it produced is a little like shaking coals on the head of the lapsed English major in me. Perhaps I didn't let myself fully give in to the fascination of the story? Perhaps the real story for me isn't the relationship but the dictionary itself?
There were a few suggestions in the back of Mr. Winchester's book that I think I might try to track down--something to give me an excuse to go poke around in a library for a change, rather than bookstore. As soon as I finish Madwoman, which is starting to give me a righteous headache.