Friday, February 6, 2015

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

After a month of going without any library visits, I was chomping at the bit to get to the library.  So, on February 1st in the afternoon I headed to the library and reveled in that lovely whiff of books and that something else that my public library smells like.  I headed to the stacks and then….found nothing to read.  It was quite a let-down after all of the waiting.  Well, I didn't exactly come away with nothing.  I actually don't think that is physically possible for me.  I got a book that didn't look terribly promising (can't remember the name) and then a slim little volume called Dear Committee Members.  It was on the new book shelf, but it was released this summer.  I was mildly interested and so took it home.

Dear Committee Members is written epistolary form, but it's unique in that all of the letters are letters of recommendation.  I was so impressed that an author could craft a book that was moving and funny and had, you know, a plot, that the story itself could have been pretty bad and I still would have admired and enjoyed the book.  The story is told through the letters of recommendation written by a beleaguered English professor, Jason Fitger, who is watching his little midwestern college fall apart.  He sits amid the rubble and dust in his office which sits underneath the Economics department which is being renovated to include such amenities as a heated yoga studio and showers.  Meanwhile, the eccentric English department is slowly crumbling apart as students leave for more practical fields.  There is a steady stream of students requesting letters and there is one student in particular who has caught Fitger's attention.  This boy is slowly wasting away as he works at trying to find a job so he can publish his eccentric book.  Added to this unassuming scenario is an angry ex-wife whom Fitger still loves and an old flame who also hates him.

This book is not the kind of book I would normally pick up.  It's a dry, biting humor as opposed to the more laugh-out-loud style that I normally read.  It's also a grim commentary, another genre that I almost never read.  The whole book is a eulogy to the gravy days of college life when professors were tenured and students flocked to majors that weren't necessarily job-oriented; when the arts were valued and students didn't write stories in creative writing classes about zombies and werewolves.  The book reflects sadly on the loss of such dinosaurs as the Slavic Languages department and the days of professors with multiple published books.  I think it was even more poignant because this book was actually written by an English professor.  I admit to be slightly depressed at the end of this book.

This book does not end happily.  I won't say more because spoilers can be annoying to some, I understand (I am not one of those people).  All this to say, would I have read this book if I hadn't been in such dire need of reading material?  Probably not.  But I'm still glad I took the time to pick up this book.  It's very well written and short, so even if it isn't your normal reading pattern, it's not a waste-of-time kind of book.  Now, this isn't just damning with faint praise.  I have to emphasis how good the book really was.  It's one of those books that you shut and say, "Hey, that was actually a really well-written, generally good book!"  Jason Fitger has a very funny voice and gets in plenty of jabs at the lack of grammatical common-sense in the US.  So I do recommend this book.  Go ahead and read it!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you found something at the library anyway! If I see this on the shelf I will likely grab it too.