Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher
Fiction – Contemporary/Humor
Published August 19th 2014 by Doubleday
Dear Committee Members is an incredibly sharp and hilarious read about the current state of academia and the higher education system. I probably helps I read this while sitting in the backseat of my parents car traveling across Ohio and Indiana, so this book really helped to pass the time.
Dear Committee Members is a collection of letters from Jason Fitger, a creative writing professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. This book follows the academic school year through letters of recommendations for students and fellow teachers as well as a few emails and memos. Students he taught, and some he doesn’t even know, are asking him for recommendations to jobs that are totally unrelated to their degrees. He also spends his days writing letters of recommendation for his colleagues who are seeking other jobs or nominations within the department. Through these letters we find out what Fitger thinks of his colleagues, and in some cases what they think of him. One example is when goes as far as to include in one recommendation late how he slept with the woman for three years, when recommending for another position at a Bible College. Through these letters we get a sense of his personal life as the director of a literary residence program he constantly recommending students to is one of his exes.
So if you couldn’t tell from my intro, I really loved this book and laughed out loud in multiple spots. Here is a list of why this book was just so awesome for me.
- It smartly touched on current problems that are still prevalent in higher education. This includes the defunding of humanities programs, the rising costs of a degree, and the trouble students have paying back those loans because of the job market and the unlikelihood of getting a job in their fields right after graduation.
- I usually hate Epistolary novels and I actually loved this one. It managed to tell an engaging story through letters of recommendation that kept me hooked.
- The use of the unreliable narrator is fantastic here. Jason Fitger is an asshat and that is very evident very early on. All of his exes, hate him yet still put up with him for the most part because he is just so oblivious. He is so self-absorbed that it becomes so much fun to watch his interactions without ever seeing what people wrote back to him.
- At the end of the day, this is a dark comedy, which is the best kind in my opinion. For every enjoyable moment, there’s a really honest moment when you realize it does shed light on very real issues in academia. From the downsizing of liberal arts programs, to the failure of young graduates as they were poorly prepared for the world outside of academia that does not value creativeness.
“October 16, 2009 Avengers Paintball, Inc. 1778 Industrial Blvd. Lakeville, MN 55044 Esteemed Avengers, This letter recommends Mr. Allen Trent for a position at your paintball emporium. Mr. Trent received a C– in my expository writing class last spring, which—given my newly streamlined and increasingly generous grading criteria—is quite the accomplishment. His final project consisted of a ten-page autobiographical essay on the topic of his own rageful impulses and his (often futile) attempts to control them. He cited his dentist and his roommate as primary sources. Consider this missive a testament to Mr. Trent’s preparedness for the work your place of business undoubtedly has in store. Hoping to maintain a distance of at least one hundred yards, Jason T. Fitger Professor of Creative Writing and English Payne University (“Teach ’til It Hurts”)”
“Belatedly it occurs to me that some members of your HR committee, a few skeptical souls, may be clutching a double strand of worry beads and wondering aloud about the practicality or usefulness of a degree in English rather than, let’s say, computers. Be reassured: the literature student has learned to inquire, to question, to interpret, to critique, to compare, to research, to argue, to sift, to analyze, to shape, to express. His intellect can be put to broad use. The computer major, by contrast, is a technician—a plumber clutching a single, albeit shining, box of tools.”
This is a hard-yes and I’m kind of bummed that I got it from the library because now I have to buy it at some point. The Epistolary format and short (180 pages) makes it easy to pick up, read the letters I like, remember other letters, and just have a good laugh.