The “What We’re Reading Now” section of a recent library newsletter listed library director Pam’s most recent read, Dear Committee Members, as “a hysterical novel told through meandering letters of recommendation written by an academic who has passed his prime in every way.” I don’t always enjoy the same books Pam does, but it sounded worth checking out.
It is indeed a funny book. I didn’t find it laughing-out-loud funny, but then there is little that really makes me laugh out loud. (Humorous lists like this and this, as well as more than a few minutes of reading Damn You Autocorrect, do sometimes actually accomplish that.) What I find laugh-out-loud funny, though, rarely has any purpose beyond making me laugh.
Julie Schumacher’s novel, however, does have a serious side to it. Jason Fitger, the cranky professor of creative writing and literature who pens the dozens of letters of recommendation that make up this novel, voices the frustrations of many professors at real-world colleges.
He is himself not a particularly admirable human being, but he at least appears to care about education, about ideas, about literature, about the things that make life worth living that don’t have dollar signs attached. And his self-absorption allows him to include all sorts of irrelevant information in the supposed letters of recommendation (he often criticizes the person he is recommending or the organization the person is applying to), which tell us a lot about him and his academic life.
I work at a college myself, but in Student Services rather than as an instructor, so I don’t have personal experience of a lot of what he writes about. But I certainly can relate to the construction-related woes. I can’t imagine any college would make people work in the kind of conditions he describes, so I assume it is exaggeration. But in the three and a half years I have worked for the college, there have been only short periods when there was not sawing, drilling, hammering, and plaster dust somewhere in the building.
This review provides some samples of these humorous letters. Or look for it at your local library. It’s a short book – short enough that I’m counting it as my “book that can be read in a single day” on my 2016 Reading Challenge. (As it happens, I didn’t finish it in one day, because I made the mistake of starting it near bedtime. But the challenge doesn’t say book that I did read in a single day, only that I could have.)