September 22, 2014
Dear Blog Reader,
Having just finished reading the novel Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher (Doubleday, 2014), I find it incumbent upon me to write a review recommending this tome in the highest possible terms.
I knew I was in for an enjoyable read when, on page 12, the protagonist, a Mr. Jason Fitger, Professor of Creative Writing/English at Payne University, writes of a student “Mr. Leszczynski attended class faithfully, arriving on time, and rarely succumbed to the undergraduate impulse to check his cell phone for messages or relentlessly zip and unzip his backpack in the final minutes of class.” I knew that student! He could have been any number of graduates from the high schools where I taught!
This unusually creative book utilizes an interesting format, composed of letters of recommendation (LORs), online application forms, and internal university e-mails, all set over the course of an academic year. The genius of the novel lies in the way in which we learn about the protagonist’s life and opinions about the inner workings of a university through this correspondence. While Professor Fitger does not always come across as a particularly sympathetic character (the term ‘curmudgeon’ comes to mind), the reader cannot help but admire his brilliant -albeit passive-aggressive – writing. And buried underneath everything is a genuine concern for his students and love both for writing and the higher purpose of a university.
This is satire at its finest. None of the people I know in higher education would ever resort to the kind of sarcasm and soul-baring that makes this novel so funny and yet poignant. That Professor Fitger does makes the novel not only a delightful read, but also a truly original contribution to the contemporary dialogue about higher education in this country. There are surprises around every corner, starting and ending with the headings and signatures. I would encourage the reader to resist the urge to skim over these, lest they miss closings like “From the prow of the Titanic, JTF”.
Having written hundreds of LORs myself over the course of my teaching career, I can recommend this particular collection without reservation.
“Extracting pleasure from the task as always”,
Retired Spanish Teacher and Erstwhile Blogger