I just finished reading Dear Committee Members: a novel by Julie Schumacher. As Newsweek said, it’s smart and fun. This fulfilled the “book of letters” prompt required by the 2017 Popsugar reading challenge. It was the perfect book to follow Station Eleven, as it demanded little of me, other than frequent use of the dictionary feature on my kindle. (I’m still processing Station Eleven, and it might be both my favorite book and the best book I ever read.) Imagine Frasier Crane cast as an embittered curmudgeonly English Professor at a third tier (I’m guessing) liberal arts college, firing off snarky letters of recommendation, among others. I often burst out laughing, and showed my Beloved Husband selected portions, which he also found amusing. But, this book isn’t for everybody. I was an English major, and once considered a career in academia. This book makes a strong case that one should avoid that path.
The prolific epistolarian of the novel was a graduate of a prestigious creative writing “seminar,” but failed to live up to expectations, especially his own. All of his novels are out of print and he’s forced to rescue copies from used bookstores. Nonetheless, he’s sincerely advocating for one of his advisees to gain a spot in a similarly prestigious writers residence. He writes, “…his novel in progress, a retelling of Melville’s ‘Bartleby’ (but in which the eponymous character is hired to keep the books at a brothel, circa 1960, just outside Las Vegas), is both tender satire and blistering adaptation/homage.” He’s indignant that a sociologist has been named Chair of the English Department: “Perhaps, as the subject of a sociological study, you will find the problem of our dwindling status intriguing.” He really does want the best for his department, while harboring absolutely no ambition himself: “You’ll soon find that I make myself unpleasant enough to be safe from nomination.” My favorite letter might be one he writes for a student he’d caught plagiarizing who was stupid enough to ask him for a recommendation.
You get the picture. This is a character study. There is a plot, but pay close attention or you’ll miss it. I liked the character, but if you don’t find him charming in the first few letters, he’s unlikely to grow on you.
Meanwhile, my next prompt is “a book by a person of color.” I have holds for both Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Until then, I’m moving on to “a book with one of the four seasons in the title.” An Overdrive library search led me to Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley.