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review 2020-02-14 22:00
Dear Committee Members (Schumacher)
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

Most of the charm of this short, funny book about academia is in the snarkiness and sheer inappropriateness of the letters of reference written by Professor Jason Fitger. These letters of reference form the entire contents of the novel, and it's something of a triumph of ingenuity over form that the novel actually has a bit of a plot, and, by the end, a bit of emotional resonance too.


We discover a fair bit about Fitger as he grumbles, insults and reminisces his way through letters that are only nominally about the students or faculty members he is (nominally) recommending for various jobs, positions or grants - in many cases, recommending them to one of several women with whom he has been romantically involved in the past. What's interesting is that by the end of the novel, we believe we know Fitger a bit better than he knows his self-deprecating self.


Mostly, however, this novel is an endless source of chuckles or occasional outright laughs, especially if you've spent any time in academia at all. Who among the beleaguered reference-writing faculty would not wish to actually be able to write a letter like this? (I'm quoting it in full just for fun):


December 16, 2009
Internship Coordinator
State Senator Pierce Balnearo's Office
The Halls of Power


Honorable Internship Coordinator:


This letter's purpose is to recommend to you - in the capacity of unpaid labor, presumably licking envelopes and knocking on doors - Malinda Heisman, a student in my Multicultural American Literature class. Malinda is an A student, a wide-eyed earnest individual who will undoubtedly benefit from a few months spent among the self-serving pontificates in the senator's office.


Malinda is intelligent; she is organized; she is well spoken. Given her aptitude for research (unlike most undergraduates, she has moved beyond Wikipedia), I am sure that she will soon learn that the senator, his leathern face permanently embossed with a gruesome rictus of feigned cheer, has consistently voted against funds for higher education and has cosponsored multiple narrow-minded backwater proposals that will make it ever more difficult for her to repay the roughly $38,000 in debt that the average graduate of our institution inherits - along with a lovely blue tassel - on the day of commencement.


Malinda's final essay in my class - here it is on my desk, among a cast of thousands - is a windy but assiduous reading of Jamaica Kincaid's "At The Bottom of the River." The essay demonstrates strong writing skills and rigorous thinking. Allow Malinda the privilege of laboring in your office for nothing (she'll probably continue to work nights as a barista in the coffee empire), and I am confident you will be making, though perhaps not in the ways you might have intended, a remarkable contribution to her education.


With all best wishes, I remain
Your devoted public servant,
Jay Fitger, Professor of the Lost Arts
Payne University


I do hope that excerpt will spur some other readers on to discover Julie Schumacher. There's a sequel, "The Shakespeare Requirement", on my tbr shelf, and I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

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review 2018-06-23 05:54
Dear Committee Members - awesome chocolate disguised as Hershey's
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

I'm stuck in this weird position where I can't move for the last 12 hours. I can basically use the computer and reach the giant stack of books my friend dragged into the room when she set me up (and thankfully fed the cat - who has knocked over the books...) Anyway, I finished Owen Meany which is a nice thick book and wanted a little diversion, but I keep falling asleep to TV, and it was too early for sleep, lest I wake up at 3 am.


This seemed like the ticket: an epistolary novel set in academia at the mediocre "Payne U", featuring the hapless-but-tenured Professor Jason Fitger. The building is crumbling and all the other departments have been evacuated, but English is staying while the unnamed "particulate matter" covers the place. Prof Fitger is sick of writing LORs and really wishes people like me would be more careful with apostrophes. (Time out: sometimes, despite knowing the rule since maybe birth, I find myself making that mistake anyway, Jason, and I still have to recite "i before e except after c or in sounding like ay as in neighbor or weigh" because nobody told me that if I studied German their completely conflicting rules would mix me up forever. And yes, I know I could just think German and do the opposite for English, but English was supposedly my first language and it gets to be a bit much when google insists my profession doesn't exist - at least the way we spell it -and that I MUST put an apostrophe in precisely the wrong place all the time. All this backwards thinking has ruined finely worn neural paths, creating chaos! OK back to the quick funny book where I can laugh at neurotic academia......)


So yeah, funny novel, takes maybe an hour to read -- laughter and joy will abound. Prof Fitger will make punny jokes and quotable quotes about college and students (oh, students *shaking my head*), repeatedly relive his tangled love life (about which he wrote at least one poorly concealed novel) and unfortunate reply all situations, apologize to everyone as he sends out constant LORs, and try to keep the creative writing/English department alive by getting his advisee's novel published -- or at least getting said advisee to finish the novel so it can be published, preferably in one of those nice writer-spending-money-to-write retreat sorts of places (known as rehab to those of us who aren't writers) and maybe he can get some prestigious grants for the unfinished advisee in the meantime, which will bring fame (or at least continued existence) to Jason's department. (Google really wants me to change nearly every apostrophe, but NO google - Jason just straightened my spine on this issue for at least the next eight hours until I'm too lazy to reject your horrific spelling and grammar advice.)


The LORs are priceless. I really hope that Ms. Schumacher (or is it professor?) has used these in her real life. The one for the plagiarist made my year. The "I'm writing this letter of rec b/c I was asked to" letters are real art.


And all the while, the advisee is not getting responses from the most prized literary residency, but Jay/Jason never gives up, working his way down the literary line to the bitter end and moving on to...I can't spoil it. You can read this novel - it's 53 minutes of belly-laughing funny.


Then Julie Schumacher tricked me for the last 7, maybe 8, minutes. I wanted to laugh raucously at you silly English professor types with your wit and sharp knives for anyone who crosses you, but this novel -- specifically Professor Jason Fitger -- got really serious and full of heart and even honest (not extremely honest, but much more honest than I expected.) This novel is like a perfect dark chocolate truffle wrapped in a Hershey's label. You think it's going to be just sweet, but there's a richness that you never could have expected given the wrapping.

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text 2016-08-02 01:28
July Reading Rehash
As Death Draws Near - Anna Lee Huber
The Curse of Tenth Grave - Darynda Jones
Design for Dying - Renee Patrick
A Bed of Scorpions - Judith Flanders
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher
Stephen Fry's Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music - Tim Lihoreau,Stephen Fry

Even accounting for a handful of short books and one comic, I had a very good month at 24 books read in July.


I had one 5-star read this month: As Death Draws Near - Anna Lee Huber  


and four 4.5-star reads:

The Curse of Tenth Grave - Darynda Jones 

Design for Dying - Renee Patrick 

A Bed of Scorpions - Judith Flanders 

Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher 


I didn't rate anything this month below three stars, but my least favourite book this month was Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer and my biggest disappointment was How Not to Be A Dick.  Both because personal expectations interfered with reality, not because the books lacked merit.


Most of my reading in May and June was heavy on non-fiction, but this month I've read very little.  This is mainly due to the density of the one non-fiction I did get through: Stephen Fry's Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music; an excellent, informative read that is quite slow going in spite of the constant stream of humour.


Hope everyone is pleased with their July reading and may all your August books be ace!  :)

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text 2016-07-22 10:39
Book Haul - July 22nd
Hitler's Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis, and the Looting of Europe's Treasures - Susan Ronald
Lowcountry Book Club - Susan M. Boyer
Magic Stars - Ilona Andrews
Take the Monkey and Run - Laura Morrigan
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher
A Dark and Stormy Murder - Julia Buckley
Dead End Street - Sheila Connolly

My postal haul - mostly pre-orders with a couple of books recommended by BL friends mixed in.  I've already finished and loved one, Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher.  There are so many good ones here it's hard not to blow off my TBR and just start reading these (which of course I'll end up doing).


Total new books: 7

Total read books this week: 6

Total physical TBR: 225


Hope everyone has a great weekend and good luck to everyone participating in the readathon!

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review 2016-07-22 10:14
Dear Committee Members
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels.


In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.


If you don't like your novels in epistolary form, skip right past this one - it's a series of letters only from the MC, written over the course of a year, so no dialogue.  


If you do like the narrative form, find dry wit and sarcasm hilarious, and have ever spent any amount of time in a university, I recommend this one.  It took me a few dozen pages to work out who the main characters are, but the biting humour was worth it.


A bonus half star for surprising me; I spent 3/4 of the book trying to decide if Jason Fitger was more of a man-child, a pompous ass, or a passionate and compassionate advocate for his students. I wasn't expecting much more depth from the book that what I'd gotten so far.  Then the last 25% gave me pause because at the end Schumacher showed me his humanity and left me feeling like someone snuck kale into my berry smoothie.  


A quick, hilarious read with a little something to tug at you in the end.  


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