I’m a big fan of the idea of satire, but I find myself reluctant to seek it out. When I heard Julie Schumacher on the Folger Library podcast discussing her latest book, The Shakespeare Requirement, though, my interest was peaked. Before I could pick up that one though, I had to read her first book, Dear Committee Members, a book in letters full of sass and satire and a lot of asides.
Jason Fitger is a professor of English and creative writing at Payne University, a middling-university, nothing special. He had some fame with his first novel and not much after that, and the English department’s graduate program is constantly at risk of losing funding. Also, he gets asks to write A LOT of letters of recommendation, and that’s what this book is full of: a year’s worth of letters. There are positive letters of recommendaiton, negative ones, one’s that are extremely passive aggressive (to his wife, or his former lover, no less), and ones that are down right begging for help with a fledgling graduate student whose novel, a modernization of Bartleby the Scrivener, needs a home. The letters are funny and often rambling and you get a really good sense for who Jason Fitger is: a middle-aged guy who takes no shit anymore, who loves his department and expects a little better for his students than jobs at McDonalds, but also still clings to his own past fame.
I didn’t know much about this book, even though I listened to Schumacher talk about the sequel. I certainly didn’t realize it was an epistolary novel, and though I was surprised, I ultimately enjoyed it. It’s short, only around 180 pages, so it works well. Now, I’m looking forward to the sequel, The Shakespeare Requirement, where Fitger must convince the department to maintain Shakespeare as a requirement for graduation, something I actually fought for during my undergraduate career.