“One theory here: the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and, weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us. Let the academic year begin!”

dear-committee-members-coverShowing our good taste and our knack for predicting literary accolades, the Brown Baggers discussed Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members shortly after it won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Notably, Schumacher was the first woman to win the award. The impressive field of nominees also included Roz Chast and Annabelle Gurwitch.

The Thurber Prize judges (I hesitate to call them a committee!) clearly did not err in their decision, as all the Brown Baggers agreed that this was a very funny novel. A portion of the group found the epistolary style bordered on tedious, but felt the short length of the book prevented it from interfering too much with their enjoyment. Despite those misgivings, many readers were still impressed that Schumacher could tell such a fleshed out story through one-sided correspondence.

Bartleby the Scrivener, a Melville story that kept recurring in the plot, was an especially apt allusion. Much like a scrivener repetitively copies documents, Jason Fitger slogs repeatedly through recommendation letters and other related red-tape obstacles with a wry sense of humor. Living in Charlottesville, many of the members are affiliated with the University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College and could offer unique insight into the novel. Many admitted that this painted a grim but true portrait of academia. Student interaction can often take a backseat to publishing articles, applying for grants, and other duties that push the core of teaching aside. Fitger attacks many of these challenges with his sardonic humor. As the novel reached its conclusion, though, many Brown Baggers could see that Fitger did deeply care about people in his life, especially certain students. It was a heartening note to end on, but managed to avoid cheap sentimentality that could have taken the bite from Schumacher’s wit.    

More Information: 

Check out other works by Schumacher for teens and adults in the JMRL catalog.

Visit the author’s official website.

Read more about Schumacher’s selection for the Thurber Prize on their website and in this article from the Guardian. 

Looking for a readalike? Try one of these titles or ask for a recommendation through JMRL’s What Do I Read Next? service.

Moo by Jane Smiley
Straight Man by Richard Russo
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
Solar by Ian McEwan
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, November 19 at noon to discuss Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

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