Tag Archives: David Lodge

The Monday Book: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

dear-committee-membersWarning: Do not drink liquids while reading this book. Laughter makes this dangerous.

Schumacher’s novel is written in the form of letters from a beleaguered professor of English to a cast of thousands. Normally I don’t care for epistle fiction–too cut into bitty pieces–but this one has a narrative arc! And (spoiler alert) a poignant ending. I laughed until I cried.

The attention to detail in these funny, zippy, ripped-from-reality letters is so perfect. I loved the subtleties of how the prof (Jason Fitger) signs each letter, the understated sarcasm interspersed with blow-ups so honest no one in real life has ever done them–but we’ve all fantasized. Oh, how we’ve fantasized.

Among other places, Jason writes letters to assorted entry level places his students will go to work–funny in itself if you were an English major. Food service. Retail. Computer places.

My favorite was his letter for a girl who’d received an F for plagiarism. I’m not quoting it here, because you have to read it in context. But I taught that girl he describes so perfectly – five or six times, under different names in different years. Schumacher’s depiction is flawless.

Here instead is a letter in its entirety:

“October 16, 2009 Avengers Paintball, Inc. 1778 Industrial Blvd. Lakeville, MN 55044 Esteemed Avengers, This letter recommends Mr. Allen Trent for a position at your paintball emporium. Mr. Trent received a C– in my expository writing class last spring, which—given my newly streamlined and increasingly generous grading criteria—is quite the accomplishment. His final project consisted of a ten-page autobiographical essay on the topic of his own rageful impulses and his (often futile) attempts to control them. He cited his dentist and his roommate as primary sources. Consider this missive a testament to Mr. Trent’s preparedness for the work your place of business undoubtedly has in store. Hoping to maintain a distance of at least one hundred yards, Jason T. Fitger Professor of Creative Writing and English Payne University (“Teach ’til It Hurts”)”

Now go read the book. If you’re not in Academia, it’s still funny. If you are, it’s funnier than life. And good therapy.

 

 

http://www.julieschumacher.com/writing/novels/dear-committee-members/

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The Monday Book: The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

book-mathematiciansshiva-rojstaczer-cvr-200So if David Lodge were Jewish….

This is a comedy of errors and misfits that isn’t all that funny, but it runs through so many kinds of worlds in its multi-layered unfunniness that sometimes it is. It’s not the way he writes the book but what he writes about that kept me going. On one level it’s about a guy who doesn’t really like his mother although he’s required to love AND admire her because she’s a brilliant mathematician. On another level it’s about what humans want (yes, that broad) and what it means to be in survival mode versus conquer mode. And on another level it’s just plain mean fun about math geeks.

It wasn’t a “can’t put it down” but it was an enjoyable bedtime read. The characters are well-drawn, and we all know I’m a sucker for those. If some of the humorous antics were predictable, well, it was still funny.

The plot premise is that Rachela, the mom who dies at the beginning of the book, has solved an unsolvable math problem, but hidden her papers out of pique. Enter Three Academic Stooges trying to pry up her floorboards.

This isn’t so much dark humor as grey, and if you like math, it’s a bit weak in that department. But if you like comedies of human errors and foibles, it’s fun.

3.14159265359 stars? :]

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