Dear Committee Members

19288259Dear Committee Members: A Novel* by Julie Schumacher (website, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Epistolary; literary fiction

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robertson Dean

Source: public library

Length: 03:55:00

Published by: Random House Audio (8/19/14)

In this fictional collection of letters of recommendation and various other correspondences from beleaguered professor of creative writing Jason Fitger, readers are given a hilarious and rather accurate insight into traditional academia. Fitger’s acerbic wit is a delight, and is frankly necessary at times to show the ludicrousness of various aspects to academic life. The story follows, loosely, the efforts of one of Fitger’s graduate students to find and be awarded with grants, scholarships, fellowships, random jobs, and other means by which he can support himself while finishing a novel he had begun prior to his graduate work, as seen from the point of view of Fitger and his correspondence. It is by turns riotously funny, deeply introspective, and sometimes wistful or regretful. 

As I listened to this, it made me simultaneously an iota relieved not to have to deal with these kinds of academic Gordian knots, and also sad that I didn’t complete a PhD and get to partake in the adventure. Maybe I am not too old yet to do so. In any case, this book made me literally howl with laughter. I’m sure my fellow commuters who might have seen me must have thought I was insane, finally having come to the end of my rope because of rush hour traffic. I’m just glad I didn’t crash my car in the process. 

To anyone who loves academia or who is considering a career in higher academics, you absolutely must read this book, or listen to the audio version, which is narrated by a man with a voice like Kelsey Grammar/Frasier Crane. Robertson Dean is a perfect choice of narrator for this; he gives an excellent performance and brings to life the depths of Fitger’s disdain for a multitude of people and actions. 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Belatedly, it occurs to me that some members of your HR committee, a few skeptical souls, may be clutching a double strand of worry beads and wondering aloud about the practicality or usefulness of a degree in English rather than, let’s say, computers. Be reassured: the literature student has learned to enquire, to question, to interpret, to critique, to compare, to research, to argue, to sift, to analyze, to shape, to express. His intellect can be put to broad use. The computer major, by contrast, is a technician, a plumber clutching a single, albeit shiny, box of tools. 
  • Literature has served me faithfully, no pun intended, as an ersatz religion and I would wager that the pursuit of the ineffable via aesthetics in various forms has saved as many foundering souls as a belief in God. 
  • Such are the communication skills of the up and coming generation. They post drunken photos of themselves at parties, they share statuses, they emit tweets, and send all sorts of intimate pronouncements into the void, but they are incapable of returning a simple phone call.

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Get Well Soon

34443962Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them* by Jennifer Wright

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Source: my own collection

Length: 07:44:00

Publisher: Audible Studios

Year: 2017

Get Well Soon is all a brief overview of several of the worst/ scariest/ grossest diseases in recorded history. Each chapter deals with one disease or condition and written with what is obviously a shit ton of research to back it up. Also, lots of gallows humor and pop references, to keep you entertained.

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me that I LOVED this book. I mean, I know am I morbidly obsessed with the bubonic plague. Seriously. I’ll read anything about the plague. But this book? It was hilarious! I get that a book about horrific diseases shouldn’t, maybe, be classified as “hilarious,” but too bad. If you can’t laugh inappropriately at things, then I am not the person for you to hang out with. We won’t make good friends. This is one of my favorite nonfiction books ever. The writing is engaging, not sophomoric as one wet-blanket reviewer suggested. It is fun, and the use of pop culture references, even older ones, keeps readers reading. Given the gnat-like attention span many people have now (thanks, social media), keeping their attention focused is a good thing. It helps people learn. Learning is fun. I learned that smallpox is hemorrhagic. And that “boo-boo” likely derives from “bubo,” though I already knew not to kiss a bubo to make it better. I teach fairy tales and folklore, so I found the connections to those stories and encephalitis lethargica to be fascinating. Also, this should be required reading for all anti-vaxxers.

I listened to this on audio book, and I have to say the narrator was not my favorite. She had this weird way of starting a sentence sounding sort of nasaly/ raspy, like Kate Mulgrew, and then ending the sentence in a normal tone. It was worse when she was quoting someone. It was annoying AF. But the content of the book itself was so good that I did my best to ignore the narrator’s voice.

Seriously, go read this. You won’t regret it.

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