Thursday, July 24, 2014

Another Display For a Book That's Not Out--Back to School with Julie Schumacher and "Dear Committee Members"

One of the problems we continuously face at Boswell is how to get the word out about events that are books from new authors that don't have a local family and friends base. Now many publishers wouldn't probably tour these authors, equally wary of turnout, but when the author lives in Chicago, Madison, or even surrounding states (Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, and downstate Illinois would account for the bulk), it sometimes makes sense for the publisher to try to send the author on the road and see how it goes, especially when bookstores start showing the book some love.

In the case of Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher, the love is definitely out there from booksellers. We have three great staff recs, which I'll list here. Reading all three, you'll definitely get a feel for the book.

First came Jen Steele's rec: "Jason Fitger, professor of creative writing at Payne University, is the go-to guy if you want honest, snarky, passive-aggressive letters of recommendation. He has no problem writing about his ex-wife, the university's "golden" child: the economics department, or the construction disrupting his office, all in a letter of recommendation for your prospective employer to read. Dear Committee Members had me laughing out loud, the perfect companion for an afternoon of reading."

Mel Morrow's followed up soon behind: "Some say that every joke begins with a kernel of truth. So it is for Jason Fitger, protagonist of Dear Committee Members, the latest novel by University of Minnesota creative writing professor Julie Schumacher. Through his many, varied letters of recommendation, readers learn what irks Fitger as he trundles his way through tenure in the Department of English at Payne University. Just as Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry captured a bookstore owner's transformation from solitary curmudgeon to romantic hero, Dear Committee Members tracks the plodding rise of Fitger's star from infamous letter-obsessed recluse to English Department Chair: Dear Committee Members is the A. J. Fikry of the Ivory Tower. It is at once hilarious and familiar, illustrating in an utterly humane way some of the problems that plague contemporary campuses. I am eager to send copies to my tenured friends, accompanied by an overlong letter of recommendation (of course!)."

And they convinced me to give it a try: "I write this recommendation for Julie Schumacher’s new novel, which is coming out at the end of August. Schumacher, whose novel The Body Is Water, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, has pulled off a literary hat trick. While keeping to a variation of the epistolary form, she’s created a powerful character in beleaguered English professor Jason T. Fitger, woven a plot that documents his rise and fall and possible redemption, and crafted a series of zinger missives that capture all the craziness of the modern academic world. You or any reader will be fortunate to place a copy of Dear Committee Members on your bookshelf, physical or otherwise. I remain,Daniel Goldin, Boswell Book Company."

And of course it was our rep Jason Gobble who got us to read it in the first place, but I'm sure that's not surprising to folks who pay attention to these things.

So what we decided to do was to make Dear Committee Members the cornerstone of our back-to-school displays, much the way this year's Graduates in Wonderland became the face of our graduation displays or last year's Dad is Fat was our Father's Day focus. First up was a display table centered on academic novels with Mel's rec. Then later we'll feature some lunch bags and such with a rec from Jen.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach (Daniel)

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion (Daniel)

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (Sharon)

An Academic Question, by Barbara Pym (Daniel)

Stoner, by John Williams (Jane)

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt (Sharon)

Lucky Jim, by Martin Amis

Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

The Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon

White Noise, by Don Delillo (Daniel)

Blue Angel, by Francine Prose (Amie)

The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (we looked at some other lists for a few of these)

I wanted to include a David Lodge book, but his more recent titles veer from his campus comedies of yore. The idea is not just to get browsers to pay attention, but to remind booksellers to talk about it too. We'll see how it goes. And just one piece of gift advice; the next time an academic complains about the politics of their job, think of it as a cry for help, a cry for Dear Committee Members.

1 comment:

Books on the Table said...

Daniel, I loved Dear Committee Members -- just sent my ARC to my sister, who is a college professor. Can't wait for her take on it.