Category Archives: publishing

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.

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Snowed Into a Bookstore

snow roadWhen the all-powerful “They” announced it would start snowing Thursday night and not stop until Saturday evening, I went into supply overdrive. Since I was in Richmond doing the annual advocacy for rural meetings, while I careened down I-81, Our Good Chef Kelley was drafted into buying:

  1. two boxes of wine (don’t knock it until you’ve tried the Malbec)
  2. Three bags grain free cat food, two 32-packs can boxes, and some tins of Ol’ Roy (yes, the dogs are hard done by)
  3. chocolate – dark for Jack, milk for me. Easier on the marriage that way

The rest we could take care of for ourselves. Jack stepped across the street to the liquor store and laid in two bottles of the cheap and one of the finest. You know, just in case company came by. (And no, we didn’t buy this house because it was across the street from the liquor store, but it’s worked out well.)

Then we started trolling the bookstore shelves. For me, eight of the new arrivals I’d not handled coming in, ranging from historic fiction to a couple of memoirs to a cheap romance and one history volume. Plus a couple of recorded books, so I could get some crocheting done.

Jack pulled Scottish politics, a couple of conspiracy theory books on assorted points in history (pick one) and – wonder of wonders – a sci fi. When I pointed that out to him, he frowned, “1663 by Dave Weber is fiction? Never mind, then.” He put it back.

Oh well.

And when we woke up Friday morning, snowpocalypse in full fall, we checked our emails, posted our Facebook cats, put on another pot of coffee, and settled in to enjoy the treasure trove.

Yes, being snowed into a bookstore is exactly what it’s cracked up to be.

Go by, mad world.


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The Monday Book: OUT OF THE WOODS by Chris Offutt

I like Offutt’s writing. He was “discovered” by doing the Charlaine Harris teleplays for her vampire series going onto TV, but he wrote several “educated backwoods guy/fish out of water” memoirs before that, and some fiction.

Out of the Woods is some of his early work, and while you can see how his use of language has improved since, these stories are still tight, terse, compact and hard. Sorta like that series on TV, “Hell on Wheels” – no mercy, just character driving plot.

Except in Offutt’s stories here, the mountain backwoods communities of Appalachia may be the driving character in many cases. In the title story of the collection, a man travels out to Nebraska to pick up his brother-in-law, and the whole narrative is pretty much read between the lines of what people are saying and doing. I love writing like that, where the story is told as much as by what’s not said as by what is.

My favorite is “Barred Owl,” which smacks of autobiography, and is a character sketch. As we all know I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters. With amazing economy of words, Offutt depicts a guy who’s half in, half out of the world he lives in, so finely-drawn he could be one of the owl feathers that decorates his cabin. Every little point and feathery piece is there.

Offut might not be for everyone. Frankly, not much happens in these stories. They’re slow, lazy, calm, and all the action is underneath the words. Kind of like a mountain brook – you have no idea how fast or deep the water is until you step into it, and by then it might be too late. Offut’s writing sneaks up on you.


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Never Try to Recreate a Great Party….

Back in the mid 1990s when I was still working as a college HoD, I managed a number of European Union funded environmental education programs. They were all trans-national in nature, so we worked with a number of partners in other European countries. Each project lasted around four years and there were usually one or two conferences each year hosted by different partners.


On one occasion The Dublin Institute of Technology was the host and I found myself being taken to all sorts of interesting places including a visit to the ‘Green Building’ in the city center Temple area. The building had just been completed, was pristine and featured lots of cutting edge ideas focusing on energy conservation in particular but also on air quality and the use of re-cycled materials. I was so impressed with the place that I have often spoken about it to people over the years since first seeing it.


Finding myself in Dublin this week for the first time since that conference in the 90s, I was keen to go back and see the ‘Green Building’ again and show it to Wendy and our friends David and Susan (the friends we’re vacationing with here.)bldg 2


Trying to establish exactly where it was located was hard as there was hardly any reference to it on the internet – puzzling – – –building 3


We finally found that it was less than ten minutes walk from our hotel and we set off with high expectations this morning. Alas I was sadly disappointed!


The door was locked and the outside of the building was grimy and neglected. As we stood outside the door opened and a man came out who, it turned out, lived in one of the apartments on the upper floors. Once he knew what our interest was he said it would be fine to go in. Oh dear! The once magnificent full height atrium that had housed magnificent gigantic giant leaved rubber plants employed to convert Co2 into Oxygen was also grimy and neglected with just the stumps of the plants to be seen. The more we looked around the more this story was repeated. I expected at least a plaque somewhere obvious telling people the building’s history and all the innovative ideas incorporated within it’s design. The way everything was computer modeled ahead of time, the things that worked exactly as designed and – – maybe the things that didn’t! But there was nothing, nada, zilch, nary a scribbled note.stairs


I felt sad and depressed and I wonder what the team of architects, designers, artisans and artists that created such a glorious building must think of the way it’s been treated.

And I suppose I felt a twinge for us all – that every good intention ends, every great plan has a jumping off point, every “wave of the future” returns to shore someday. Sad, that this one ended so badly, when it held such promise. A warning to us all, perhaps, as the New Year brings promises to keep.


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The Monday Book: THE LONG WALK by Slawomir Rawicz

the long walkI read this book as a child and fell in love with the whole concept of (a) adventure memoirs (b) international relations and (c) cultural clashes. Way too young to be reading it at the time, I missed a lot of the main points of the book. For instance, I didn’t know what a gulag was. Which kinda limits what one can get from this memoir.

Because the story is of seven men who escape from a Siberian prison camp and walk to India over the course of a year. Along the way they meet others who travel alongside awhile, including a teenaged girl who escaped from a work camp, and is one of four walkers who dies along the route. The group is attempting to get outside Soviet influenced areas to a place where they will not be returned to a prison. The things they deal with, coupled with the internal relationships within the group, made the book powerful.

But now, rereading it because a (rather mediocre) film was made of the book, I find that the whole memoir is shrouded in controversy. It seems very likely that the person who is telling the story, Rawicz, the de facto leader of the group, actually took someone else’s story as his own.

That doesn’t change the fact that this is a great read, or that it actually happened – but how does one classify a memoir, told in the first person, ghost written by a journalist working with the storyteller, if the storyteller is actually telling someone else’s story?

I dunno – I just know this is a great read.

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THE MONDAY BOOK: Collections of Nothing – William Davies King

Jack offers the Monday book on Tuesday this week


This is a very weird book!

I started off not believing that the title was what the book was actually about – that it was some kind of metaphor. But, no, this is a book by a guy who collects pure detritus. Things of no value and of no particular interest.

But then it begins to turn into a different kind of book. More of a sad family history that explains how he got to be that ‘collector of nothing’.

I actually found many of the stories in the book really depressing and I have a feeling it was written as a form of therapy. King flies above the story from time to time and comments on his writing and the development of the book, which apparently took a very long time and which he laid aside frequently.

We get the author’s life story, his relationships with his handicapped sister, his parents, his ex wife and newer girlfriends.

So if you are collector and think this might be for you? Definitely not!

If you like memoirs and the vicarious thrill of observing someone else’s problems then is the book for you!

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