🎧 Jason Fitger Series by Julie Schumacher #JulieSchumacher #RobertsonDean @PRHAudio #LoveAudiobooks @4saintjude

Posted October 20, 2023 by KC in Book Review / 2 Comments

 

 

🎧 Jason Fitger Series by Julie Schumacher #JulieSchumacher #RobertsonDean @PRHAudio #LoveAudiobooks @4saintjudeDear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Narrator: Robertson Dean
Series: Jason Fitger #1
Published by Penguin Audio on August 19, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Humor
Length: 3 hours, 55 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can't catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville's Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.

The English Experience by Julie Schumacher popped up in my library recommendations.  The funny synopsis and snappy cover art were reason enough to add it to my TBR list.  Upon further investigation, I found it was the third book in the Jason Fitger series; so naturally I had to begin at the beginning with Dear Committee Members, the first installment in the trilogy.  Right from the start, there were some obstacles to me reading the book, most of which are my own quirks and preferences.  First off, Dear Committee Members is very short.  Novella short.  I checked multiple sources to make sure it was not an abridged copy; but indeed, it is only around four hours of listening time.  I decided that 4 hours was worth it for me to keep to the reading order of the series (I really wanted to read book 3) and I began listening.

About 15 minutes in, I wondered if this was just a really long introduction or perhaps preface information.  About 30 minutes in, I thought about the title (Dear Committee Members) and put two and two together:  the book is written entirely in the epistolary format.  Reading a print copy of a book entire in letters is hard enough, but listening to one seemed like it would be tedious and difficult to follow.  However in the case of Dear Committee Members, it really works.  It’s actually funny and brilliant and I am so glad I didn’t let my normal reading preferences get in the way of my actually listening to this book.

Creative writing professor and resident curmudgeon, Jason Fitger is constantly being tapped by colleagues and students for letters of recommendation.  Each letter is less of an endorsement and more like Professor Fitger’s platform to wax philosophical or complain about nearly everything in his life; work, politics, romance.  Julie Schumacher successfully carries the plot of the book through a series of seemingly unconnected letters.  Essentially, you have a lonely middle-aged man coming to terms with where his life-choices have left him personally while fighting professionally to keep the humanities alive in higher education against the threat of more profitable areas of study.

As a character, Fitger doesn’t come off as the most likeable guy.  He’s arrogant and full of hubris.  It is not surprising he’s where he is at this point in his life; a washed-up writer teaching at a second rate institution.  However, we can see the things that matter most to Fitger by the tone of each letter.  His frustration and envy are apparent any time the evil Economics department is mentioned.  His romantic regrets are spelled out between the lines of a letter asking for funding on behalf of a star student.  His caring and sincerity is clear when he later sets up a scholarship in a late student’s honor.  The letters reveal that while he is still a flawed, ornery human being, he cares deeply about those around him.


🎧 Jason Fitger Series by Julie Schumacher #JulieSchumacher #RobertsonDean @PRHAudio #LoveAudiobooks @4saintjudeThe Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher
Narrator: Julie Schumacher
Series: Jason Fitger #2
Published by Penguin Audio on August 14, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Humor
Length: 9 hours, 1 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes aim against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she's not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English's meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger's attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.

The Shakespeare Requirement didn’t present any quirks in style or format that might give me pause.  It picks up where Dear Committee Member ends, with Jay Fitger now head of the English Department (a position he previously mocked and disparaged) at the aptly named Payne University.  This installment of the series could best be described as a satirical depiction of life in academia in a small liberal arts college.  I’ve never worked in this field; however I am sure that this must ring true for anyone who has (much as I used to get the gist of every Dilbert cartoon).  The story is told from an expanded cast of quirky characters that range from a wide-eyed ingénue to the misanthropic egoist with a grounding department secretary that doesn’t take crap from anyone, including her new department chair. There is still the looming Economics’ department whose agenda threatens the fate of the Humanities at Payne.  This along with the daily frustrations faced by Professor Fitger running his department result in a story with equal amounts of sincerity and hilarity.

I came to love Professor Fitger in Dear Committee Members and The Shakespeare Requirement allowed me to get to know him better.  It is clear he cares deeply for the Humanities; even while admitting there is a limit to his own talent and ability to contribute.  I still want to shake him and point out when he’s behaving like a self-absorbed twit, but for the most part I want to encourage him to keep fighting for the English Department, because for every ten apathetic undergrads, there is one that is truly engaged to whom he’ll be able to pass the torch.


🎧 Jason Fitger Series by Julie Schumacher #JulieSchumacher #RobertsonDean @PRHAudio #LoveAudiobooks @4saintjudeThe English Experience by Julie Schumacher
Narrator: Julie Schumacher
Series: Jason Fitger #3
Published by Penguin Audio on August 15, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Humor
Length: 6 hours, 9 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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Jason Fitger may be the last faculty member the dean wants for the job, but he’s the only professor available to chaperone Payne University’s annual “ Abroad” (he has long been on the record objecting to the absurd and gratuitous colon between the words) occurring during the three weeks of winter term. Among his charges are a claustrophobe with a juvenile detention record, a student who erroneously believes he is headed for the Caribbean, a pair of unreconciled lovers, a set of undifferentiated twins, and one young woman who has never been away from her cat before.

Through a sea of troubles—personal, institutional, and international—the gimlet-eyed, acid-tongued Fitger strives to navigate safe passage for all concerned, revealing much about the essential need for human connection and the sometimes surprising places in which it is found.

The beleaguered Professor Fitger is back and chaperoning a group of undergrads on a trip to England for three weeks.  As his ex-wife points out, he’s not the most nurturing of people (“I have to be nurturing?”) but he’s the only faculty member available and he was kindly asked (read blackmailed) to take on the job.  It is a disparate group of individuals that sets out for London on Payne’s annual “Experience:  Abroad” that can’t possible come together as a cohesive unit… or can they?

Professor Fitger is instantly unpopular when he requires each student to write a 500 word essay describing an experience at the end of each day.  Aside from the alarming grammar and self-centered remarks, these essays reveal more about the student’s characters than anything else.  I found some of the observations cringe-worthy.  As a former exchange student, I always wanted to blend in with the locals and not appear to be so American.  These students seem completely unconcerned with how they represent the US in a foreign country.  In fact, they seem so disinterested in the actual historical and cultural significance of being in a foreign country it was a little frightening.  I hope it was more for comedic value rather than a true representation of American youth, but I know that hope might be in vain.  However, I also found that the student essays and the excerpts from their applications reveal a single-mindedness and determination to pursue their goals.  It was easier to like them seeing how they maintained their sense of purpose and individuality (well, duality in the case of the identical twins).

While The English Experience is still full of humor, it is not as sardonic as the prior two installments in the series.  It is more of a bumbling, bittersweet adventure.  The students make life-long connections in the face of adversity and the cracks in Fitger’s crusty exterior open to reveal his battered but good heart.  The story was a great way to wrap up the entire series.

 

Narration:

Dear Committee Members is narrated by Robertson Dean.  He did a fantastic job, especially given the format.  His voice gave gravitas to Fitger’s Character without being overly ponderous.  I think this book could be enjoyed equally in audio or on the page.  I listened to this book at 1.10x

The author reads the The Shakespeare Requirement and The English Experience.  I enjoyed her clear, measured approach to the characters and I think she’d make an excellent narrator for other works as well.  The benefit to the author reading the story is that she is able to impart emotion and emphasis in the narration where it was intended.  I listened to this audiobook at 1.25x.

Listen to the clip: HERE

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Posted October 20, 2023 by KC in Book Review / 2 Comments


2 responses to “🎧 Jason Fitger Series by Julie Schumacher