by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): In a word: Hilarious!

This is a witty, snarky, and comical skewering of modern-day college English departments, many of which are suffering from a lack of allocated funding from their universities as the number of English majors declines in favor of STEM majors. If you were an English major or have taught English at the collegiate level, treat yourself to this book, the first in a trilogy.

Written by Julie Schumacher, it is an epistolary novel, which I have to say made me reluctant to read it. I was so wrong to be concerned. The entire book is a series of letters of recommendation written over one year—September 2009 to August 2010—by the disgruntled and cantankerous Jason T. Fitger, a professor of creative writing and English at the fictional Payne University located somewhere in the Midwest. A second-tier school, but a first-rate story.

Schumacher is incredibly creative in carrying a novel plot (well, sort of a plot) throughout these letters, which range from recommendations for graduate school and retreat-style writing seminars to such employers as Avengers Paintball, Catfish Catering, Gropp’s Liquor Lounge and Winemart, and Flanders Nut House—the kind of jobs English majors are forced to take if they skip grad school.

This is what makes it so much fun: Some of the letters are not only recommendations, but also a kind of personal diary and vengeful confessions that are improper at best and wildly inappropriate at worst. Fitger sometimes discusses in these letters of recommendation his sexual liaisons with various women, the torment of his divorce, and the physical state of the English department as it is engulfed in fumes, possibly toxic smoke, and construction dust while the economics department one floor above is lavishly renovated. Meanwhile, Fitger is obsessed with one student in particular, thinking he may be the next literary novelist wunderkind. He repeatedly tries to get the kid funding and placement and repeatedly fails. It doesn’t sound funny, but in Schumacher’s hands, I was laughing out loud—until suddenly I wasn’t.

As the academic year progresses, Fitger’s letters become more and more unhinged, revealing his dismay, anger, and angst with both the profession in general and his own career in particular as both seemingly spiral into freefall. Still, while he may be sullen and grumpy, he’s got a big heart. He adores literature, teaching, and shaping the next generation of writers—all of which are priceless qualities in an English professor.

The novel won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. It’s a short, quick read that will improve your mood just because it will make you laugh. Winner! Winner!