December 17, 2014

Dear Committee Members

It’s no secret that I write a ton of letters. If you count all the emails we send on a daily basis, we all engage in immense amounts of correspondence through the year.

With that deluge of correspondence, one of the aspects I struggle with most is salutation and signoff. Often ignored, a solid salutation and warm signoff can say a lot about the send and their relationship with the recipient.

Too often, I succumb to the simple Dear — ” and Regards, Sameer” opening and closings. When more informal, I begin with Hi — ” and close with Smiles, Sameer.” When I’m feeling particularly close and comfy with the recipient, my signoff may use hugs” or love.” Other than that, I don’t deviate much from the norm.

This is perhaps why I was so initially enthralled with Julie Schumacher’s epistolary novel, Dear Committee Members. Telling the story of a disgruntled English professor at a small liberal arts college through a series of recommendation letters that he writes over a few months, Dear Committee Members is not just a masterclass in epistorlary narrative, but in how to write a good letter.

The salutations and signoffs are hilarious, witty, and perfect. (“In sadness but looking to the future,” or Cordially and with a hearty welcome to the madhouse,” are examples that appear early in the book.) Each letter begins and ends unqiuely, and with amusing yet revelatory aplomb. If you’ve ever written or received a letter or email in your life — and let’s be honest, who hasn’t? — you’ll appreciate the skill with which Julie Schumacher crafts each part of the letter.

More fascinating, however, is how Dear Committee Members shows us how our correspondence, when looked at in aggregate over time and recipients, can say so much about who we are and how we see ourselves in context with the people around us.

As someone who sends over 400 letters (and thousands of emails) a year, I often wonder how people see me through my words. All my recipients see a small glimpse of who I am, but what if they could see all my words? How would they see me if their window on my life was opened a little wider?

Julie Schumacher doesn’t just write the perfect salutation and signoff; she writes the perfect epistolary novel. All aspiring novelists, or even just regular correspondents, should pick up Dear Committee Members and relish every word in it.

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