Tuesday, April 28, 2009

10 Books A Day: #9

Today's ten books are all part of one set. So instead of individually writing out the long repetitive name of each volume (which is virtually the same, except for dates) I'll write the overall title, then list the years and the writers of the introductions for each. These are:

The Complete Peanuts: The Definitive Collection Of Charles M. Schulz's Comic Strip Masterpiece...Charles M. Schulz...Fantagraphics

I. 1950-1952, Garrison Keillor

II. 1953-1954, Walter Cronkite

III. 1955-1956, Matt Groening

IV. 1957-1958, Jonathan Franzen

V. 1959-1960, Whoopi Goldberg

VI. 1961-1962, Diana Krall

VII. 1963-1964, Bill Melendez

VIII. 1965-1966, Hal Hartley

IX. 1967-1968, John Waters

X. 1969-1970, Mo Willems

These are great books. Every single strip, dailies and Sundays, are all gathered here for the first time. You get to see strips that were excluded from anthologies before for being too topical; the ephemeral nature of the joke made being based not on universal themes but on some passing happening makes it something of a social artifact if not a classic observation, and that makes it of extra interest to me. You watch Schulz's evolving style, you walk his neighborhoods of long sidewalks, little trees, and board fences. You watch the Peanuts gang as new characters are introduced, grow, and develop; you watch as some fade away. I learned that the two little identical girls in the Christmas special that I always wondered about were 3 and 4, 5's sisters, rather obscure characters that came and went but are now forever immortalized each holiday season.

I think it would be difficult to explain to the present generation just how popular Peanuts was. Schulz and the strip have been gone for almost nine years now, except for re-runs run in newspapers and the yearly TV specials, media which nowhere have the same impact they once did. But at the time I began reading Peanuts it was at its greatest popularity. The catalog page from 1971 reproduced above gives some small idea of what it was like. Peanuts was loved by hippies and conservatives alike; its gentle humane philosophy crossed boundaries. I thought at the time that he was one of the best and wisest men alive.

I learned later about the darker side of Schulz, his divorce (scandalous to us at the time) and his depression. But I have come to realize that it was his persistence in the face of this darkness that makes his achievement all the more remarkable. It is that quality in Charlie Brown, always losing, but never defeated, picking himself up, dusting himself off, and "ready for more punishment" facing the next day that makes him, in the final analysis, a hero.

And I need all the heroes I can get.


AlanDP said...


I began learning to read when I was four years old, and I did most of my "practice reading" with a stack of old Peanuts paperbacks that belonged to my mother. I essentially learned to read with Peanuts.

My mother always used to tell me to "look it up" when I asked her what some word meant. I'll never forget how, when Charlie Brown said, "Define 'never'," I had to look up "define." Probably my first experience with irony.

John said...

He had a remarkable ability to boil down great truths and insights into four panels with a laugh at the end. I always thought that I wanted to grow up to be like Schulz more than any other person. I still believe that I could not have set my sights any higher...