Books

A Boy, a Dog, a Gang of Peanuts, and the Meaning of Life

For all the Charlie Browns in the world, Library of America has published The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life.

The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life
Andrew Blauner, Editor

Library of America

October 2019

Other

Where would we be without Charles Schulz' Peanuts?

What would our notion of America be and how would it be different if Peanuts never existed? How would children learn to reconcile their emotional states with an often unfair world around them? If Charlie Brown and the Gang never came into being, what would American culture look like?

Don't dwell on those questions too long, you may discover a creeping existential dread that darkens your psyche. Breathe in deep, exhale; Peanuts is alive and well and in no danger of being lost in the annals of American history.

Good thing, too, because Peanuts is much more than a 50-year slice of American popular culture. Peanuts is as indelible to post-WWII American history as rock 'n' roll and Robert Frost, the only relic with a rare, cross-generational appeal. Volumes could be written about each minuscule aspect of Schulz' art, his characters, and his endearing storylines, but for now, Library of America and editor Andrew Blauner offer us a single, rewarding volume on the topic of Peanuts. Thirty-three writers and artists wax eloquent and often poetic in the pages of The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life. The book is, quite simply, a necessary and important work, a text that gives Peanuts a proper dissection and adds to the pleasure of the original source material.

Somber and earnest yet often downright silly in tone, Peanuts was one of the first comics to imbue cartoon children with heart-wrenching emotions before disseminating those emotions outward with precision and clarity at a pace of three or four panels. In Peanuts, children are the primary devices for storytelling, therefore it is completely necessary that The Peanuts Papers remain faithful to the comic strips' childlike candor. It does just this, but it also captures the raw emotions of childhood in each piece—or, as Joe Queenan notes in his appropriately-titled essay, "Why I Love Peanuts", "The world of Peanuts was hermetically sealed, in the way that children at play have always wanted their cosmos hermetically sealed."

Queenan and an assortment of some of the most popular writers and artists in the world share insights and revelations of varying degree with such ease that, as a reader, you'd be foolish not to sift through the text with pen or highlighter in hand. There are topical essays for everyone and more than enough for the casual reader to absorb with pleasure. Yet, the world of Peanuts goes beyond casual reading. We could spend twice the amount of time Schulz did expounding upon Charlie Brown's neuroses and never come close to reaching the end. But that doesn't stop contributors from Ira Glass to Ann Patchett, Maxine Hong Kingston to Ivan Brunetti, and cartoonists Chris Ware and Seth, among others, from digging deeper into the Peanuts world of childhood.

The writers explore Peanuts from every angle and cover a great deal of literary ground in the process. Presented in five sections, the collection is split between poetic rumination, such as Nicole Rudick's "A Space for Thinking" and Kevin Powell's "What Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Peanuts Mean to Me"; character studies such as Sarah Boxer's "The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy"' and heartbreakingly true stories from Jonathan Franzen and Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. The joy of reading The Peanuts Papers comes in a rush once you realize just how universal their experiences with these characters are. Chuck Klosterman's observations on Charlie Brown are eerily similar to my own; David Hadju's brief history on the influences of Peanuts might have otherwise been forgotten; and Janice Shapiro's illustrated contribution encapsulates the dark, confusing tunnels of childish emotions and first crushes.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of The Peanuts Papers is the breadth of coverage. Fans of Vince Guaraldi's jazz soundtrack, the multiple television specials, and the original comic strip will all find at least one essay (but probably two) to savor. Gerard Early's exploration of how jazz, Peanuts, and childhood intersect its revelatory to read but I've always gravitated toward the inherent melancholia in the jazz score of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Melancholia is a good state to reside in when reading Peanuts Papers, as most of the essays live in the world of depression surrounded by a general lack of color. But there's joy inside those black and white panels and each missed football kick is a cause for celebration amongst this gang of artists and writers.

A true standout among the pack is one of two poems in the collection: Jill Bialosky's "A Childhood in Four Acts".

My poetic sensibilities are long gone, but Bialosky dug them up and shined them up for me. Her verses are sparse and stunning, hitting squarely where nostalgia and Peanuts intersect and they come ready to strip away the thin layers of ego to expose the emotional core underneath. Her poem resonates loudly across my heart, especially the final stanza regarding Charlie Brown's choice of one, sad little Christmas tree:

Does compassion make him choose the saddest
are we all bound by our peculiar fate, minor victories and wish for ballast
trimmed with one red bulb
from Snoopy's decorated doghouse,
the branch with barely a needle left
droops to the ground and falls over.

Bialosky exposes what we knew all long: Peanuts is poetry in cartoon form. It has grounded our reality so long it's impossible to imagine life without it. For 70 years, Peanuts has been a guidebook for navigating difficult emotions, finding strength in friends, and remembering to appreciate the small moments in life. The Peanuts Papers is a worthy addition to the legacy of Charles M. Schulz and the legacy of American culture.

8
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.