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Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography Paperback – October 7, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The title is "Schulz and Peanuts", but a more accurate title might be "Some Aspects of Schulz and How They Relate to Some Aspects of Peanuts". For an exhaustively researched 600-page book about a man who lived to be 77, Michaelis has written a curiously narrow book. Obviously, there's an incredible amount to cover in Schulz's life (Michaelis' rough draft was almost 1200 pages long and he briefly thought about dividing the book into two volumes), but Michaelis just keeps hitting all the same notes over and over: Schulz was unhappy, Schulz had a chip on his shoulder, Schulz never recovered from his mother's tragic death, Schulz used shyness as an excuse to avoid taking risks, Schulz had dysfunctional relationships with women, and on and on. And for a book about a humorist, there's very little humor in here, although some of the situations Michaelis describes play out like Peanuts strips involving adults. As for the complaints of Schulz's family, I'm obviously not in a position to say what's accurate in the book and what isn't. But I certainly can see where, as Schulz's son Monte has claimed, Michaelis might have ignored facts that went against his thesis. This isn't a Kitty Kelley/Albert Goldman hatchet job bio, but I think Michaelis' approach is a bit misguided.
I found this a somewhat difficult book to get through. Michaelis approaches his biographies like novels. But, in this case, it reads like a first novel by a talented-but-obtuse writer: heavy-handed, full of show-offy prose that ultimately doesn't do much for the story. When he shuts up and sticks to telling the story (Schulz's army years, his early years in California, his final days), it's a brilliant book. When Michaelis decides he's writing a book-length New Yorker essay, then we have problems. I just got the feeling after a while that Michaelis ultimately didn't understand Schulz, and held him to an impossible standard. The "Peanuts" part of the book comes into play with reprints of hundreds of strips that reflect the events of Schulz's life. It's a great idea. So great that Schulz himself already used it (in the 1985 book You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown). While you get a sense of how Schulz converted his life into his art, Michaelis doesn't deal with the strip much beyond that. We only get a few token paragraphs discussing how the strip evolved over time, and notable characters like Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Sally and Rerun barely get mentioned at all. Michaelis sees Peanuts as a direct reflection of Schulz's life, but he doesn't allow for the idea that Schulz used his own life as a starting point for his art, but then allowed it to evolve on its own. Meanwhile, Michaelis devotes pages and pages to painstakingly detailed accounts of Schulz's various merchandising deals.
Still, I give it 4 stars for a simple reason: if the goal of a biography is to make you understand the subject, I feel like I got a better sense of what made Schulz tick than I had before. But I would recommend reading Rheta Grimsley Johnson's "Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz" before you read this book, since it gives you the basic outline of the story, and gives you more or less the "official" version of the Schulz story. Actually, I guess the "official" version would be any random collection of Peanuts strips. While the life of its creator is fascinating, we must never forget that it's "Peanuts", not "Schulz" that matters in the end.
After reading this absorbing biography by David Michaelis, I now know that as a child I'd chosen the right person to provide a daily guide to childhood and the mysteries of adulthood. Michaelis provides a comprehesive back story, having spoken to amd corresponded with hundreds of Schulz's relatives, friends, neighbors, buddies from his childhood in Minnesota and during his stint as a "foot soldier" in World War II. After syndication made Sparky world-famous, writers, artists, and performers sought to meet Schulz, but his innate shyness made it difficult to reach out to other people. Michaelis hesitates to play snap psychologist with his subject, but does conclude that a lifelong unhappiness--despite his cataclysmic success--and intermittent agoraphobia encouraged Schulz to stay where he felt most comfortable: at his drawing board in his home studio.
Some of Schulz's intimates have expressed disappointment at the finished product, but any public exposure of mostly-private persons is difficult, no doubt about it. This author's sensitive eye waded through bales of information (some never-before published, such as several days spent visiting and talking with novelist Laurie Colwin), and fifty years of daily cartoon strips to create a balanced, fair portrait of a man, his romances, marriages, work, and the situations that molded Sparky (his lifelong nickname) as well as his characters, known and loved throughout the world. Dozens of strips and drawings are reproduced here to illustrate their relation to the cartoonist's private struggles as they were drawn. And when Schulz died of colon cancer just as his final strip was published, the synergy between timid Sparky and the media empire he created concluded. Hollywood certainly couldn't top this painfully true saga.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
as his voice. there are many layers to him. schulz is a true