A Series of Unfortunate Events…and a fewer number of fortunate ones have prevented me from keeping a timely schedule of announcing more of the 150 Best Minnesota Books. One of the fortunate events was the three day auction of the collection of Floyd Risvold. Floyd lived in Edina and had the greatest collection of American historical manuscripts that have been offered for sale in a generation. Of the 1,300 lots at this sale the Minnesota Historical Society bid on 60 and won 22; see the article in the Minneapolis Tribune if you are curious. All those events are behind us now. Accept my apology as we get back to business.
Max Shulman. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Doubleday: New York, 1951.
Charles Schulz. Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Determined Productions: San Francisco, 1962.
There is so much to say about these entries I hardly know where to begin so I especially look forward to your comments, dear readers. Here goes. These books make our list because Dobie Gillis and Charlie Brown are two iconic fictional Minnesotans who made a significant impact on American life and culture. Shulman and Schultz were two Saint Paulites, sons of immigrants, and served in World War II. They were both slightly subversive humorists, and, I don’t want to press the similarities too far, but both Gillis and Brown are at their core just two guys looking for love in the anxiety filled era of the Cold War.
Shulman’s Dobie Gillis is perhaps better known from the TV series of the same name that ran from 1959 to 1963. Max wrote the scripts for the shows in the first seasons so the characters are consistent from print to film. The Many Love of Dobie Gillis (MLODG) is probably even sexist by the standards of its own time but the references to local people and places will be enjoyable to readers. The book centers on the University of Minnesota (which the author says in a note in the sequel to MLODG “is, of course, wholly imaginary”) and Dobie’s quest for love, learning, and a livelihood. I was tempted to list Shulman’s 1950 Sleep Till Noon because it has this nearly perfect opening sentence; “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin, and I was off on the biggest adventure of my life . . . But first let me tell you a little about myself.” It would be as impossible to ignore Charles Schulz in this book blog as it is to avoid him in day-to-day life. Even if you missed the six years of “Peanuts on Parade” statues around Saint Paul (or the ceaseless silly debate over whether F. Scott Fitzgerald or Snoopy was more deserving of a place of honor in Rice Park) you still can’t tune out the syndicated cartoon strips, holiday specials and accompanying music, Met life ads, hundreds of books (of which the MHS has cataloged 117 in many languages), and the endless pop psychologizing about Charlie Brown’s depression. Selecting a single title for this list was a difficult, almost paralyzing, choice. There are now complete compilations of all of Shultz’s 18,000 comic strips but HIAWP was Schulz’s first book and made him even more rich (he made over $ 1 billion dollars during his lifetime and was still making $ 35 million a year six years after he died) and famous when it climbed onto the New York Times best seller list.
Finally, remember my pontification many entries ago that a Minnesota author on the cover of “Time Magazine” automatically gets a spot on our list. April 9, 1965 qualifies Shultz.