Back Silliness, small stakes, and a compelling other world: Jonathan Franzen pays homage to Peanuts

Watch: Andrew Blauner and Jonathan Franzen at the Charles M. Schulz Museum on November 17, 2019 (1 hr., 8 min.)

Since Peanuts first appeared in 1950, generations of American readers have found both laughter and comfort in Charles Schulz’s iconic comic strip about a boy, his dog, and his friends. Peanuts has since been adapted to television, Broadway, a new Apple TV+ program, and the famous floats of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It has had a tremendous impact on American culture and the lives and work of several generations of artists.

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

In a November 17 gathering at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, celebrating the release of Library of America’s new essay collection The Peanuts Papers, volume editor Andrew Blauner was joined by National Book Award–winning novelist Jonathan Franzen for a wide-ranging discussion about the indelible impression that Peanuts has left on Franzen personally and on American society as a whole.

“Some of it was serious, and some of it was kind of heartbreaking, but a lot of it was purely silly,” Franzen said of Schulz’s beloved comic strip. Yet its silliness and everyday concerns are perhaps what make it so absorbing and endearing.

“It doesn’t have to be high stakes,” Franzen remarked. “This is one of the great artistic achievements by an American—or really anyone—over the last century. This is real true greatness here, and look how small the stakes are.”

Franzen recalled growing up in a tense household, explaining that to find comfort he would “retreat into these compelling other worlds, and Peanuts at that moment was the most compelling other world.” The author of The Corrections recalled that when he received his first rejection slip from a publisher, he remembered how Lucy once diagnosed Snoopy with “Rejection Slip Shock.”

For more of Franzen and Blauner’s conversation, watch the video of the entire Schulz Museum event above.

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