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

''I don't ever remember thinking they were funny,'' Ira Glass writes in a new anthology of writing about the quintessential American comic strip, ''Who ever laughed at 'Peanuts'?''

But Glass writes that in the context of his deep love for Charlie Brown and Company. It's just that instead of finding much humour in their stories, he enjoys the comfort they provided to ''sulky little kid'' who thought of himself as loser and a loner.''

''The Peanut Papers'' hammers home that fully appreciating Charles M. Schultz's juggernaut, which ran in newspapers from 1950 to 2000, requires looking aslant at its genre. It is, as John Updike described it, a ''comic strip at bottom tragic.''

This is a collection of deeply personal essays will help you see it clear, if you don't already, as a psychologically complex epic about stoicism, faith and other approaches for existential struggles.

Unsurprisingly some of the keenest insights comes from Chris Ware, another chronicler of cartoon melancholy, who trains his expert eye on Schulz's craft, the spatial and rhythmic decisions that create his effects.

Ware also quotes Art Spiegelman, who once described ''Peanuts'' to him as ''Schulz breaking himself into child-sized pieces and letting them all go at each other for the next half-century.''

It's this splintered emotional drama that draws the attention of many others, including George Saunders, who sees the different segments of the self in ''Peanuts'' - ''Charlie Brown as the tender loss-dreading part of me, Linus as the part that tried to address the loss-dreading part via intellect or religion or wit.

Lucy as the part that addressed the loss-dreading part via aggression, Snoopy via joyful absurdist sagery.''

SOME writers shine their light on one particular character : Ann Patchtt on Snoopy, Mona Simpson on Schroeder; Elissa Schappel on Charlie Brown's sister, Sally.

Numerous contributors mention the running psychological portrait of Charlie Brown's unrequited crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl - who like Norma's wife, Vera in ''Cheers'', never actually appears.

Several contributors go out of their way to establish their faithless bona fides, perhaps as a way of legitimizing their their metaphysical reactions to the strip.

Similarly, I should note that my I'm not a ''Peanuts'' enthusiast. I have a deep well of affection for it., especially the T.V. shows that flickered against my youth, but I've never certainly considered myself a fanatic.

But this charming, searching book made me wonder if I'm right about that after all.

The honor and serving of great Books and Reviews, continues. The World Students Society thanks author, John Williams.


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