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Sunday, July 06, 2008

 
Happiness is a Warm Puppy -- However many hundreds or thousands of books Charles Schulz was responsible for in one way or another, the inside front cover flap of Happiness is a Warm Puppy informs me that this was his first. Dating from 1962, it's a collection of minimalist aphorisms on the left-side pages and a full-page illustration of each concept on the right.

I remember having a copy of this book when I was a very young child, but like the majority of books I've owned in my life, I'd be damned if I could tell you whatever happened to the original copy. Most likely I outgrew it and some other child, my younger brother or a friend, maybe, ended up with it. I first spotted this reissue, from Cider Mill Press, on the shelves at Borders many months ago. Every time I would look at the section it was in, the one with Calvin and Hobbes collections and books by comedians like Lewis Black, I would pick it up and flip through it. Finally, a week or two back, I decided I should own it once again, now three decades or so on since the last time I had a copy.

It's a slight book -- in fact, its cover price of $5.95 is at least part of the reason I bought it. If I could not stop thinking about it and reflecting on whether I needed to own it or not, six bucks is a cheap price to stop that slight buzzing it was creating in the base of my skull. There are perhaps 40 or so concepts visited by Schulz over the course of its orange, pink, red and brown pages, and of course the reader will agree with some and wonder at others. "Happiness is sleeping in your own bed," is one that rings solidly true for me, and the illustration of a content and smiling Linus lost in the comfort of the deep slumber one can only achieve in the peace of one's bed strikes me as both simple and profoundly true.

"Happiness is some black, orange, yellow, white and pink jelly beans, but no green ones," seems bizarre to me. I'd take the green and gladly ditch the pink or black ones. Was Schulz telling us his own preference? Was it a random assortment of colours? Either way, he knew what he was doing when he drew the picture, which shows both Charlie Brown digging into the bag of candy, and Linus patiently waiting his turn. Friendship and shared pleasure are shown only through the picture, not the words, and I'm struck by Schulz's ability to introduce nuance even in a book seemingly meant for children, seemingly universal to anyone who might read it.

I suppose it's possible that the pictures in this book were harvested from existing strips, but I don't think so. They seem bold and purposeful, Schulz working his magic during the very best decade of his cartooning career to create illustrations filled with charm, loving portraits of our longtime companions at their very best. Even Lucy manages to control her crabbiness throughout, playing nice with her brother at home as she helps him remove a sliver, and with Patty and Violet in the sandbox. It's nice to see Violet and Patty here, although I note with sadness that Shermy wasn't invited to take part anywhere. I'm always sad when Shermy is absent. He had such potential...


"Happiness is one thing to one person and another thing to another person," Schulz finishes up with, showing Linus and Lucy each enjoying their own, separate, things. Filled with gentility, tolerance and wisdom, Happiness is a Warm Puppy is something that will bring happiness to anyone who opens themselves to its simple messages and lovely cartooning. I like this little book a lot, which is funny, because I really don't care much for puppies, warm or otherwise. Allergies, you see.

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