When I asked Dan Gutman for some biographical information, his answer started with this: “Dan Gutman was born in a log cabin in Illinois and used to write by candlelight with a piece of chalk on a shovel. Oh, wait a minute. That was Abraham Lincoln. Actually, Dan Gutman grew up in New Jersey.”
How popular is Dan Gutman? Let’s put it this way: just this week his children’s book series “My Weird School” sold its 10 millionth copy! How can you not want to buy the collection of 50 books with titles like “Miss Daisy is Crazy!” “Dr. Nicholas is Ridiculous!” and “Mr. Harrison is Embarrisin’!” Millions of others have devoured his other children’s book modern classics like “Johnny Hangtime” about a kid Hollywood stuntman and “The Million Dollar Shot” about a kid who gets the opportunity to win seven figures by scoring a half-court shot at the NBA Finals.
My personal favorite is “The Kid Who Ran For President” which is about exactly what you would think. One line that I frequently quote to this day: title character Judson Moon is asked during a presidential debate where he stands on endangered species. He replies, “If they were endangered, I wouldn’t stand on them.”
Gutman was destined for greatness ever since his first book, a now-discredited-for-decades 1986 manual “I Didn’t Know You Could Do THAT With A Computer,” which is currently selling for 48 cents on Amazon. Hey, nobody’s perfect.
The excerpt he submitted is of the first thing he ever published: a quiz for his college newspaper about whether or not you were cool. I’ll let Dan tell the rest with his explanation, followed by the piece, which you can read by clicking on the photo below (showing how it originally looked in the school newspaper) or reading the copied text. If you’re wondering, I scored a +13, or “semi-cool.”
The first thing I ever published was this silly quiz about how to tell whether or not you were cool. It appeared in the Rutgers University newspaper, The Targum.
I didn’t work on the paper, and I was not studying writing. In fact, I was a psychology major and never took a writing class in my life. But this idea came to me and writing always came naturally to me, so I decided to write it down and submit it to the paper. I was amazed that they printed it. Even more amazing was what happened the next day. I walked around campus and just about everybody was reading and talking about this article. What a rush!
I think that was the beginning of my career as a writer. I gave graduate school a try, but soon I decided to quit psychology, move to New York City (where all the starving writers go) and become a starving writer. I struggled for a long time until I found my strength–writing fiction for kids. I can already see my style of writing in this piece–simple, conversational, concise, and borderline stupid. To this day, I still get off on seeing people reading the silly words I wrote.
I would have come out on the UNcool end of the spectrum.
Page 4, The Rutgers Daily Targum, Thursday, September 23, 1976
How cool are you?
By DAN GUTMAN
Now that we are all settled in and the new school year is well under way, it is important that we brush up on the basic skills that take up the majority of our valuable time. Mainly, being cool.
Face it, on the college campus being cool is just as important as the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. Now how cool are you? A massive study is taking place in California (where all massive studies take place) to answer this very question. It is reproduced here. To determine just how cool you really are, simply check the items below that are applicable, add up your “cool” points, and subtract your “uncool” points. Be honest.
+1 My major is Art, Music, or Philosophy
+3 I am a vegetarian or ecology freak
+1 I have mononucleosis
+2 I went to Colorado over intersession
+1 I own a Picasso or a Magritte print
+2 I am unconcerned with material things
+2 I meditate
+2 I watch Star Trek, Monty Python, or All My Children
+3 I read Tolkien, Vonnegut, Rolling Stone, and The Voice
+5 I don’t believe in a god anymore
+3 I have at least one homosexual friend
+1 I play guitar
+2 I play guitar well
+3 I play barre chords
+4 I took off a semester to – “get my head together”
+1 I am usually depressed
+3 I write poetry when I’m depressed
+2 I ride a bike to class
+1 I took the legs off my dressers
+4 I put my head in a copy machine to Xerox my face
+3 I go to class high
+2 I talk to plants
+1 I can catch a frisbee between my legs
+4 I am a Mary Hartman freak
+2 I am into classical music
+3 I am into jazz music
+3 I often say “into”
+2 I often have dilated pupils
+2 I am left handed
+4 I am ambidextrous
+3 I see a psychiatrist
+1 I know how many presidents were assassinated in Chile last year
+4 I am a grad student with a beard, attache case, wire rims, and a styrofoam cup of coffee
+2 I steal things from the Commons
+3 I belong to any minority group
+6 I take no notes, buy no books, attend no classes, and I aced out last semester
-4 I am a throat
-3 I saw the Carpenters in concert
-1 I eat pizza with a knife and fork
-2 I bring a tape recorder to lectures
-3 I wear sandals and socks
-4 I wear shoes and shorts
-5 I wear sneakers, black socks, and shorts
-6 I wear shoes, white socks, and shorts
-4 I carry a calculator on my belt loop
-6 I am a Young Republican
-5 I am a white person who tries to act black
-5 I am a black person who tries to act white
-6 I am a J.A.P.
-5 I am in R.O.T.C.
-6 I own a John Denver album
-2 My pants are way too short on me
-2 I admire Ronny Howard
-3 I attend Livingston College (Living Stoned)
-2 I attend Douglass College
Well, how did you do? A score of -5 equal nurd, 0 equal derf, +5 equal blah, +10 equal semi-cool, +15 equal cool, and if you scored +20 or better, you are super-cool.
Dan Gutman is a Senior Psychology Major at Rutgers College.