Silly Bandz, baseball cards, Beanie Babies — collections can be made up of small or large, cheap or expensive, worthless or valuable objects.
David LeGault, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s MFA creative writing program, explores this concept in his new essay collection — “One Million Maniacs: Beanie Babies, Killer Cars and the Power of Collecting.”
“Some people have a collection that’s really cool, but then some relatives have a collection and you just call them a hoarder,” LeGault said.
LeGault’s post-grad job provided him with ample inspiration for a book about collecting rare items.
“I had worked for four years at a used bookstore,” LeGault said. “I would get interested in this idea that people would bring in 20 years of stuff that they had collected and it would be almost worthless. [And then] someone else comes in with a single comic book that’s worth $500.”
“One Million Maniacs” started with essays LeGault penned while studying at the University.
Julie Schumacher, a creative writing professor at the University, said third-year MFA students are required to produce a manuscript, which often turn into their first book.
“[LeGault] was writing essays. Funky, creative … thought-provoking essays, and some of them have led to his first publication,” Schumacher said.
After graduation, LeGault’s was challenged with turning these individual essays into a collection of their own.
“I tried submitting this book three or four times before it was accepted, and I think the first time I sent it out it was like ‘David LeGault’s Greatest Hits,’ but none of it necessarily fit together in a good way,” LeGault said. “Since leaving the program, it’s been a lot about fitting the pieces together — just thinking about how these pieces make a collection.”
The title “One Million Maniacs” comes from LeGault’s desire to form a collection of his own — a 100-copy collection of 10,000 Maniac’s album “10,000 Maniacs: Unplugged.”
“We saw so many copies come into the store,” LeGault said. “If I collected 100 of them I could call it a million.”
Before and all-throughout the collecting process, LeGault never listened to the album.
“When I finally listened to the album I think it was a completely unique experience,” LeGault said. “I don’t think anyone else cared and waited four years to listen to that album. That CD was a dollar because no one wanted it.”
Drawing from his experience, LeGault found a collection of horror movies that featured killer cars and decided to watch them all within a week.
“[One of my old professors] described the book as ‘bad idea essays.’ Not that it was bad writing, but why would anyone care about watching 15 movies about killer cars?,” LeGault said. “The challenge becomes trying to talk about something ridiculous that no one has taken seriously.”
LeGault currently teaches at an international school in Prague. While abroad, he finds similar writing inspiration in the absurd.
“There’s the ugliest structure in all of Europe … and it’s this giant TV tower,” LeGault said. “They hired an artist to make it look nicer [who] just put these giant baby sculptures — like the size of small cars — crawling up the side of the building. I have a new appreciation for it.”
As the owner of one hundred 10,000 Maniacs CDs and the author of a book about collections, LeGault now reflects on the relationship between multitudes and value, one of the central themes in “One Million Maniacs.”
“I think you can have something that is worthless, but then if you get enough of them it suddenly has value,” LeGault said. “Having ten copies of a CD is weird, but having 100 copies of a CD is suddenly kind of interesting.”