Thirty-four years ago, self-publishing a book was a challenge.
Undeterred, John Louis Anderson forged ahead with “Scandinavian Humor & Other Myths” in June 1986.
In the book’s first three months in print, it sold 30,000 copies.
“No matter what happens,” Anderson told the Star Tribune in September 1986, “My mother thinks I’ve already succeeded because a Lutheran preacher of her acquaintance quoted from my book from the pulpit.”
The book was a success. In its first two years in print, it sold more than 200,000 copies.
Anderson, of Wayzata, died March 7. He was 72.
He followed up the success of his first book with “German Humor: On the Fritz.” The book, published by Harper & Row in 1989, focused on a subject that Anderson knew well because, as he said, he grew up in “the most German-American town in the United States.”
That town was New Ulm, Minn., where Anderson was born and raised. He graduated from New Ulm High School, despite, he once joked, the reservations of several teachers.
During his high school years, he worked for Oswald Studio in New Ulm, a job that started him on a career as a photographer. He earned a degree in foreign policy from Augustana College (now Augustana University) in Sioux Falls, S.D., and then a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. His master’s thesis was on theater photography.
He worked as a freelance photographer for several magazines during the 1968 presidential campaign. In 1972, his photographs of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. George McGovern appeared in Newsweek magazine.
His freelance work also appeared in Saturday Review and Scandinavian magazines and in publications from the Guthrie Theater and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
“He was one of the rare people to make a living as a photographer and writer,” said his wife, Adaire Colleen Peterson. “He always said he was fortunate.”
Anderson’s third book, “Off the Bridal Path,” was published in January 1993. It was a humorous look at American wedding culture. Its reception didn’t match the success of his first two books.
“I think we took 40,000 books to the landfill,” Peterson said. “There are always ups and downs in self-publishing.”
Peterson said her favorite work by her husband was “Ferocious Common Sense.” The book, published in 2000, was a translation of ancient Nordic wisdom with photographs from around the world.
“It was meant to be a Christmas stocking stuffer,” Peterson said.
Anderson and his wife were ardent travelers and visited more than 100 countries on all seven continents.
One memorable trip was to Antarctica in 1991.
“This was when travel to Antarctica was just starting,” Peterson said. “We took an icebreaker, with 20 cabins. We were told we could bring only one carry-on bag. After a parka and boots, there was sparse room for clothes.
“We took a rubber raft from the ship to the shore. We got on shore and John took off his coat. He was wearing a tuxedo. He wore it for the penguins and for one picture.”
Peterson said her husband also wrote a play in 1987 for the Great North American History Theatre (now the History Theatre) and authored many opinion pieces for newspapers around the country.
In the past 10 years, he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and ceased working, Peterson said.
Along with his wife, he is survived by several other extended family members.
A celebration of his life will take place in Minneapolis this summer.