10 books to make you laugh

10-booksFor this list of 10 Books I’m looking at those that tickle the funny bone. Admittedly, I generally prefer my fiction a little on the darker side, but every now and then it’s refreshing to read something a bit more light-hearted, and if it gives me a belly laugh or two, then all the better.

Plus, readers constantly ask me to recommend books that will make them laugh — and these are the humorous novels that immediately spring to mind.

Here’s my top 10 funny novels (arranged in alphabetical order by book title):

EnglishPassengers ‘English Passengers’ by Matthew Kneale

This isn’t your typical funny novel. In fact, it’s probably best classed as historical fiction. But there are aspects of it that are incredibly witty. Told through the eyes of more than 20 diverse characters, it plunges the reader into a wonderful boys’ own adventure tale turned comical farce in which a Manx smuggling vessel inadvertently flees British Customs by sailing half way around the world to Australia. To make the journey legitimate the crew, headed by Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, carry on board a small expedition team, comprising a spiritually crazed reverend, a sinister racial-theorist doctor and a wayward botanist, intent on finding the lost Garden of Eden in Tasmania. It’s a wonderful romp and, in my opinion, is one of the best books published in the past 10 years.

AFarCryFromKensington ‘A Far Cry from Kensington’ by Muriel Spark

I suspect I could have chosen any of the late Muriel Spark’s novels to be included in this list, but I’ve gone for this one purely because I remember enjoying it so much when I read it last year. It’s set in 1954 and tells the story of Mrs Hawkins, who works in publishing, and finds herself in deep water when she’s just a little too frank with a client. There’s a dual narrative involving a death threat against a lodger with whom Mrs Hawkins resides, which adds a rather sinister twist to the story.

GingerMan‘The Ginger Man’ by J.P. Donleavy

Ask me to name the funniest story I’d ever read and I would not hesitate to name this one. First published in Paris in 1955, the book was banned in Ireland — where it is set — and the USA for obscenity. It follows the adventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, an American Protestant of Irish descent, who does everything a married man should not do: he spends the couple’s rent money on alcohol; staggers home drunk and acts violently towards his wife; and conducts numerous adulterous affairs. He’s thoroughly unlikable and completely selfish, and everything he does is outrageous. And while the book treads a whisper-thin line between comedy and tragedy, it’s the comic elements which really makes this story a great one to chortle along with.

MaintenanceOfHeadway‘Maintenance of Headway’ by Magnus Mills

Magnus Mills is one of my all-time favourite authors, but he is an acquired taste. I’ve read his entire back catalogue and enjoyed them all. This is his latest book, but I could have easily named one of his others, as they’re all hugely funny stories. Maintenance of Headway is pretty much devoid of plot; it’s basically a series of vignettes about the running of the London bus network. Much of it is laugh-out-loud funny, particularly if you have a dry sense of humour. The wit comes chiefly through the conversations held between drivers on their tea-breaks. It’s the perfect read if you are looking for something that little bit different…

Scoop‘Scoop’ by Evelyn Waugh

First published in 1938, Scoop is billed as one of the funniest novel ever written about journalism. It follows the escapades of William Boot, who is mistaken for an eminent writer, and is sent off to the African Republic of Ishmaelia to report on a little known war for the Daily Beast. With no journalistic training and far out of his depth, Boot struggles to comprehend what it is he is being paid to do and makes one blunder after another all in the pursuit of hot news. One word: hilarious.

AShortGentleman‘A Short Gentleman’ by Jon Canter

This novel pokes fun at the British upper classes. The story is narrated by Robert Purcell, a distinguished barrister who finds himself on the wrong side of the law. The book is essentially a confession of his downfall told in a very long-winded but brilliantly witty way. We don’t know what crime it is that Robert committed, and part of the joy of reading this book is trying to figure it out as you go along.

Snuff‘Snuff’ by Chuck Palahniuk

A novel about the pornographic industry might not sound like a barrel of laughs, but in the very capable hands of Chuck Palahniuk it takes on a rather surreal, laugh-out-loud dimension. Instead of glorifying pornography, he pokes fun at it, and, in doing so, he highlights the absurdity, warped mentality and crudity of it all. But if I can offer a caveat, it would be this: don’t bother reading if you are easily offended. There’s plenty of bad language and crude scenes to last a life time in this one!

SomethingFresh‘Something Fresh’ by P.G. Wodehouse

I couldn’t put together a list of funny novels without including some Wodehouse. In this book, the first in the Blandings series, a retired American millionaire, Mr Peters, tries to get back his incredibly rare and valuable scarab which has been absent-mindedly pocketed by Lord Emsworth. What follows is a complete farce in which two rivals — Ashe Marson, a poorly paid writer of detective stories, and Joan Valentine, a magazine correspondent — try to get the scarab back in exchange for a rather generous reward from Mr Peters. Throw in an overweight private detective, a rich “idiot child”, a fussy butler and an efficient private secretary, among others, and the comic world of P.G. Wodehouse comes truly alive.

TimeAfterTime_small‘Time After Time’ by Molly Keane

This is a delicious black comedy that seems frothy and lighthearted on the surface, but has a very dark heart beating at its centre. It’s not immediately obvious but this is a story about the nasty things people do to each other. It’s set in a beautiful but crumbling mansion in Southern Ireland where four elderly siblings reside. Each of them is eccentric, fiercely independent and set in their own ways. When their cousin Leda arrives unannounced for a short stay little do they know the ructions she is about to cause… More please.

TowardsTheEnd‘Towards the End of the Morning’ by Michael Frayn

Novels about journalism and newspapers are particular favourites of mine (see Scoop above), and this one, written in 1967, harks back to the days when Fleet Street began to experience terminal decline. While it’s set in an unspecified newspaper and focuses on print journalists fearing for their futures, it’s essentially a comedy of manners. I laughed out loud a lot while reading this one.

So, what did you think of my choices? Are there any particular books or authors you’d recommend as a funny read? What is missing from my list?

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30 thoughts on “10 books to make you laugh

  1. No comedic reading list would be complete without Wodehouse so I’m glad to see him on there! I have English Passengers but haven’t read it yet, and there are many others on your list that I’ve actually never heard of, so you’ve given me many titles to check out when I’m in the doldrums. I’d also put Jasper Fforde on my list because he never fails to make me giggle and guffaw.

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  2. I love your Top 10s. I’ve only read one of these though – and it’s your first one. I loved it too – Peevay (that’s his name isn’t it?) is a wonderful character. I’ll never forget him and his use of the work “heinous” (I am right aren’t I? It would be embarrassing if I’ve got the wrong novel). I’ve read Spark, and Waugh and Frayn but not those particular novels.
    I’m sure there are others I’ve read that have made me laugh but right now I cannot think of them. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is illuminated has some very funny “stuff” but is probably too dark overall to be included.

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  3. A very good selection. I think for Magnus Mills I would have to choose The Restraint of Beasts – or All Quiet on the Western Front (that green paint spilled on the farmer’s driveway!). For Chuck Pahlaniuk, I thought Pygmy was hilarious. What about Three Men in a Boat? I think there’s one missing which I won’t mention now which I’m going to include in my triple choice Tuesday selection.

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  4. Hmm – I haven’t read many of those, but I would say The diary of a nobody – that is absolutel laugh out loud funny. Also any of Deric Longden’s cat books are hilarious and have me in fits.

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  5. I haven’t read any of those, but I could use some funny stories for the summer. I have heard great things about Scoop and I have yet to read my first Muriel Spark.. Thank you for the list 🙂

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  6. Oh Yes! I’m going to have to read some of these, Kim.
    I’ve heard so much about Chuck Palahnuik, but never read one of his novels. This one might be the one I start with.
    Will have to bookmark this post!

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  7. Great list – mine would include Cold Comfort Farm and A Confederacy of Dunces.
    I love A Far Cry from Kensington – still sharp, but the heroine is more sympathetic than those of the other Sparks I’ve read. Reread The Restraint of Beasts recently and forgot how funny it was. Must read other Magnus Mills. And I like Chuck Paluhnuik very much – Lullaby is my favourite.
    I bought Time After Time, based on your recommendation, also have English Passengers (though haven’t read – didn’t realise it was funny). Must pick up A Short Gentleman at some point, because that sounds very good indeed.

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  8. I agree that Scoop is one of the funniest novels ever – and we learned the continuing truth of much journalism when we were in Beijing in 1989 at the time of the Tianenmen Massacre. I also highly recommend Michael Frayn’s book Headlong as one of the funniest novels we ever read – about art and finance.

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  9. Yes, Im pretty sure its the right novel re: Peevay and heinous but it could easily be Flanagans Goulds Book of Fish or that first sea-faring chapter in Cloud Atlas — theyre all remarkably similar in tone, style and subject matter!

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  10. I really want to read snuff & scoop looks really funny. You should check out Max Barry; he’s hilarious. He’s a master of satire. Jennifer Government is great, but so is The Company. He offers some very insightful commentary on capitalism and the “anything goes” attitude of advertising execs.
    Happy Reading!

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  11. I quite liked the first half (third?) of the first Jasper Fforde novel, but for me the joke wore thin very quickly indeed. Similarly, the Aberystwth series by Malcolm Pryce – a town and environs I know very well indeed, the first novel is very funny for the first three-quarters, extremely imaginative especially for those who know the place, but it falls apart at the end. There have been several more since, but I have not tried them.
    I am not a fan of humorous novels, but two I so liked – The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L. Tyler, and e by Matt Beaumont. Did I laugh? Yes, so much I could not contain myself. (“e” says it all about office life). Another excellent funny book is Go To Helena Handbasket by the fantastic Donna Moore – a very funny parody indeed. (She has a great blog also.)

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  12. Confederacy of Dunces, definitely. Douglas Adams. The letter from Fanny Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby (“My pa requests me to write to you, the doctors considering it doubtful whether he will ever recuvver the use of his legs which prevents his holding a pen”). Proust, in the Moncrieff or Kilmartin translations — Mme. Guermantes astonishing society with a tour of the fjords.

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  13. An interesting list – I must read some Palahniuk, and I’ve been saying this is the year I get started on Wodehouse for ages. I adore Magnus Mills, and love Spark and Waugh. The Jon Canter is already on my wishlist.
    For black humour I’d add Elmore Leonard, Maximum Bob is a personal favourite.

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  14. Thanks, Marc. Never heard of the Duffy books — they sound intriguing!
    Oh, and do give Magnus Mills a go — not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really appreciate his dry wit.

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  15. Yes, a very comprehensive list of good funny reading matter. May I suggest you have a look at a recent and up and coming writer in the humourous genre, one Douglas Wright and the title of his book which particularly tickled my fancy and funny bone is Tangled Web. A tale of cross questions and crooked answers that really is a smile a page.
    Andrea Smith

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  16. Your list may or may not be Good I don’t know but you are missing anything American. To not include Winston Grooms Forrest Gump would be only because you saw the movie but bewarded the book is easily 4 times funnier.

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  17. Humour is sooooo subjective. But I’m surprised you haven’t included any Magnus Mills in there, as I see you’ve reviewed him very favourably. I’d also add Joshua Ferris, and my personal favourite, Sam Lipsyte. ‘The Ask’ is a deadpan tour de force…

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