Having already addressed the pleasures of books that make us cry, I thought it was time for some laughter. Here are some of my favorite funny books. They’re all pretty old–is humor writing in book form over? Do the standups rule the roost? Is digital media destroying…okay, let me calm down. If anyone has more recent recommendations, please send ’em along–we could all use a good laugh.
Penrod and Seventeen, Booth Tarkington
The title character in Penrod is a bad boy in the Tom Sawyer mold. His Christmas pageant rebellion is one of the great scenes in the literature of childhood martyrdom. His teenage romantic angst, and his bratty little sister’s observations on same, in Seventeen are even better.
Thurber’s Dogs, James Thurber
Forget Walter Mitty and get yourself a copy of Thurber’s Dogs. The piece on the ludicrous names people give dogs makes me laugh till I cry, and the family history parts are great too. Just skip the last piece, about the family that accidentally ran over one of Albert Payson Terhune’s famous collies, it will harsh your mellow.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
All the books in this series are funny, but I think the first one is best of all. In the first few pages, we learn that an employee of the galaxy-trotting tour book company went to lunch and never returned. The sign on his desk reads “Missing, presumed fed.” Need I say more?
Archy and Mehitabel, Don Marquis
Don Marquis was a newspaper columnist. Archy was a cockroach who lived in Marquis’ office and sometimes came out and wrote his column for him at night by jumping headfirst onto the typewriter keys (come to think of it, a lot of writing feels like that, even for us non-cockroaches). Mehitabel was the cat with the bohemian lifestyle that Archy loved. The columns are hilarious.
You Know Me, Al, Ring Lardner
Anything by Ring Lardner is funny. I’d start here, with the epistolary account of life on the road with a minor league ball team, in the form of letters from a player to his friend Al.
Life Among The Savages, and Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson
Move quickly past The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House–Shirley Jackson was funny, too. These two books about family life will have you rolling in the aisles.
Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, Jean Shepherd
The title story is the tale of a disastrous prom night that even teenagers find funny.
I could go on and on (obviously). Anything by Peter DeVries. Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim. Much of Mark Twain, with a special shout out for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Your turn. What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?