Comic Relief
May 13, 2009 7:21 PM   Subscribe

[BookRecommendationFilter] Looking for funny, happy books.

My job has me stressed, and reading the news is depressing me. Now that it is finally spring, I'd just like to sit outside and read something that puts a smile on my face.

I read mostly sci-fi/fantasy, and my favorite laugh-out-loud authors are Terry Pratchett and Connie Willis. I even admit to enjoying the Chicks in Chainmail series edited by Esther Friesner.

Also good are books not necessarily thought of as comic novels but that are written with a wry sense of humor (See Martha Wells' The Wheel of the Infinite)

So, I am looking books aimed at adults that are amusing/funny. Non-genre fiction is fine, too.
posted by natalie b to Grab Bag (58 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Did you read Good Omens? Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I re-read it every year and it makes me laugh every time.
posted by sugarfish at 7:23 PM on May 13, 2009

I love Connie Willis and I laughed like hell at some of Bill Bryson's books especially A Walk in the Woods and In A Sunburned Country about the Appalachian trail and about Australia respectively.
posted by jessamyn at 7:24 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you read any Jasper fforde?
posted by dilettante at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2009

Robert Asprin's Myth-adventures? (Starts with Another Fine Myth) A fair amount of bad puns, but entertaining.

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar books are light humorous fantasy, though not strictly comedic. (Starts with "The Misenchanted Sword", though the novels are generally stand-alone.)

Christopher Moore is considered a little more mainstream, but his stuff generally qualifies as genre. Start with either "Practical Demonkeeping" or "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal".
posted by fings at 7:34 PM on May 13, 2009

George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series?
posted by thomas j wise at 7:34 PM on May 13, 2009

Light English comedy novels are where you'll find smiles. You will satisfy every part of your request if you check out from your library every Jeeves/Wooster book of P.G. Wodehouse's.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:37 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd like to put a vote in for David Lodge . He is an awesome British writer with a wry sense of humor and a very quirky way of describing things. My favorite works of his are Nice Work and Paradise News.

I also totally second Jasper Fforde. His Thursday Next series is just brilliant and I have gone back and read many of the novels that he discusses, including Rebecca, Great Expectations, and Wuthering Heights.

I've also had pretty good luck with Donald Harrington, and Michael Malone.
posted by Leezie at 7:48 PM on May 13, 2009

Before Joe Keenan (who's been called the gay P.G. Wodehouse) started writing for TV, he wrote two funny books, of which "Blue Heaven" is my favorite. I have his most recent book, "My Lucky Star," in the giant pile next to my bed but haven't started it yet. I hope it's funny.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:51 PM on May 13, 2009

Robert Rankin's Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse! (And its sequel, The Toyminator.)
posted by phatkitten at 8:03 PM on May 13, 2009

Oh what a fun question to ponder.

The last books I read that made me giggle: Lauren Willig's Regency-style spy romances. There's a bit of a modern framework to them, a grad student "discovers the diaries" of women in the Regency era- spy shenanigans and gentle romance ensue. Start with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
Her prose cracks me up.

When I'm stressed, I find YA fiction comforting- painfully self conscious and earnest at times, yes, but more to the point-- everything teens are dealing with is something grownups have lived through. A lot of really wonderful genre writers have found a home there- Tamora Pierce writes excellent fantasy where female characters sling magic, wield swords and kick butt- not as punny as Chicks in Chain Mail, but definitely fun.

I'll keep an eye out and come back.
posted by SaharaRose at 8:05 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Check out Tony Hawks (not the skateboarder). Especially 'Round Ireland with a Fridge and A Piano in the Pyrenees.
posted by nitsuj at 8:08 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was just chiming in to recommend Joe Keenan, but Sweetie Darling has already beaten me to it. His novels are, indeed, screamingly funny (including My Lucky Star, despite the unexpected inclusion of a rather graphic sex scene). Also like Sweetie Darling, My Blue Heaven is my favorite of the three.
posted by scody at 8:09 PM on May 13, 2009

I've not read it myself so I can't vouch for it, but a friend of mine whose taste I trust quite deeply (and who had previously turned me onto Pratchett along with lots of other more serious sci-fi/fantasy authors) has told me that Mary Gentle's Grunts is good fun ... and of books that I have read I might suggest Simon Green's Blue Moon Rising as a rather fluffy but humorous fantasy novel (apparently there are other books that follow it, but thus far I've only read this one) ... and on a different tack altogether, have you ever read anything by Barry Hughart? His Bridge of Birds isn't "funny" in quite the same way as a Terry Pratchett novel would be, but I found it immensely appealing in a gently comical sort of way, there's something very fairy taleish about it that somehow really hits the spot ...

Oh man, and how could I forget - how about Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat or Bill the Galactic Hero! Both rather heavy-handed but fun genre satires; I get the feeling that SSR is more widely-known but personally I enjoyed Bill a bit more - either way, though, both series are good, campy fun IMO.

I'm glad you asked this question, it's great to see other folks' suggestions!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:09 PM on May 13, 2009

Oh man, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is laugh out loud funny. So are most of his books, for that matter, but I think that is his best.
posted by msali at 8:10 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool are excellent comic mysteries set in the world of SF fandom.

It's a little bit more dark humor than feel-good, but for laugh-out-loud funny, Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric is my all-time favorite.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:11 PM on May 13, 2009

Oh, and to add to the non-genre books: Sarah Vowell writes non-fiction personal/historical stuff that's very fun to read: Take the Cannoli, Assassination Vacation, and The Wordy Shipmates are all very good and informative, too.
posted by fings at 8:20 PM on May 13, 2009

Tom Robbins
posted by sickinthehead at 8:22 PM on May 13, 2009

Douglas Adams Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy books.
posted by aperture_priority at 8:24 PM on May 13, 2009

I have to respectfully disagree with DingoMutt on the Harry Harrison; I loved him as a teen but found the writing painfully bad when I tried to re-read as an adult.

Augusten Burroughs has a lot of dark humor, but it can definitely get pretty dark at times.

I'm going to assume you've already read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If not, it's perfect.

Daniel Pinkwater mostly writes for YA and children, but is consistently absolutely hilarious. Try Fish Whistle if you can get your hands on it - it's a collection of his essays for All Things Considered on NPR.
posted by fuzzbean at 8:26 PM on May 13, 2009

It's a bit dark in places, but Joseph Heller's Catch-22 made me laugh out loud so much I was worried I would get a hernia.
posted by aperture_priority at 8:26 PM on May 13, 2009

Oh, and most of Neil Gaiman's work has an undercurrent of humor. Anansi Boys is the most superficially amusing (and probably the least dark), but Neverwhere also has some terrifically funny bits.
posted by fuzzbean at 8:27 PM on May 13, 2009

Big 'hell yes' to 'Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks. I couldn't stop laughing on the bus one day while reading it. Seriously. I couldn't stop.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite books is "Three Men in a Boat to Say Nothing of the Dog," by Jerome K. Jerome. I learned about this book from the Connie Willis novel, "To Say Nothing of the dog." It's about a group of British men who go on a sailing trip in the late 1800's. The basic description sounds dull, but it's incredibly funny.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

How funny, I was just about to chime in with "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis- you can't help but laugh at the absurdity in that book!
posted by Mouse Army at 8:46 PM on May 13, 2009

I would suggest Rob Grant's books Colony and Incompetence. These are incredible and I think you would love them, considering your tastes.

I have to say that I would disagree with Mary Gentle's Grunts. I made myself finish reading it as a punishment for buying the book, but I did not enjoy it at all and had to start it at least 5 times to get more than a few chapters in.
posted by slavlin at 8:49 PM on May 13, 2009

Well Il'l be the first, I guess, to suggest some classics, randomly: Portnoys Complaint, Canterbury Tales, several Shakespeare comedies (I like Taming of the Shrew - and if you can find it, the old Moonlighting TV series did a fine send up of it, called 'Atomic Shakespeare'). I personally think Milton's Paradise Lost is hilarious (c'mon, Satan gets his butt whupped and then invents seige engines, and fails again - that's comedy gold)
posted by elendil71 at 8:50 PM on May 13, 2009

Tom Sharpe.
posted by idb at 8:55 PM on May 13, 2009

For wry humor, Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea might appeal. I didn't like it as much as the friend who recommended it to me did, but it engaged me enough to stick in my memory. Working out intended meanings as the alphabet contracted was kind of fun.

Donald Jack's Bartholomew Bandy series, beginning with Three Cheers For Me, is laugh out loud funny. The first four are, anyway. If you're not interested in war or aviation, don't let that put you off. I'm not either. Bartholomew Bandy transcends his setting (well, there's one thing I remember that dates it, but aside from that) and I think has universal appeal to anyone who's ever felt like a social misfit, saying things that seem to come out wrong far too often, klutzy, having a "The Emperor has no clothes!" kind of perspective that conventional people - usually, in Bandy's case, his military superiors and social betters - react badly to... In my opinion, Bartholomew Bandy is right up there with Basil Fawlty and Blackadder. Heh. Can you tell I can't recommend this series highly enough?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:57 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try Gerald Durrell. The books about his childhood growing up on the island of Corfu and the one's about his animal collecting expeditions are hillarious.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:05 PM on May 13, 2009

Seconding the "Stainless Steel Rat" books by Harrison. Although, after reading fuzzbean's comment, I realize I haven't read them since high school - but I did highly enjoy them at the time.

Also - Robert Asprin's "Phule" series are entertaining as well. One caveat for the Myth books, though: the later books in the series veer more towards depressing and flat. Stick with the early stuff.

Non-genre: Seconding P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves and Wooster are always a good bet, but branch out beyond to Blandings and the "stand-alones." Summer Moonshine has yet to fail to make me laugh, and I've read a half-dozen times. Nthing Jerome K. Jerome. Three Men in a Boat is a must-read. The "sequel," Three Men on the Bummel, is also fun, but not nearly as laugh-out-loud.

How about Bill Bryson? I'm partial to his travelogues, mainly because I've had rather similar experiences, so many times I'm laughing with not at. I also like most of Lynne Truss's work (known for her Eats, Shoots and Leaves punctuation treatise).

On preview: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome is excellent. The "sequel," Three Men on the Bummel is also fun, but not nearly as laugh-out-loud.

[Adding Jasper Fforde to library wish list. Those books sound awesome.]
posted by paisley sheep at 9:07 PM on May 13, 2009

Seconding Sedaris. And it's great to see 'Round Ireland with a Fridge mentioned here! I'll have to read Piano...
posted by altcountryman at 9:08 PM on May 13, 2009

Dang it. Newbie can't figure out how to preview and edit. Or read what she's already written before hitting post. Apologies. I'm not really that inept.
posted by paisley sheep at 9:10 PM on May 13, 2009

Wind in the willows, Peter Pan
posted by rainy at 9:13 PM on May 13, 2009

you MUST read some Mark Leyner. you will LOL.
posted by gnutron at 10:54 PM on May 13, 2009

Donald Jack's Bartholomew Bandy series is indeed very, very funny.

I also recommend Post Captain, by Patrick O'Brian. For about 2/3 of the book, virtually every paragraph (and sometimes every sentence) will provoke a laugh.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:19 PM on May 13, 2009

Seconding Three Men In A Boat... it's probably the funniest novel I've ever read.

I'd also recommend The Restraint Of Beasts by Magnus Mills. It's very dry and dead pan and pretty dark, but it's very very funny.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:56 AM on May 14, 2009

Side Effects and Without Feathers by Woody Allen
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:14 AM on May 14, 2009

Two different recommendations I'm shocked haven't yet been made:

1. Jean Shepherd. Though he's most famous for writing and narrating "A Christmas Story", his books are much more subversive and laugh-out-loud funny.
In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash
Wanda Hickey's Night Of Golden Memories
A Fistful Of Fig Newtons

2. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy Of Dunces
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:31 AM on May 14, 2009

oh, and Steve Martin's (yeah, that Steve Martin) The Pleasure Of My Company and Shopgirl
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:34 AM on May 14, 2009

some others that haven't yet been recommeded (man this is such a great question):

if you like the outdoors, try anything Patrick F. McManus - start with A Fine And Pleasant Misery (don't let the terrible cover art deter you)

Tom Perrotta - Election (which is much better than the movie) and Joe College

ok, that's probably enough from me
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:43 AM on May 14, 2009

I have his most recent book, "My Lucky Star," in the giant pile next to my bed but haven't started it yet. I hope it's funny.

Less than the first two, alas. Also, previously.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:48 AM on May 14, 2009

Adrian Mole's diaries are very funny, though The Wilderness Years is surprisingly bleak. I also enjoyed Simon Gray's The Smoking Diaries - it's about a man coming to the end of his life, but the tales he tells are amusing. Thirdly, Molesworth or 1066 And All That never fail to cheer me up.

Sometimes if I want to relax my brain I read some decent chick-lit - early Jenny Colgan (don't bother with anything after Looking For Andrew McCarthy, or Working Wonders), Jennifer Weiner, Lisa Jewell. Not always comedy-light, but sometimes an absorbing plot that won't rot your brain is what you want. Colgan is very funny.
posted by mippy at 6:00 AM on May 14, 2009

Confederacy of Dunces is laugh out loud funny

so is Russian Debutante's Handbook
posted by RajahKing at 6:12 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Zazie in the Metro.

Also, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, definitely. Small Gods, Thief of Time, The Truth, etc.

Nthing Confederacy of Dunces.

Maybe The Sunday of Life too, if you enjoy Zazie.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:50 AM on May 14, 2009

You must read Ogre, Ogre by Piers Anthony. Beware catasstrophy!
Also Hitchikers Guide will require surgery to repair your laugh mechanism. I have the leatherbound collection of all the stories and still have pains in my stomach and jaw from laughing so hard for so long. My favorite pains!
posted by Redhush at 7:01 AM on May 14, 2009

I came to recommend Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, and Victor Gischler's books.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:04 AM on May 14, 2009

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos is great.

I really get nothing out of Sedaris - I don;t think there's as much of a 'humorist' tradition outside of the States, but he always seems banal to me.
posted by mippy at 7:12 AM on May 14, 2009

I agree with most of the suggestions and thought John Irving would be a good addition. In particular, I enjoyed A Prayer for Owen Meany. His novels use humor to show the absurdity of life and though they tend to end on a bittersweet note, they are ultimately life affirming.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 7:53 AM on May 14, 2009

Can't believe I'm the first to recommend him, but Carl Hiaasen's book are laugh out loud funny. He's the guy who wrote Striptease (yes, made into the movie with Demi Moore). Don't hold that against him...the book was great.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2009

Seconding Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar Series (The rest of his books (except The Lords of Dûs are good fantasy, but not funny).
Scott Lynch, The Gentleman Bastard books are Hilarious, but mature, I'd let my 12yr old read Terry Pratchet, but Lynch is strictly 16+. IMO.
posted by krieghund at 10:31 AM on May 14, 2009

I really get nothing out of Sedaris - I don;t think there's as much of a 'humorist' tradition outside of the States, but he always seems banal to me.

If you're new to him, and going to give him a shot, I HIGHLY recommend finding audiobook versions. He kind of has a terrible voice for audio, but it works so well at delivering his stories dripping with sarcasm, and audio makes his books at least twice as funny.
posted by graventy at 10:39 AM on May 14, 2009

Seconding Carl Hiassen, who is wonderful.

One of my favorite series of fun, fluffy books is Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr novels. They're murder mysteries, but humorous ones--Bernie is a gentleman burglar who often finds himself blundering into some sort of intrigue when all he really wants is to steal someone's stuff. Block is wonderful at snappy dialogue, and his characters are really a hoot. You get the sense that the protagonist is chuckling through the story the same as you are.

And while I'm on the subject of non-SF genre fiction, try Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels--they're heist novels, and Dortmunder is the leader of a gang of thieves that always manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Same deal: great dialogue, tightly knit plots full of absurd (yet believable in context) happenings, and a protagonist who's perpetually bemused at what's going on around him--and even what he's doing himself.
posted by goingonit at 11:46 AM on May 14, 2009

Can't believe noone's mentioned Mark Twain yet. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are amusing enough, but Roughing It is his funniest. I would recommend his collected short stories, too, except that there is a considerable sprinkling of bitter pessimism in there amongst the funny stuff.

Also, How I Won the War, by Patrick Ryan, is damn funny. Unfortunately, it seems to be an out-of-print collector's item now (the paperback version had a photo of John Lennon on the cover, from his bit part in the movie of the same name).
posted by bricoleur at 11:54 AM on May 14, 2009

Thank you all for your suggestions. I can't mark anything as best answer since I haven't tried them yet. You can be sure I'll be printing out this page and bringing it to the library this weekend.
posted by natalie b at 2:51 PM on May 14, 2009

natalie b,

I really like almost anything by Sue Townsend - for instance, the Adrian Mole series, Number 10 - but they are very particular to Britain.
posted by lukemeister at 5:25 PM on May 14, 2009

4thing Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series - just started Something Rotten two days ago, love all his stuff.
posted by Quidam at 10:37 AM on May 17, 2009

Nthing Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. I keep pushing it on all of my friends and almost want to buy multiple copies just so I can loan more than one copy out at a time. You should also look into his Nursery Crime series - The Big Over Easy is an absolutely hilarious take on the Humpty Dumpty fall from his wall. Brilliant.

Plus I read an interview with him where he vowed to publish all of his weird Nursery Crime stuff now that the Thursday Next series has gotten popular, just to spite all the publishers who thought he was a crazy whackjob. How can you not love a writer like that?
posted by Phire at 9:12 PM on June 12, 2009

No one has mentioned the Professor Dr. von Igelfeld entertainments of Alexander McCall Smith, who is better known for his mysteries. Start with Portuguese Irregular Verbs. This and subsequent books follow a German academic philologist and his unworldly colleagues, and the humor is in the tradition of Jerome K Jerome and P G Wodehouse.
posted by gentilknight at 7:17 AM on June 15, 2009

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