What hilarious book should my book club read?
October 19, 2009 3:56 PM   Subscribe

BookClubfilter: I'm tasked with picking the next book. I have some ideas, but could use the Hive's help.

It's a group of pretty literary folks (English teachers and the like) and only about eight of us. We've read some heavy stuff lately and I'd like to switch gears to something lighter, and preferably funny. We've read, in reverse order:

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan
Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

So we just did Sci-Fi (Snow Crash), so I def want to avoid the genre. I was considering "The Coup" by Jamie Malanowski, "Boomsday" by Christopher Buckley and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

If anyone has any experience with any of these books OR can recommend a modern, humorous book that'd be good for discussion I'm all ears. I can answer any questions, of course. Thanks hive mind!
posted by indiebass to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
why only "modern" stuff?

I recently recommended Tom Jones to good effect. Your English teachers may have already read it, but I think most people think "old book" and conclude on that basis that it must be something of a slog. I myself was surprised by how easy a read it was, how funny, and overall how much fun it was.

then again, I'm not sure how productive of discussion the book would be, unless you were discussing the origins of the concept of "the novel", something very dry and boring and not at all Tom Jones-ish.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:09 PM on October 19, 2009

I found Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections to be excruciatingly funny, though it may say as much about my extended family as about my sense of humor.

(Oh, and for when you're looking for a non-funny novel down the line, I'd recommend Ann Patchett's Bel Canto.
posted by scody at 4:16 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: Well, when I say "modern" I mean basically 20th Century or newer. Because it tends to be a pretty well-read crew, the "classics" are pretty well-covered. I was also considering "World War Z" but I don't think we could get a good discussion out of it, and I think a few of them have already read it. I also LOVE "Lucky Jim" but I know that the majority of folks in the group have already read it. That's the line I'm trying to walk: something no one else has read yet, but not such a downer.
posted by indiebass at 4:17 PM on October 19, 2009

You couldn't do much better than a Michael Chabon book. I particularly recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Barring those, Tristram Shandy?
posted by The Michael The at 4:18 PM on October 19, 2009

Salmon fishing in the yemen?
posted by dhruva at 4:21 PM on October 19, 2009

How about Decline and Fall or Scoop? If you enjoyed Lucky Jim, Waugh might be up your street.
posted by WPW at 4:36 PM on October 19, 2009

It falls into SF, but you should consider The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. (Eyre as in Jane Eyre).
posted by kbuxton at 4:39 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Second the Chabon suggestion. Also Jonathan Lethem, e.g. Motherless Brooklyn.
The new Lorrie Moore is fantastic, funny and deadly serious.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:44 PM on October 19, 2009

I actually prefer Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It was just hilarious!

And I absolutely LOVED The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. A spectacular read but not necessarily lighter. Not too heavy, though, either. But beautifully written.
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:09 PM on October 19, 2009

Best answer: How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely, is *hilarious*.
posted by mothershock at 5:13 PM on October 19, 2009

Best answer: I second mothershock's suggestion. I finished How I Became A Famous Novelist today. I think it is the book I've laughed out loud at the most this year. It has the added bonus of being able to start a discussion about writing and what makes "good" writing.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:38 PM on October 19, 2009

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
Or, really just go with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, because it's terrific.
posted by motsque at 5:41 PM on October 19, 2009

two funny books that sprang to mind:

a complicated kindness

one big damn puzzler
posted by gursky at 5:43 PM on October 19, 2009

Thirding Chabon, and seconding the Yiddish Policemen's Union!

If you want something light, worth reading at a surface and analytical level, and not quite as new as all the rest, you might consider Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana.
posted by whatzit at 6:08 PM on October 19, 2009

(I need to read closer)
Also seconding The Eyre Affair. Fforde is awesome. Though yeah, it brushes on sci-fi, the number of literary and pop culture allusions PLUS bad puns PLUS a good story make it unstoppable. It's also the first in a series of now 5 or 6 novels.
posted by whatzit at 6:10 PM on October 19, 2009

another vote for The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Chabon channels Chandler.

still, funny but perhaps not "hilarious".
posted by lex mercatoria at 6:24 PM on October 19, 2009

How about Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett? It might be too light, but everyone I've met who has read it has enjoyed it.
posted by firei at 6:27 PM on October 19, 2009

Oh, and since you mentioned Lucky Jim, maybe something by David Lodge? Nice Work qualifies as hilarious in my book, and Thinks is also good.
posted by lex mercatoria at 6:28 PM on October 19, 2009

Little Children by Tom Perrotta is quite humorous but also has meat for discussion.
posted by massysett at 6:28 PM on October 19, 2009

A Trip to The Stars by Nicholas Christopher.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:28 PM on October 19, 2009

Max Barry's Syrup, Jennifer Government, or Company.
posted by nicwolff at 6:33 PM on October 19, 2009

My book group (which sounds similar in composition to yours and seems to have a similar propensity for heavy reading) recently enjoyed Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief. I laughed out loud several times while reading it.


Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:40 PM on October 19, 2009

Dipsomaniac: ""Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal", by Chris Moore."

My book club read this, and it was HILARIOUS. Also well-researched in terms of the setting and time-period, which made it even better!
posted by radioamy at 6:49 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I actually prefer Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It was just hilarious!

Another vote for this.

I would strongly urge you NOT to go with P&P and Zombies. I read about 10 pages and became enraged. It is lazy, sloppy writing and it is insane that he has made so much money off of inserting little bits of his crap between large slabs of Austen.

I adore funny literature but I'm afraid all I can think of at the moment is older stuff:
Mapp & Lucia There are 6 in the series but "M&L" is the best stand-alone
Anything by P.G. Wodehouse but preferably in the Psmith or Lord Emsworth series
Tortilla Flats by Steinbeck
Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate/ by Nancy Mitford
Moo by Jane Smiley
Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle
Pretty much anything by John Irving
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

and while it isn't hilarious, Empire Falls by Richard Russo is a brilliant book that has moments of charming light-heartedness.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:51 PM on October 19, 2009

Not sure if these are literary enough, but I found Nick Hornby's How to be Good and About a Boy both laugh out loud funny and I think that the former could provoke a meaty discussion about "how to be good" in today's society.

Francine Prose is a writer whose work I find both satirical and through provoking. Blue Angel is great. I also enjoyed Guided Tours of Hell, which is actually two novellas; not sure if that format would work for you.

Although it may be a bit dated now, David Lodge's Small World, is a hilarious send-up of MLA conferences, lit crit and academia. It's the second in a trilogy, but it definitely stands on its own.

Oh, one more...England , England by Julian Barnes is also laugh out loud funny and would provide an interesting starting point for a discussion about the phenomenon of the historical simulacra, among other topics.

Sorry this is so anglocentric, aside from Prose. Finally, I would agree with Secret Life of Gravy's take on P&P and Zombies. I truly think that it would be fine as light entertainment for someone really into the whole zombie thing (no judgment, but I don't get all the recent interest, zombie walks etc.); I assume that is the target audience. Maybe it might get a zombie lover to read P&P, but it won't necessarily turn a P&P fan onto zombies. As someone who enjoys Austen, but is not a fanatic, nor one who takes issue with someone trying something new with an old classic, I got less then 10 pages in and just could not get into it. A well-meaning person sent it to me as a birthday present so I felt that I should at least give it a go, but man, I could not slog through even the first chapter.
posted by kaybdc at 8:37 PM on October 19, 2009

Richard Russo would be great for this, particularly Straight Man. There are very few books I actually laugh out loud at when reading, and this is at the top of my list for that category.

I also thought The Brothers K by David James Duncan was pretty hysterical but with a lot of meat to it, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving definitely has its moments as well.

Lamb would also be a great choice, though.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:57 PM on October 19, 2009

Election by Tom Perrotta isn't very heavy, but it is mostly a satire, and there are themes that might be offensive to some.

Running with Scissors is funny, but you'll laugh and be horrified at the same time.

And you didn't say it had to be strictly fiction. Have you considered David Sedaris, particularly Me Talk Pretty One Day? I think you could probably have good discussions about a number of the issues he writes about.

And previously

But I disagree about Chabon's books. They are both extremely depressing from some perspectives (I cried several times while reading K&K), and neither is "light" (of course, this is just in my opinion). I was talking with someone about him today, and he's pretty rough on his characters. They are unbelievably great books, but I don't think they meet your criteria.
posted by Gorgik at 9:45 PM on October 19, 2009

Jumping back in again...I was just thinking about Chabon, and I don't know that I agree with everyone else about the books mentioned above being hysterical, but Wonder Boys was pretty funny, much funnier than his other stuff (but he's still hard on his characters, as Gorgik mentions)

You might also consider High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, although I think there would be less to discuss than with some others upthread.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:11 PM on October 19, 2009

David Lodge's Small World, is a hilarious send-up of MLA conferences, lit crit and academia

This reminds me: what about Don DeLillo's White Noise? Very dark, very funny.
posted by scody at 10:21 PM on October 19, 2009

Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) - The Pleasure Of My Company is both hilarious and touching, with plenty to discuss re: the protagonist.

If you've changed your mind about the classics, Three Men In A Boat (to say nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. Everyone should read this book at least once.
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:58 AM on October 20, 2009

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman had me literally LOLing at times. Anansi Boys is also pretty funny.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:29 AM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: I've read all of the same books as your club so I think I have feel for what type of books the club would like. So, here are some recommendations (some mentioned already, some not):

1) A Prayer for Owen Meany (older though)
2) A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (surreal but I wouldn't categorize it as totally fantasy or sci-fi)
3) Election by Tom Perrota
4) How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely (your group would definitely appreciate it because they read a lot - I wouldn't recommend it otherwise)
5) The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (definitely has darker elements though)

Also, I thought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was just okay. Once you get over the main conceit, there isn't too much of interest (might be good for some weird discussions though). I thought Boomsday was just okay too though it's more on the "hilarious" side than PPAZ. If you go Buckley, you might want to consider Little Green Men. That was pretty funny.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 6:22 AM on October 20, 2009

Seconding Russo's Straight Man, especially if you have academics in your group. I think Jane Smiley's Moo is very funny, but my book club wasn't quite as enthusiastic.

Lamb is also very good. So is much of Tom Perrotta's work (I see no one has mentioned The Abstinence Teacher yet, which should be considered along with Election and Little Children).

Also--Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett.

A Prayer for Owen Meany has its funny moments but you will SOB at the end, at least if you're as big a wuss as I am.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:58 AM on October 20, 2009

"Diary of a Provincial Lady" by E.M. Delafield is from the 30s but very humorous.
posted by of strange foe at 8:35 AM on October 20, 2009

China Mieville's latest, The City and the City. While most of his other stuff falls somewhere in the areas of "new weird"/fantasy/horror/scifi, this one is a pretty straightforward mystery, with a fantastic twist.
posted by experiencing a significant gravitas shortfall at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2009

I would second Mark Haddon but go with his better known, earlier novel: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
posted by troywestfield at 9:39 AM on October 20, 2009

I'm a bit surprised that no one has mentioned The Liar by the great Stephen Fry yet.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:57 AM on October 20, 2009

firei beat me to Good Omens.

How about Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg? I find it funnier than Fried Green Tomatoes was. The beauty pageant scenes were hysterical.
posted by timepiece at 2:31 PM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: Too much to reply to! You all have certainly given me a lot to add to my personal reading list, I'll admit. I have to give special thanks to Mothershock, Thebrokedown and notcomputersavvy06: I went ahead and chose How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. Even found a copy on half.com for $5 (since I'm 35 in line for it at my local library)

I'm still going to read The Coup, and possibly Boomsday, on my own too, but I've heard enough to scare me off of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, and I'm someone who loves zombies. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions, and please keep the discussion going!
posted by indiebass at 2:56 PM on October 20, 2009

I was also considering "World War Z" but I don't think we could get a good discussion out of it

My book club read World War Z and had a fantastic discussion about it. We considered our feelings on the fake-documentary/history format, tried to imagine what was going on in parts of the world that weren't discussed in the book, considered how the story was relevant to the current threat of a worldwide pandemic (even if it doesn't render people undead), discussed the medical ethics and emotional difficulties of dealing with people whose illness renders them both miserable and dangerous without hope of cure, and talked extensively about what we would have done or wanted if we found ourselves in those circumstances. Actually, it was a pretty similar discussion to when we read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I have to say though, WWZ is definitely not "hilarious" -- it has some dark humor to it, sometimes, but mostly it's serious and interesting and occasionally suspenseful or scary.
posted by vytae at 8:37 PM on October 20, 2009

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