Recommend a book, save a sanity!
July 20, 2019 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Help me find my next favorite book. The most important quality that it is funny, but it has to be a kind, generous,expansive funny that's not about being unkind or contemptuous of people. I also really enjoy things that are fairy tale-ish or magical. The stakes: I really really need cheering up right now, and being taken out of myself. I'm experiencing rather a lot of physical pain and my brain has decided that I would probably like some panicky anxiety to go with that, but my brain is wrong! I need fun light froth to occupy my brain and reset my emotions. Help me with delightful books!

Beyond that I'm just going to list some of the most satisfying books I've ever read and hope that running this list through a bunch of brilliant brains such as yours will remind you of the similar works that I have not yet discovered.

To Say Nothing of the Dog and all by Connie Willis
Three Men in A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Bridget Jones' Diary and sequels by Helen Fielding
The Diary of A Provincial Lady and sequels by E.M. Delafield
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The Novels of the Company by Kage Baker
Spinning Silver and Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Sex Lives of Cannibals and everything by J. Maarten Troost.


posted by Jenny'sCricket to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read any Terry Pratchett? He is my husband's happy place for amusing, clever fantasy.

Christopher Moore as well. I really liked Sacre Bleu and Fool.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2019 [23 favorites]

For me, Bill Bryson scratches the same itch that Troost does. I like A Walk in the Woods and In A Sunburned Country particularly.

Maybe also try Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple or (a classic!) I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:52 PM on July 20, 2019 [8 favorites]

Nearly anything by PG Wodehouse works for me when I’m in this kind of mood or in hospital or pain. To me it is very Jerome k Jerome-like.

I wish you well
posted by mgrrl at 4:00 PM on July 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Check out Maeve Binchy. I’d start with Circle of Friends and if you enjoy it there are tons and tons more like it (Tara Road, Evening Class, etc).
posted by sallybrown at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Steven Kluger's Last Days of Summer, My Most Excellent Year, and Almost Like Being in Love. All three are among my favorite comfort reads.

If you like I Capture the Castle, I'm also going to recommend The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. I got that same satisfied "I wanna hug this book forever" feeling after I read both.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love the Amelia Peabody series, about a strong minded 19th century woman who almost accidentally becomes an Egyptologist. These historical mystery novels were written by Egyptologist Barbara Mertz under the pen name Elizabeth Peters. The series starts with Crocodile on the Sandbank and continues into the 20th century in 18 more novels. I truly laughed out loud through the whole series.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2019 [8 favorites]

Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will scratch this itch and then some. Seconding Pratchett and Wodehouse too...
posted by doornoise at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2019 [17 favorites]

Seconding the recs for Wodehouse (especially the Blandings ones), Terry Pratchett, and I Capture the Castle. If you're feeling like your attention span is a bit low, Wodehouse short stories are always good.

When my old book club read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, I went in with low expectations based on the title, but it is a warm, open-hearted book about older people finding love despite cultural differences.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:36 PM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I love Handling Sin by Michael Malone. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions.
Anything in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Series by Alexander McCall Smith.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 4:38 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Maeve Binchy. I especially like Scarlet Feather—good story lines, great characters, some humor, and genuine kindness. Plus it’s about a catering business and it’s always fun to read about food!
posted by bookmammal at 4:44 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Good Omens!
posted by Grandysaur at 4:48 PM on July 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Pretty much any of Ursula Vernon's adult books, which she writes under T Kingfisher, would scratch this itch. I particularly like The Raven and the Reindeer, a snow queen retelling, but you can't go wrong with her works.
posted by jeather at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2019 [8 favorites]

I agree with everyone. For Terry Pratchett, you could start anywhere in Discworld and be okay, but I'd maybe start randomly somewhere in the middle and work out from there.
posted by ovvl at 4:52 PM on July 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yet another vote for Maeve Binchy - Light a Penny Candle or The Copper Beech are my particular favorites. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society might scratch your itch. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. You might enjoy Elizabeth Berg - The Pull of the Moon or Open House are charming and funny. Possibly Say When, too. She has a real knack for conversations that sound just like how people really talk.
posted by XtineHutch at 4:55 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Kage Baker also has a fantasy series starting with Anvil of the World that is just lovely. If you've only read her Company books, I highly recommend checking it out.
posted by entropyiswinning at 5:00 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

I’m re-reading Robin Sloan’s Sourdough right now and it’s delighting me as much this time as when I read it last year. It’s a light, comforting, cheery read.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:04 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Dortmunder series by Donald E. Westlake is a lot of fun.
posted by merejane at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your tastes seem very similar to mine. I would recommend:

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
Space Opera by Catherynne Valente
Romeo And/Or Juliet by Ryan North
How Much For Just The Planet by John M. Ford IF you are a fan of the original series Star Trek
Bellwether by Connie Willis if you haven't read it yet
posted by kyrademon at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Christopher Moore, especially his earlier stuff and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.

And yet another vote for Terry Pratchett. His books are funny without being mean spirited. He's a bit cynical but in a good way.

John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars is also a lot of fun. I enjoy his work in general, but this one is particularly funny.

Not in the fiction genre, but Mary Roach is good, educational-ish fun. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is a joy to read.
posted by jzb at 5:45 PM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I haven't read The Goblin Emperor, but have heard it recommended to others making similar requests.
posted by praemunire at 5:47 PM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you liked the Provincial Lady, you'll love E.F.Benson's Mapp and Lucia series.
posted by mdrew at 5:49 PM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Since you mention Bridget Jones’ Diary, maybe consider another retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I just finished Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal, who sets her story in 2001 Pakistan. I giggled as each of Austen’s characters was introduced, with similar but distinctly Pakistani names, and I was impressed with how the author reimagined the 18th century scenarios in more modern times.
posted by kbar1 at 6:02 PM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I wholeheartedly recommend Fannie Flagg’s Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man (sorry, can’t link from my phone)

Also, if you’ve never read Cold Comfort Farm, you’re in for a treat

Nothing Pratchett, especially the Witches books
posted by Mchelly at 7:01 PM on July 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

> The most important quality that it is funny, but it has to be a kind, generous,expansive funny that's not about being unkind or contemptuous of people. I also really enjoy things that are fairy tale-ish or magical.

If you've never read them (and even if you have), I highly recommend the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde:

A couple favorite lines:

One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. -- The Selfish Giant

‘Truly,’ answered his companion, ‘much is given to some, and little is given to others. Injustice has parcelled out the world, nor is there equal division of aught save of sorrow.’ -- The Star Child
posted by bunbury at 7:23 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just had a blast reading through all of Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse (vampires and werewolves and kick-butt heroines in steampunk Victorian England). I probably liked the original series and a few spin off novellas the best, but they were all fun.

Lois McMaster Bujold? The Vorkosigan novels (eeeepic space opera) are so good but most of the typical entry points (Shards of Honor, The Warrior’s Apprentice, Komarr) might be slightly too dark but there’s SO MUCH good stuff in there too (A Civil Campaign! Eek!). I really love her Sharing Knife series, and the Penric novellas are pretty fun too (both fantasy).

I asked a question about sci fi as self care and the Squirrel Girl novels (Marvel Universe spin-off) were recommended and oh so fun, but lots of other good stuff there too.

If sci fi is okay, Becky Chambers! I want to hug those books. They feel like a happier (but slightly less fun) version of Firefly to me.

I also want to hug the Codex Alera books (fantasy) by Jim Butcher. Funny, fun, satisfying, with love and honor and epic battle scenes and things all turning out perfectly in the end (of each book and the series). I’ve read the whole series probably 4-5 times through.

Also, hugs from this internet stranger if you want them. I hope you feel better soon.
posted by bananacabana at 7:28 PM on July 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

I’m sorry, I got so excited thinking about satisfying books that you might like based on the list you provided that I forgot the funny part.

Yes, Gail Carriger. Yes, Squirrel Girl novels.

Maybe not right now for Bujold, Chambers, and Butcher. They all have funny parts but aren’t specifically funny books.

I offer in their places

The Eyre Affair and other books by Jasper Fforde (wacky British fantasy that’s also an ode to great literature)

The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer (evil genius meets fairy policewoman, YA)

Fred the Vampire Accountant and the rest of the series by Drew Hayes (sort of like Brooklyn 99 if they were variously undead/sorcerers/etc. and at least some were accountants)
posted by bananacabana at 7:58 PM on July 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's a memoir, not fiction, but when I was reading it to my mother in the hospital we were all laughing too hard to read. Jenny Lawson's "Let's Pretend This Never Happened." It's not a laugh riot from beginning to end, but it's got some really great moments.
posted by drossdragon at 10:15 PM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fool On The Hill by Matt Ruff. Whimsical, magical, and odd.
posted by davidmsc at 12:00 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Princess Bride
The Importance of Being Earnest
Definitely the Hitchhiker's Guide

Kind humor makes me think of Dickens, if you're okay with the humor being accompanied by lots of drama.

I saw The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Eleanor Oliphant recommended above and just wanted to note that both deal with some very heavy stuff (Nazi occupation, severe post-trauma and mental collapse).
posted by trig at 12:48 AM on July 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

I agree with a lot of the above, I’d just throw in Diana Wynne Jones. Her books were all nominally aimed at children, but I only discovered them as an adult and thoroughly enjoyed them. If you’re looking for gentle and funny, I’d probably start with the Chrestomanci novels, but the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy and the Derkholm books would also be good choices.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:50 AM on July 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

Most of what I first thought of has already been mentioned, but you might also like The Little White Horse and The Ordinary Princess.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:19 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh! And another one that might work for you is back in print! The Kingdom and the Cave.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:25 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mistress Masham's Repose and The Sword in the Stone by T.H.White.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold

The Narnia series, by C.S.Lewis, except The Last Battle

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I'd mention Sir Terry Pratchett, especially starting with Witches Abroad, but everyone else has already mentioned that.

Kids books are often a good place to look for fiction to read while you are sick. If you avoid the ones that are true to life about kids with serious problems, a sub genre that came out in the seventies and practically swallowed the entire kids fiction genre, they frequently run to being positive, amusing, imaginative and not at all dense or hard to concentrate on. The downside is that they are often comparatively short.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:17 AM on July 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

If you like Three Men in a Boat, I should think you would also like Three Men on the Bummel - in which the same three men go on a bicycle tour through the Black Forest - and The Diary of a Pilgrimage, very much in the same vein, in which the author and his friend 'B' travel from England to and through Germany to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau.

In much the same vein are two books by W.E. Bowman: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, the tale of a mountaineering expedition, and its sequel (out of print, but there's a Kindle edition), The Cruise of the Talking Fish, describing an intrepid Pacific voyage aboard a raft.

Some recommendations above that I'm surprised to be the first to second: the Amelia Peabody series, Ursula Vernon writing under her real name (children's books - try Castle Hangnail) or as T. Kingfisher (though be warned that the Clocktaur duology will make you cry, so maybe not those specific two right now), Anvil of the World, The Eyre Affair, The Princess Bride, Diana Wynne Jones and The Ordinary Princess.

Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus books are wickedly funny, but I probably wouldn't read them if I were feeling low because [spoilers].

And I strongly agree with the suggestion of children's books in general. My bookish British childhood leads me to offer a few more specific authors and titles: for stories told with gentle humour, aside from those already mentioned, I would turn to Joan Aiken (her whimsical, magical short stories, or the wonderful Arabel and Mortimer books), Noel Langley's The Land of Green Ginger, JBS Haldane's My Friend Mr Leakey, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, anything at all by Norman Hunter, and the Nicholas books by Goscinny and Sempé... and that leads me of course to Asterix.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:00 AM on July 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

Stuart Mclean's Vinyl Café short stories are hilarious. Even better if you can get the audio recordings. He did them for Radio CBC, then had equally huge success with the books. We listened to the audio and nearly choked laughing.
Also, The Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson.
Neither of these writers has a mean bone in their body.
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:01 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Doubling down on Jasper Fforde as an author who will whisk you completely out of your own world.

My personal favourite is Shades of Grey but it's a one-off. His Thursday Next series will keep you busy for a while, and the Nursery Crime series is also great fun.
posted by Eumachia L F at 9:03 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go against the grain here and advise you to avoid both Terry Pratchett and even Douglas Adams if you don't want snark or contempt. These are not kind, gentle authors who love their characters.

It's not fantasy, but when I need tender, good-natured humor I turn to James Herriot. He describes people and animals and events with great love. Watch out though- he's as likely to make you laugh as to cry.

I'd also recommend A.A. Milne's Once on a Time which is a sweetly tongue-in-cheek fairy story for grownups.

If you like Bridget Jones, you might enjoy some of Sophie Kinsella's earlier work; The first Shopaholic book is funny, as are Remember Me and The Undomestic Goddess. They are all told from the first person (and so can't be too cruel, though a lot of it is blunderful comedy of errors type humor).
posted by windykites at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Try Sorcery and Cecelia, by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
posted by tavegyl at 10:58 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Don't miss the Temeraire series, also by Naomi Novik! Different from her other two but I think they hit every point you've mentioned to a tee. And there are nine of them!
posted by bluebird at 1:00 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've thought of a few more.

Home to Woefield by Susan Juby. I also remember really like her YA series that starts with Alice, I Think.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik. Think Bridget Jones if she was Muslim.

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 4:22 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Echoing Stella Gibbons, Douglas Adams, and P.G. Wodehouse as above.

Evelyn Waugh is another recommendation, though his stuff tends to be darker and more satirical. Ditto H.H. Munro/Saki.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:08 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands. Tansy Rayner Roberts: Musketeer Space. Earlier free version online here if you want a sample.
posted by Coaticass at 3:21 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jane Austen does the best comedy of manners in history, and while there are a few characters whose flaws show, they generally resolve in delightful ways.
posted by freshwater at 7:04 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding Good Omens!

Nthing Diana Wynne-Jones; I recently read The Islands of Chaldea and liked it a lot.

I really highly recommend Eva Ibbotson, whose books are full of really likeable characters. Maybe The Star of Kazan?

Maybe Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho?

Also seconding The Goblin Emperor - not a lot of funny, but an excellent story and a wonderful protagonist.

Also - Calvin and Hobbes collections?
posted by kristi at 3:22 PM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

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