Please help my sister laugh for Christmas.
December 21, 2007 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Need funny, easy-to-finish books, that aren't moronic. STAT.

Getting a really, really late start on my sister's Christmas present (but it's ok...she understands). Currently she's a stay at home mom with a sub-6-month-old. My sister is super smart, highly educated, and needs a book, or books, that she can breeze through and entertain her in those moments when the baby is sleeping. She doesn't want to think, she wants to laugh and pass the time. Any suggestions? If you've ever read a book, laughed the whole time, finished it in a weekend and passed it on to the first person who seemed interested, I would love to know about it. I'm drawing blanks, since any of the books that I have read fitting this description, were referred to me by my sister or vice-versa.
posted by brain cloud to Writing & Language (77 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Pure Drivel by Steve Martin
posted by Bookhouse at 10:07 PM on December 21, 2007

David Sedaris - Naked
posted by rhizome at 10:10 PM on December 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

The painfully obvious answer is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. All very funny and relatively short.

She might also enjoy John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, as it is mostly broken up into short article-style snippets that she can digest easily. One of the downright wittiest books I've ever read.

Lately I've enjoyed reading some of David Sedaris' memoirs. They're basically short stories about his life, and most of them are told with some wit and humor about his family and personal life. There are several to choose from.
posted by joshrholloway at 10:14 PM on December 21, 2007

very similar question

My first recommendations would be P.G. Wodehouse, or Terry Pratchett's later Discworld novels.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 PM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Anything by Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by not_on_display at 10:16 PM on December 21, 2007

...or Dave Barry. (Sorry, hit post instead of preview.)
posted by not_on_display at 10:19 PM on December 21, 2007

Christopher Moore
posted by pupdog at 10:20 PM on December 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's novel Good Omens.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:22 PM on December 21, 2007

The most brain-dead funny book I can think of at the moment is P.S. Your Cat is Dead. There's some (homo)sexual tension, but I don't think it's homophobic iirc. Mostly I remember laughing my ass off, but I was 14.

Kafka's The Metamorphosis is about a guy who turns into a bug but keeps worrying if he's bothering or letting down his family. I thought it was pretty funny. It's ~50 pages long.
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on December 21, 2007

I suggest Kurt Vonnegut - Breakfast of Champions and Cats Cradle. Also, Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.
posted by Ostara at 10:27 PM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, starting with The Eyre Affair.
Definitely funny. Lots of good word play and references to other literature, etc., both high-and low-brow.
posted by whatzit at 10:35 PM on December 21, 2007

I would vote for Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. You get wit, humour, and when one book is done, you have many more to look forward to.

Keep in mind that with as many books as he has published in the series, you can read them in order of publishing, or you are welcome to follow certain storylines. This wiki article gives you a rundown of where to go.
posted by phredgreen at 10:37 PM on December 21, 2007

Jonathan Safran Foer.

posted by Acari at 10:39 PM on December 21, 2007

Seconding P.G. Wodehouse. Anything by him is good, but for an especially quick/easy read, pick one of his short story collections such as Tales From the Drones Club. That way, she's more likely to be able to actually start and finish one of the stories rather than being right in the middle of a book when the baby wakes up.
posted by greenmagnet at 10:39 PM on December 21, 2007

[also: yes. Vonnegut and Pratchett are perfect book candy, of course. As much or as little thinking as you like.]
posted by Acari at 10:41 PM on December 21, 2007

Any of Mark Haddon's books.
posted by SassHat at 10:43 PM on December 21, 2007

I'll second Christopher Moore. He's utterly hilarious, but I wouldn't recommend him for someone who is super conservative/religious. He's not offensive, but his book Lamb, for example is the story of Jesus and his stoner friend Biff. Utterly fabulous and great for someone smart who needs to read in smaller chunks of time. I literally laughed out loud.
posted by nerdcore at 10:47 PM on December 21, 2007

I like non-fiction when it comes to reading fast, often laughing, and not thinking too deeply. David Sedaris is good, as stated above. So is Augusten Burroughs; he writes about some pretty heavy stuff (his screwed-up childhood, his experiences in rehab), but with a light tone that makes even the most painful moments often feel like comedy.

Also, Anthony Bourdain, especially if your sister is even remotely interested in food or travel.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:00 PM on December 21, 2007

Seconding Jasper Fforde, either Nursery Crimes books or the Thursday Next ones (I like the latter better). Your sister is smart and educated, so right in the target audience and should get a lot of the more esoteric jokes, and the books are just as funny if you don't understand/don't overthink the literary allusions.
posted by shelleycat at 11:06 PM on December 21, 2007

The Best American Nonrequired Reading books are actually really, really good.

Also 2nding John Hodgman.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:35 PM on December 21, 2007

Best answer: I was going to post Good Omens, but someone beat me to it. So I'll second.
posted by eleyna at 11:41 PM on December 21, 2007

Thirding Fforde. But more specifically, just get The Fourth Bear; his other things I shrug and enjoy, TFB I gushed with love.

My girlfriend recommends Zeroville by Steve Erickson but I have no more information.
posted by fleacircus at 11:48 PM on December 21, 2007

Dancing Queen- Lisa Crystal Carver (non- fiction)
A Confederacy of Dunces (if she has for some reason missed it)- John Kennedy Toole
Peter Bagge's "Hate" (comic book, various graphic novel compilations available)
Johnathan Ames

Seconding/Thirding Anthony Bourdain, John Hodgman, and P.G. Wodehouse
posted by macrowave at 12:11 AM on December 22, 2007

Nick Hornby would be good.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 12:13 AM on December 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Second Terry Pratchett.
Also maybe Laurie Notaro, books of her humor columns. She may count as moronic, or at least a bit sophomoric at times, but laugh out loud funny. No investment in it because all you have to do is finish one column and you never need to read another if you don't have time.
posted by agentofselection at 12:19 AM on December 22, 2007

If your super-smart, highly-educated, book-needing, stay-at-home-mom sister hasn't read Robertson Davies, well then, I recommend that you hook her up with The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks—curmudgeonly essays of dry humor written in the late 40's that seem cozily apropos for the holiday season. It's an omnibus edition that collects his three books of Marchbanks essays. Undiscovered gems, I say, gems!

Unfortunately, it looks to be out of print, so you may not be able to score a copy in time for Christmas unless you have an awesome used bookstore close at hand. If you truly love your sister, however, you will eventually find a copy and give it to her. She will be charmed and entertained, and it may serve as a gateway drug to Davies' longer-form writing, which is ripping but not nearly as humorous as the Marchbanks, nor as well-suited to stolen moments in mid-childcare.
posted by mumkin at 12:45 AM on December 22, 2007

I really enjoyed most everything by Bill Bryson, if you're willing to go with non-fiction.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:56 AM on December 22, 2007

Backing up the recommendations of -

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series
Good Omens
Nick Hornby

and also adding Bridget Jones' Diary and its sequel, Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason.

David Sedaris is also a good suggestion. I started with his Me Talk Pretty One Day.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:09 AM on December 22, 2007

A lot that's classified as "chick lit" would fit this description, but definitely not all. Sophie Kinsella may be another good choice for your sister.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:10 AM on December 22, 2007

If you can find them, any of the collections of shorts by James Thurber are fantastic. Some aspects of them are a little dated now, but most of what he was laughing at was timeless.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:22 AM on December 22, 2007

Definitely Terry Pratchett's Discworld, a fantasy series. I should warn you, the first book in Discworld, The Color of Magic, spoofs some other fantasy novels by other authors but not having read those won't interfer in a good read. Most of the books can be read as stand-alones.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is also very good book.

John Moore is another fun fantasy author from Texas who does interesting adult twists to fairy tales for most of his books.

Sharyn McCrumb writes mysteries that I find are a good, easy read with a light sense of humor in the pages.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 1:42 AM on December 22, 2007

Best answer: Utz by my god, Bruce Chatwin.
posted by parmanparman at 1:47 AM on December 22, 2007

Anne Tyler's books can be easily gobbled (but are extremely clever, with the characterizations and all), often are very funny (although mostly they're not about the funny) and when you read them the next time they are even better!
posted by h00py at 1:54 AM on December 22, 2007

Number One Ladies Detection Agency books are light, easy to read, and amusing.
And addictive.

The author's website
posted by taff at 2:14 AM on December 22, 2007

Donald Barthelme's 40 or 60 Stories books are money. Never over 6 pages a story and always stupendously funny. Not quite braindead, though.

And 2nding Steve Martin.
posted by odasaku at 4:30 AM on December 22, 2007

A lot of good suggestions in this thread; I'll add Portnoy's Complaint, which I found hilarious.
posted by saladin at 4:38 AM on December 22, 2007

Author Fay Weldon is funny and smart.
Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories by Katha Pollitt is terrific
posted by mayann at 4:42 AM on December 22, 2007

Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett, David Sedaris - all mentioned before, but worth mentioning again.

Bill Bryson's I'm A Stranger Here Myself is amazingly funny.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:54 AM on December 22, 2007

Vonnegut and Bill Bryson are great suggestions. I also recommend Barbara Else's Warrior Queen. Funny, clever, and thoroughly enjoyable.
posted by bassjump at 4:58 AM on December 22, 2007

Seconding Bill Bryson's I'm a Stanger Here Myself. Neither Here Nor There and A Short History on Nearly Everything are also funny and good reads. Neither Here Nor There is about his travels in Europe. A Short History on Nearly Everything is awesome if she is into any branch of science. He touches on (nearly) everything. It's awesome.
posted by beachhead2 at 5:03 AM on December 22, 2007

Jasper Fforde is awesome - the Thursday Next books are the ones you want. The Jack Spratt ones have not quite attained the level of fun that TN has got. Otherwise I'd say anything that David Sedaris has in print - and if she is not familiar with him at all, get her a clip of his voice (or an audio book) as to me the voice is half the funny with him. Great thing about the David Sedaris books is that they can be read chapter by chapter with no remorse, as the stories are all unrelated.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:34 AM on December 22, 2007

Any of the very funny, very easy to read, but subtly clever and warm-hearted Flashman books.
posted by Drexen at 5:59 AM on December 22, 2007

"can you keep a secret" by sophie kinsella. my gf could NOT put it down and laughed the entire time.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:06 AM on December 22, 2007

I'd go with David Sedaris too, laugh out loud funny; and short essays too which seems to fit the need. Bill Bryson is always great as well.

But also add Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, and George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody. Although neither of them are modern they are both short books that ring true today. Diaries of funny people might also be a good way to go.
posted by cluck at 6:25 AM on December 22, 2007

Best answer: The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists made me laugh a lot. It's not an intellectual book as such, but it has a lot of wry silliness that me and my girlfriend enjoyed, and I think it could appeal to other smart, educated people.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 6:43 AM on December 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

bill bryson is fantastically funny. jonathan ames is funny but very dirty (not sure how her humor runs). sedaris, obviously.

anne lamott is a great writer. she tackles serious things hilariously. she's written several books on faith, but she's also a single mom, so be sure to check out "operating instructions," which is about her first year as a parent. your sister will probably love her.

also, a book of billy collins's poetry will probably delight her. he is funny and insightful and sly, and not academic at all.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:20 AM on December 22, 2007

Saki's short stories are entertaining and can be read very quickly.
posted by ersatz at 7:30 AM on December 22, 2007

I enjoyed Augusten Burrough's book Running with Scissors. Easy read and hilarious. I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks as I can get some housework done while listening...might be helpful for your sister. Finally, +1 for Sedaris and #1 Ladies Detection Agency.
posted by ms.v. at 7:36 AM on December 22, 2007

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.
posted by Jahaza at 7:40 AM on December 22, 2007

Everyone's beaten me to saying Terry Pratchett. I will say, though, that she should not start at the beginning of the Discworld series; the early ones are really not up to the standard of later ones. Start with Mort or anything from Wyrd Sisters onwards.

I would thoroughly recommend the book I'm currently reading as a quick finish-it-before-Christmas - The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie. (Yes, by House!) It's smart and fun and absolutely laugh-out-loud funny.
posted by bent back tulips at 7:50 AM on December 22, 2007

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World: AJ Jacobs reads the encyclopedia (more funny than it sounds). Or, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel, about growing up in the midwest in the 1970s.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:52 AM on December 22, 2007

Best answer: Mountain Men Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists

This is the funniest book I ever read. Also would be ideal for short reading sessions.

Some example lists:

“Signs Your Unicorn Is Cheating on You.”

"Errors in Communication Between My Hairdresser and Me, in the Form of What I Said and What He Heard"

"Things This City Was Built On, Besides Rock 'n' Roll"
posted by mgogol at 8:03 AM on December 22, 2007

Seconding David Sedaris, but my vote is for "Me Talk Pretty One Day".
posted by Glitter Ninja at 8:12 AM on December 22, 2007

Carl Hiaasen

Yes, he's the author of Striptease. Don't hold the movie against him.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:13 AM on December 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. As a new mom, I laughed until tears were flowing.

Also, The World According to Mimi Smartypants is funny and written so that you can read it in little blocks of time. (For a taste of her writing to see if your sister would like it, click here.)
posted by jeanmari at 8:32 AM on December 22, 2007

Christopher Buckley
Summerland by Michael Chabon
Fight Club
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 8:40 AM on December 22, 2007

A Confederacy of Dunces is the funniest book in the world. Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric is the most audacious. T. C. Boyle's short stories, Carl Hiassen's mysteries, and Peter de Vries's novels are also all hilarious.

(Peter de Vries has unfairly been mostly forgotten, but he's fantastic. The about the author blurb on Amazon is good: Peter De Vries (1910–1993), the man responsible for contributing to the cultural vernacular such witticisms as "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be" and "Deep down, he's shallow," was, according to Kingsley Amis, "the funniest serious writer to be found on either side of the Atlantic." But De Vries's life and work was informed as much by sorrow as by wit, and that dynamic is nowhere better seen than in his classics Slouching Towards Kalamazoo and The Blood of the Lamb. First published in 1982 and 1965, respectively, these novels reemerge with their sharp satire and biting pain undiluted by time.)

But about Terry Pratchett: I love the man to death, but I haven't had success loaning his books to others. I have tried on at least four separate occasions to give his books to novel-loving friends who are somewhat wary of fantasy novels, always saying, "don't let the fantasy stuff put you off -- it's hilarious and extremely clever." All four times have been hugely disappointing busts. I'm sure others here will have had different experiences with recommending Pterry, but I've stopped trying to recommend him unless I'm sure the person will not have to get around the subject matter. If you don't think your sister will roll her eyes, then yes, Pratchett, absolutely.
posted by painquale at 8:40 AM on December 22, 2007

Uh oh, I forgot about John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor, which is a contender against A Confederacy of Dunces for world's funniest novel (it's not quite so light, though), and Gore Vidal's Duluth. They're both incredibly funny.
posted by painquale at 8:44 AM on December 22, 2007

Scepticism, Inc. by Bo Fowler. I bet you $10 you'll love it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:27 AM on December 22, 2007

+1 for Sewer Gas and Electric as well as Good Omens.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:27 AM on December 22, 2007

Mike Nelson (of MST3K fame wrote a nice book of short comedic pieces called "Mind Over Matters".
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2007

The Bear Went Over The Mountain by William Kotzwinkle. Funniest book I ever read.

And seconding The Gun Seller.
posted by nicwolff at 10:17 AM on December 22, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, WOW. Thanks everybody for the suggestions. I just got finished making my Amazon order which included: Pure Drivel, Good Omens, Utz, The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists, and Mountain Man Dance Moves.

My sister is a big fan of David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, John Hodgman, and Jonathan Safran Foer, so whoever suggested those writers were definitely on the right track. And many years back, I read to her the complete HHGTTG which she greatly enjoyed. I actually did consider some Discworld books but perhaps now is not the time (living with a geek husband, she approaches the scifi component of any book, movie or game with great suspicion).

Thanks for coming through for me, MeFi!!
posted by brain cloud at 10:20 AM on December 22, 2007

Nth-ing Vonnegut, the only thing I still fondly remember about an ex-gf was that she gave me Breakfast of Champions and said "I think you'll like this..."

Only thing I didn't see mentioned before, Piers Anthony's Xanth series. An oldie, but always pun-y enjoyable light reading series.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:38 AM on December 22, 2007

There's a reason why David Sedaris has been mentioned so many times in this thread -he's truly one of the funniest of current writers
posted by Neiltupper at 12:17 PM on December 22, 2007

If it's not too late, let me suggest Dorothy Parker. She is, in fact, as funny as her reputation makes her out to be. The Portable Dorothy Parker should do nicely.

(lot of great suggestions in this thread, by the by, Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself is perfect stolen-moment-candy, for instance)
posted by Kattullus at 3:22 PM on December 22, 2007

Richard Beasley's "Hell Has Harbour Views". Funniest book I've read in a while.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:07 PM on December 22, 2007

Donald Westlake's Dortmunder books. As inventive as Wodehouse and just as funny. If no one else is around, she'll be reading passages to the infant, they're that good.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:15 PM on December 22, 2007

Second Bill Bryson. It's pretty easy to pick up and put down and he's one of the few authors that consistently makes me laugh out loud. While reading his stuff, I had to be careful about reading in bed because I woke up Mrs. Plinth with my laughing.

You might also consider "In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash" or "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters" by Jean Shepherd. Both are collections of vignettes and pretty dang funny.
posted by plinth at 7:35 PM on December 22, 2007

Nthing Bryson. Hilarious, and very easy to read in short bursts.
posted by ewiar at 9:11 PM on December 22, 2007

I picked up Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday based solely on this absolutely glowing New York Times review. It's a novel for children, but it's smart and funny and satisfies all your requirements. I've read through two thirds of it in the last day or so.

From the review:
Although it’s a book for children, adults will find this page turner, really a satire about the conquering of foreign cultures, entertaining as well. Its pacing and cadence make it a perfect story for reading aloud, and it’s almost impossible to resist sharing great lines with people nearby.
posted by nobody at 1:04 AM on December 23, 2007

Nthing Bryson, Adams, Wodehouse, Jerome K Jerome and Pratchett.
If your sister would like some really light reading I would also recommend any of Georgette Heyer's romances -- they're technically "romance novels" but far above most other books in that genre and always make me and my mother laugh out loud -- you could start with Venetia, Bath Tangle and The Grand Sophy. The heroines are full of spunk and joie de vivre and the books can't be beat for light, fairly mindless enjoyment.
posted by peacheater at 11:20 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get her a Rumpole collection, or Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.
posted by evariste at 12:44 AM on December 25, 2007

Brain Child bills itself as the magazine for thinking mothers. I've given it as a gift more than once.
posted by shothotbot at 6:37 PM on December 30, 2007

« Older How can I insert text into an existing PDF using...   |   Cheap Prepaid SIM in Canada? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.