In times of global recession, British weather and never-ending stress, it seems more than fitting to compile a list of funny books to read. Some of the books in this list were designed to be hilarious and others are just simply great stories that will have you laughing out loud. So without further ado, here is a list of funny books to read that will help you beat the blues.
Coming in at number 20 on this list of the best funny books is the hilarious Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. In her book, Truss tackles the fickle topic of punctuation and guides us through its history and correct usage in a refreshing and funny way. Taking on two giants, the text message and the email, Truss wonderfully explains all that is wrong in modern society’s use of the comma, semi-colon and the accursed apostrophe. Definitely a book for any English student or teacher, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a brilliantly witty mantra on the importance of correct punctuation. We all get annoyed at that one friend who confuses “you’re” with “your”, and Truss reassures you that this is perfectly normal. Highly structured with a chapter devoted to each aspect of punctuation that is going to be tackled, makes this book a quick, easy and laugh-out-loud read. Truss manages the impossible and creates an informative, witty book about a subject hated by many – punctuation. Brilliant!
Published in 1999, Adrian Mole is back. This time he is 30 1/4, divorced and a parent. His marriage to his beautiful, exotic Nigerian wife has failed and Mole now supports his kid by working as a top chef in a London restaurant. His life seems to be plodding along at a rather uneventful pace, when he suddenly discovers that he has an older son. His one true love, Pandora, makes a reappearance as a Labour MP. Alongside Mole’s younger sister Rosie who seems to have been absorbed by 90’s culture. There are more brilliantly witty moments in the fifth Mole book by Townsend, including the moment when Adrian becomes an unsuspecting celebrity due to a stint as a TV chef. Townsend wonderfully combines tragedy and comedy in The Cappuccino Years and wonderfully captures the excess of the nineties. A brilliant satire of England and particularly the society during this epoch, Townsend really is at her best here! Wonderfully witty and human, Adrian Mole triumphs again.
Ruth Reichl is a world renowned food critic and something of an expert. The chief editor of Gourmet magazine has used her years and years of experience as inspiration for this brilliant tale. She worked for The New York Times as a food critic between the years 1993-1999 and pours that into her book Garlic and Sapphires. As a famous and thus recognisable food critic, Ruth knows the importance of a foolproof disguise. Faced with the difficulty of being able to give readers an honest review, Ruth began to adopt numerous personalities and wear them out to dine. Ingenious! Ranging from the saucy Chloe to her own mother, Ruth conveys her journey in a clear, funny and refreshing style. She revels in her own trickery and delights in documenting the different ways she is treated in a restaurant when dining as an alter-ego, and then directly comparing this to when she dines as herself. Wonderfully candid, Reichl really does possess a flair for writing and this is but one of the great memoirs she has written about her job as a food critic. A funny book that will whet your appetite.
“News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read.” Or so thinks Evelyn Waugh in his brilliant satire of journalism: Scoop. Focussing on the newspaper industry in England during the 1930’s, Scoop follows the life of William Boot, a writer whose sole interest appears to the life of the badger. In a case of graven mistaken identity, Boot finds himself being sent to the made-up Ishmaelia in Africa. Here Waugh brilliantly pokes fun at foreign correspondents and the news industry, particularly foreign news reporters who he paints as drunkards that will make up stories for cold hard cash. Waugh manages to draw from his own time as a correspondent in Ethiopia, to bring the named Ishmaelia to life. The protagonist is likeable and funny, becoming a famous writer for The Daily Beast in a bizarre and satirical tale. Well structured from start to finish, the outlandish plot never runs away from you as Waugh knows exactly when to rein bits in, and when to let his wit run away with him. A fantastic look at life through the lens of a news reporter.
Bill Bryson is renowned for his hilarious travel books and A Walk in the Woods is no exception. The Appalachian Trail travels from Georgia through to Maine, and is home to some truly breath-taking natural sights. Usually I find travel books rather boring, but I have to admit that Bill Bryson may just be the best tour guide in the world. Bryson proclaims pretty early on that “I have long known it was part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on the earth” and describing one woman in particular, Mary Ellen as “proof that even in the Appalachian woods [he] would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.” Bryson’s sense of humour is sarcasm at its best, which induces fits of laughter. Combining his broad depth of knowledge surrounding the history, zoology and ecology of the area, Bryson manages to entertain and educate in a way that never patronises you. Instead you become the third backpacker that accompanies Katz and Bryson through the epic four month trip. Fantastic!
The world is going to end on Saturday. That is the prediction made by Agnes Nutter. Forces from both good and evil are gathering themselves to prepare for the battle to end all battles. Frogs are dropping from the sky and two people are particularly anxious about the up-coming apocalypse. Enter Crowley (the devil’s representative) and Aziraphale (god’s representative) who have become rather comfortable in their lives on Earth. Both have been at loggerheads since the beginning of time, but since then their differences have become more a disagreement than a fight. They have also been at each other’s throats for so long, they are now borderline friends. In the year 1999 news of an Antichrist, called Adam, reaches both Crowley and Aziraphale’s ears, and both are summoned by their respective teams to get ready to go to the hospital to greet the blond-haired baby. The only problem is that three different blond-haired babies were born there at the same time. Throw into the mix a plethora of great characters and fantastically sharp writing, and Good Omens becomes a truly hilarious read. Pratchett really does know how to draw out funny concepts, such as an Antichrist who has free will and Crowley described as a truly anti-Queen (the band) person. This book guarantees laugh out loud moments with every turn of the page. An excellent book.
Robert Purcell has committed a crime, a crime that has landed him in prison. Purcell is quintessentially British, privileged from birth and follows in his father’s footsteps by becoming a barrister. Robert is a character that is incredibly difficult to swallow. He is pompous, arrogant, condescending and vain, who believes “the poor must be fed, clothed and housed, though preferably not next door”. He plans his life from the off, goes to the school he has always planned to go to and then marries the type of woman he always planned on marrying. It would appear that his life is running smoothly. Canter achieves something incredible in this book and his surprise ending has you sympathising with a man who seems detestable. A truly brilliant read to make it on the list of the best funny books.
Meet Julie Powell. She is at odds with her job and has emphatically decided that in order to save herself from fast approaching depression she must cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Written by Julia Child, the kitchen offers a completely different environment to the office where she answers phones for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Powell’s narrative coalesces with that of Child’s to form a great book which is both funny and touching. Child is followed through her time in Paris, learning all of her skills from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu. Powell herself documented her journey through French cuisine on an online blog, which later became the inspiration for her novel. An easy-to-read book, Julie and Julia is the wonderful tale of a woman’s struggle to find direction in life and combines humour with hope.
Bertram “Bertie” Wooster wakes up from his friend’s bachelor’s party to find his Aunt Dahliah demanding he “sneer at a cow creamer” in order to adequately scare the owner. En route to the antique dealer, Bertie has a slight altercation with Sir Watkyn Bassett and Roderick Spode. Woodhouse masterfully weaves together brilliant situational comedy and wonderful phrasing to deliver a truly British and fantastic book. Bertie’s faithful sidekick Jeeves manages to save the day and even though his patience and intellect are both pushed to the limit, he masterfully draws the story to its conclusion. The Code of the Woosters is perhaps the best in the Jeeves and Wooster series, and Woodhouse controls his characters and guides them through the manic situations he creates. With dry one-liners such as “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled”, Woodhouse pulls out all his comedic flair to create a laugh-out-loud story, that doesn’t force its humour down on your face.
Catcher in the Rye tells the story of Holden Caulfield as he struggles through pubescent life. Caulfield mirrors Adrian Mole and the two would probably have been friends had their literary paths crossed. It sometimes seems intimidating to attempt to read a book that is defined as a classic, however I urge you to add Salinger’s novel to your bookshelf. Caulfield is wonderfully cynical, and could become incredibly arrogant and annoying if handled by any other author. However, Salinger never pushes the reader too far and we instead begrudgingly sympathise with Caulfield as he narrates his life since the breakdown that put him in hospital. A very matter of fact tone is what makes this book brilliantly dry and witty. Not obviously funny, Catcher in the Rye rewards its readers with slick and stylish humour. The trials and tribulations of teenage life are played out in a magnetic realism that places Caulfield in to lists of the best literary characters. A fantastic novel!
Reaching the mid-way point in this list of funny books to read comes – One For The Money, Janet Evanovich’s debut novel in the Stephanie Plum series and despite not being the most thought-provoking story ever told – what it lacks in complexity it certainly makes up for in laughs. Stephanie Plum has recently lost her job as a lingerie saleswoman and is instead hired by her uncle Vinnie as a bounty hunter to find Joe Morelli, a former cop wanted for murder. Morelli also happens to be Stephanie’s ex-lover. One For The Money is a fast-paced, mystery novel that follows Stephanie on her mission to capture Morelli and her interactions with a loveable if slightly irritating and dysfunctional family. Set in New Jersey which as Connie, Vinnie’s assistant, states “is a challenge, what with the toxic waste and the eighteen wheelers and the armed schizophrenics”, this tale is both hilarious and heart-warming. Plum is unlucky, loveable and down right determined to get her hands on the £10,000, the going rate for Morelli. This book isn’t hugely challenging to read, however, its accessibility makes it a fun page turner. A hilarious start to a series that is worthwhile reading for some light relief.
Will Freeman is a 35 year old who bums around at home listening to music, watching day time tele and generally just living off the profits of his Dad’s one hit wonder Christmas song. Single and not one for commitment, Will soon discovers that the perfect way to pick up women is by joining the local single parent groups and pretending he has a child. It is here that he meets Marcus. Marcus is a geeky, slightly odd 12 year old who lives alone with his hippy and depressed mother, Fiona. During these single parent meetings, Marcus uncovers Will’s secret – he is in fact childless – and the two characters form an unlikely bond. Marcus acts as a pseudo-father to Will and helps to get his life in order, whilst Will offers Marcus companionship in this heartwarming tale. Hornby manages to create very real, human characters whilst showing off his comic ability with numerous hilarious moments. One memorable example is when Marcus sandwiches a duck to death. However, by undercutting the humour with serious story lines, such as Fiona’s suicide attempt, Hornby also conveys a powerful realism fuelled by emotion. About A Boy is sarcastic, funny and deeply touching. Hornby utilizes his razor sharp British wit to deliver a book that is as heartwarming as it is hilarious. A great book!
Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea is the hilariously candid and unorthodox memoirs of American comedienne, Chelsea Handler. If you have seen any of her hit tv show or stand-up, you will know that Handler has a sharp wit and leaves no prisoners in her cutting critique of celebrities. In this book however she delves into her past with blinding honesty. The effect is a book that will quite literally have you in tears with laughter. Handler starts with tales from her childhood where she tried to convince her class she was starring in a movie with Goldie Hawn, and from then on the laughs never cease. She even details dates with men where she tells one man quite bluntly, “I’m drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.” This book is a collection of autobiographical essays that combine sarcasm and acute observations to form carefully created side-splitting tales. A great book for summer sunbathing.
Published in 1999, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging is the love child of Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole. It tells the tale of Georgia Nicolson. Georgia is a typical teenage girl; obsessed with boys, trying to cope with a crazy family and trying to cope with her looks, especially her nose. Rennison’s style is incredibly accessible and doesn’t try to lecture the reader like most young fiction, instead she simply depicts Georgia’s life as it is. The female protagonist is melodramatic, self-involved and insecure and more importantly a character that you will take into your bosom and reassure that her nose really isn’t that awful. There are truly hysterical moments for instance when Georgia is unashamedly groped by a boy and when a rumour circles the school that Georgia is a lesbian. All of these events add texture to a text that really does capture female teenage angst in an endearing and funny way. Rennison’s novel is a fantastically funny read!
David Sedaris is an American humorist who depicts his childhood and college life via a collection of essays in this autobiographical book. Naked is the second memoir to appear on this list and for good reason. Opening with the line “‘I’m thinking of asking the servants to wax my change” Sedaris brings you tales that are so bizarre its hard to believe they have some ounce of truth in them and masterfully turns rather sad events into pure entertainment. One particularly memorable incident is when the young David finds a pornographic magazine and develops of fear of his predatory parents. With charming insights into family life, Naked will have you laughing from beginning to end with its dark humour. Sedaris weaves together all of these essays in a timeless fashion and proves not only is he a really funny bugger, but he is also a talented story-teller.
Three Men In A Boat was published in 1889 and yet still manages to engage with a modern audience on a remarkable level. The tale is narrated by J who one day decides, along with two pals George and Harris, that he deserves a holiday due to overworking. In one swift move all three friends choose a boat holiday along the River Thames all the way to Oxford. This tale is full of anecdotes about J’s friends, including J’s blindingly obvious hypochondria. Jerome writes in a sarcastic and smart style that manages to turn a seemingly boring boat holiday into a wonderful tale. Although it was written from the depths of the Victorian Era, the language remains as accessible as any of the modern texts in this list. Portraying a quintessential British sense of humour this tale emulates Enid Blyton’s Mr Meddle series as it combines crazy adventures with such vivid imagery that the events unfold before you very eyes. A charming read and one that is as fresh when you first read it, as it will be on the tenth.
Perhaps one of the funniest books ever written, Bridget Jones’s Diary is exactly what its title suggests, the diary of a 3o something, single woman called Bridget Jones. She is struggling with weight, struggling with various vices and most importantly struggling with men. The book begins with a list of New Years Resolutions where Bridget states she will not “obsess about Daniel Cleaver [her boss] as pathetic to have a crush on boss in manner of Miss Moneypenny or similar” and will “put photographs in photograph albums”. Fielding captures the anxieties single women go through without making Bridget over-indulgent or irritating. She instead creates a character you wish was your friend. Even other characters in the novel take on a certain poignancy that makes them unforgettable, like her mother who is constantly trying to secure her a husband and her father who tries to remain sane in his marriage. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a timeless novel that will have you unashamedly laughing out loud and falling head over heels in love with the main character. A brilliant book.
Nick Hornby appears again on this list with his music fulled novel High Fidelity. Rob Fleming is the proud owner of a record store in London who we are introduced to just after a pretty hefty breakup. Immediately you warm to seemingly down-and-out Rob, who decides to compile lists starting with his top five breakups. Spurred on by his memories, Rob contacts all of his past girlfriends and leads to the possibilities of a reconciliation with Laura. Just Fielding superbly captures the female psyche in Bridget Jones, Hornby beautifully captures the male psyche. Rob is endearing, funny and loveable, as a guy desperate to get his old life back and in true Hornby style the emotions are acutely observed. Hornby tackles the difficult and relatively un-documented theme of how men deal with break-ups, becoming the guys answer to chick lit. High Fidelity is darkly humorous but captures beautifully the torment of a break-up with stark realism. Simply put, this novel is Hornby at his best.
Usually when I read science-fiction novels I have to force myself to stick at it before discarding them quite quickly. However, Douglas Adams achieved something I deemed impossible, he had me hooked from page one. The protagonist is Arthur Dent and the story begins outside his house as he lies in front of a bulldozer that wants to demolish his house in favour of a new bypass. His friend Ford Prefect swiftly arrives and informs Arthur of a potential alien invasion by the Vogons, creatures who are determined to end the human race. As the pair attempt to escape they suddenly find themselves cast into outer space. During their journey the world famous number 42 is discovered to be the answer to the meaning of life and the Earth is revealed to be nothing more than a super computer created by a far superior and far more intelligent being than mere humans. Adams writes in an accessible way as he weaves this galactic tale that unveils the cosmic joke that is our universe and our perceived meaning of life. Mirroring much of absurdist theory The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy combines Adams’ never ending imaginative capabilities with his comic flair to deliver a tale that is truly spellbinding. Like Lewis Carroll before him, Adams ridicules known conventions and modes of thinking to reveal the childish illusions underneath. An absolutely great read that transposes complex ideas into simple, hilarious bite-sized chunks.
No matter how many times I read and re-read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole I’m still over come with fits of hysterical laughter. When I first met Adrian Mole I was 12 years old, and since then I have returned again and again to Townsend’s wonderful tale. Adrian Mole is a teenage boy growing up in Thatcher Britain who emphatically proclaims “I know I’m an intellectual”. Like any typical teen Adrian is melodramatic and self-involved but Townsend never pushes his ego too far, as he remains likeable throughout. This novel cleverly portrays the eighties, an era of drastic social and political change, through the eyes of a young boy who is trying to come to terms with puberty, spots and girls, as well as where he fits into the world. The diary format offers unprecedented insights into Adrian’s mind as we watch him cope with his arguing parents. The language is easy to follow (what more could you expect from a 13 year old protagonist) and all the characters are well-rounded, as Townsend masterfully weaves together tragedy, humour and teenage angst in this truly timeless diary. If you have not already read this book, I urge you to quickly snap up a copy and enjoy the fun that follows. A truly deserving number one!
More Funny Books To Read
Of course these are not the only funny books out there. Other page-turners that will have you in stitches are Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which is a satirical novel set in World War II. It follows the story of Captain John Yossarian who is a former US pilot. Like a lot of the books in this funny books to read list Heller cleverly balances humour with tragedy to create a book that is as sad as it is funny. Another triumph is Diary of An Emotional Idiot: A Novel by Maggie Estep. This novel is part autobiographical, part fantasy and depicts the life of a female artist in the nineties. Estep writes with a raw honesty and dark humour that makes this text insatiable. With a rare and commendable bluntness the narrator confronts you with break-ups and self destruction in this witty must read. Finally, another book worthy of note is Sick Puppy by Car Hiaasen. Meet Twilly Spree (what a name!) who happens to be an environmentalist terrorist. One day Spree catches a man littering and decides to exact revenge but soon realises that the man he taught a lesson happens to be a huge political figure in Florida. Hiaasen’s delivers on every level with this thought-provoking and funny book. His characters are deliciously evil in parts and although at times the plot seems to escape you, Hiaasen brings it back with raw comedy. All in all, these books are great accompaniments to the top funny books to read list and are well worth a read.