Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Picnic, Lightning: Ten Books That Make Me Laugh

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my list of ten books that make me cry. So, to make up for that bit of sadness, this week I've decided to share my list of ten books that make me laugh. These are the books that make me chuckle for one reason or another. They aren't all necessarily "funny" books, but they are all written by authors who know a thing or two about being witty.

Picnic, Lightning: Ten Books That Make Me Laugh

1. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: What can I say about this book that I haven't said before? It's quite possibly the best example of situational humor I've ever read. Do you know what's funnier than a demon who talks to his house plants in hopes to threaten them into growing faster? Nothing. That's what.

2. Take the Cannoli, by Sarah Vowell: Technically, any of Sarah Vowell's hilarious books could have made this list. But her first book, a collection of charming essays about pop culture and American history and being a nerd, is probably the one that makes me laugh the hardest. Even better, it actually taught me some important tidbits of history. For me, the highlight is the essay "Species-on-Species Abuse," about a trip to Disney World that Vowell took with a friend.

3. About a Boy, by Nick Hornby: The books that are the most fun to read tend to be ones with an even mix of pathos, books with the ability to be funny and sad in a single sentence. Hornby's novel about growing up follows this rule beautifully, with a story that can break your heart in one moment and make you grin like a fool in the next.

4. Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris: Like Sarah Vowell's work, everything David Sedaris writes is absolutely hilarious. But for some reason, of all his books, Me Talk Pretty One Day is my favorite. I don't know if it's because we meet Sedaris's over-the-top brother, Rooster, in this book, or because it contains possibly my favorite Sedaris essay, "Jesus Shaves." I just know this one makes me laugh the hardest.

5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers: As a teenager, Eggers's popular and award-winning memoir was my favorite book. It's fallen a little bit in rank now that I'm older and a little less charmed by overt cleverness, but I'd still call it one of the best memoirs ever written. It's as sad and smart as its title suggests, but it's also a real tickler at times. The humorous highlights most often come in the interactions between Eggers and his much younger brother. It helps that Eggers writes their funny dialogue with flat-out perfect precision.

6. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov: There's a reason Nabokov's oft-assigned novel is so infamous. It takes a really uncomfortable subject - pedophilia - and puts a human face on it. This book is about almost everything - love, loss, life, European vs. American culture - so it's no surprise it's so beloved by critics and lit professors. But few people mention how funny it is. The first handful of paragraphs alone make me giggle. This is actually where I got the title for this list, as narrator Humbert Humbert gives us a short version of his family history: "My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three." It's the kind of humor that makes you feel guilty for laughing.

7. Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category, by Various Writers and Editors: Before I discovered The AV Club, McSweeney's was my favorite website. Started by Dave Eggers (see # 5), it showcases short pieces displaying a very intelligent and culture-savvy kind of humor. So when the site's editors released this collection, I quickly snatched it up. It did not disappoint. Once again, it's the kind of humor that only certain people feel comfortable with. Like this.

8. Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens: Without a doubt, this is my favorite Dickens novel. It's also considered one of his darkest and most mature. But for some reason, anytime the amazing character of Bradley Headstone comes on the scene, I start cracking up. He's a terrifying psychopath, sure, but his actions are so crazy they border on funny. Honestly, this book probably makes me laugh because I am so appreciative of what Dickens does in it, not because it's actually humorous.

9. The Bald Soprano, by Eugene Ionesco: The first time I read this famous absurdist play, three years ago for a lit class, I continually stopped to read passages out loud because it was so damn funny. It was only after I finished the book and began to write a paper on it that I realized how horrifying it actually was. It's a scrambling of language and sense meant to show our lack of identity and communication. But holy shit, is it amazingly laugh-inducing. Bobby Watson, anyone?

10. Superfudge, by Judy Blume: What can I say? Maybe it's incredibly immature of me, but I can't help but giggle anytime I think of Fudge's myna bird yelling, "Shut up, Stupid!" to everyone it sees.

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