Today is National Read a Book day, so I’m celebrating with a list of funny books. I don’t know how you are feeling, but I’m nearly at the point of boycotting the news altogether. It’s a bit like reading a crime or horror story, I’m still reading because I want to see ‘what will happen next’. Hopefully this post will serve as a bit of an antidote to all that gloom. I’ve also suggested on occasions, other authors you might like if you’ve already devoured a particular writer’s oeuvre.
1. PG Wodehouse Carry on Jeeves.
I don’t think it matters which Jeeves and Wooster book you start with, though I think Carry on Jeeves contains the account of their first meeting, so it’s as good a place as any to start. Any one of these books is guaranteed to cheer you up, and when you’ve worked your way through them all, and watched the marvellous TV adaptations starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, then more treats await you with other PG Wodehouse books, including the Blandings series, featuring Lord Emsworth and his prize winning pig.
2. Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island.
I challenge anyone to read anything written by Bill Bryson with a straight face. Again, hard to choose one particular book, but I have never got over his description of his first encounter with a British landlady in Dover in the 1970s. From here he travels around the British Isles, and there is probably something for everyone in that; I am particularly fond of his description of Inverness. I also adored his tour of Europe from the same period, described in Neither Here Nor There, with his friend Katz who does not appear again until 1998 when he joins Bryson to walk the Appalachian Trail as described in A Walk in the Woods. Bill Bryson is a marvel.
3. Lucy Mangan My Family and Other Disasters.
Lucy Mangan is a wonderful columnist, and my only complaint is that there are not enough books written by her out there. My Family and other Disasters, The Reluctant Bride: One Woman’s Journey (Kicking and Screaming) Down the Aisle, Hopscotch & Handbags: The Truth about Being a Girl – all brilliant. She’s also written Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, which is a great treat, but .. a word of warning… your ‘to read’ pile will grow.
4. Jeanette Winterson Oranges are not the Only Fruit.
I only read this book in the last few weeks because we were going to see her at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I expected it to be harrowing, but it was in fact incredibly funny. How you can make a story of a childhood being brought up to be a preacher within an extreme religious sect into something funny is beyond me, but she does it. Her most recent book Frankissstein also has many funny moments in amongst the dark and creepy stuff.
5. Nick Hornby How To Be Good.
Hard to choose my favourite Nick Hornby book – I love them all – but How To Be Good has the best premise I think, where the narrator invites a homeless person to live with his family, in an attempt to ‘be good’, much to the horror of his wife and the family breadwinner. You probably feel you know Nick Hornby’s writing, as so may of his books have been adapted for screen (About A Boy, A Long Way Down, High Fidelity and Fever Pitch) but it’s worth reading the originals as well. I also loved his Stuff I’ve been Reading and the Polysyllabic Spree, but again – not good for people who already have large ‘to read’ piles.
6. Marian Keyes The Break.
Marian Keyes’s books’ covers are deceptive. They’ve always been marketed as ‘chick lit’ but this is such a misnomer. They deal with dark themes and have horrible things happening in them, but they are also always deeply funny. It is difficult to select one of her books to be a favourite – I adore all of the Walsh family books – but The Break is her most recent, so I’ve just plumped for that.
7. Marina Lewycka The Lubetkin Legacy.
Who can forget when A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine burst onto the book scene? I adored that book, but her latest book is wonderful too, and if you’ve ever lived in a shabby flat in London, you’ll love it as well.
8. Douglas Adams Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.
Of all the funny books listed here, it’s probably the “increasingly inaccurately named trilogy” of five books in the Hitchhikers’ world which I re-read most often. There is always something new to learn. And of course when you’ve exhausted them, then there is the holistic detective agency series (now adapted for TV), although I was never as fond of those. Instead I’d turn to the other masters of comic sci fi and fantasy: Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, Jasper Fforde and Tom Holt. Between them they should keep you going for a while.
9.Alexander McCall Smith Unusual Uses for Olive Oil.
Alexander McCall Smith is a bit like chocolate. Lovely, but you can have too much of it. I do love the Number One Lady’s Detective Series as well as the Scotland Street series, but my favourite series are the Professor Dr von Igelfeld/ Portuguese Irregular Verbs which feature daschunds and overwrought professors of linguistics. I love the esoteric nature of their squabbles.
10. James Robertson To Be Continued.
James Robertson is one of the best writers in Scotland, if not the world, but as far as I know this is the only funny book he has written, and it is laugh out loud. A redundant journalist in his mid fifties goes on a road trip through the West Coast of Scotland accompanied only by Mungo, a talking toad – but as this is Scotland, the road trip is by unreliable bus. What’s not to like?