I don’t think that funny books get enough attention. We give awards to sweeping epics about wars, we send books about children in mortal peril straight to the top of the best-seller list, and we spend decades critiquing classics about dysfunctional families and ghosts. Meanwhile, books that make you laugh – and books about sex, too, but that’s a matter for another day – tend to be shrugged off. They’re not considered Serious Books For Grown Ups(TM), and I think that’s a real shame! The world is depressing enough; sometimes, curling up with a book that will make you chuckle is just the thing you need to take your mind off it. So this week I’m giving you full permission to indulge your desire to giggle: here are eight books that will make you laugh out loud.
The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
When I told my mother the title of this book, she literally snorted, so I think that’s a pretty good sign. The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is written in a dead-pan, nonchalant style that only becomes more and more hilarious as the circumstances of the old man in question become more and more ridiculous. The stark contrast between the matter-of-fact storytelling and the multiple murders and car-jackings will definitely tickle your funny bone. I hope it’s equally as funny in the original Swedish… (and, I’m sorry, but the movie was nowhere near as funny. Stick to the book if you’re after a chuckle!)
The Martian – Andy Weir
A situation this dire – a man abandoned, trapped, alone on the red planet, dozens of years and thousands of miles away from any hope of help – shouldn’t be funny… but the voice that Weir creates for his hero, Mark Watney, in The Martian is so strong and so believable that you’re completely swept away in his unfailing sense of humour and optimism. He had me literally laughing out loud from the very first page. Plus, there are lots of swears (take that as a recommendation or warning, whatever your preference). And once again, the book is way funnier than the movie!
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
I’m sure all long-time Keeper-Upperers are well and truly sick of me recommending this book at every opportunity, but people: I PROMISE, it’s THAT GOOD! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is not a “funny” novel in the sense that it’s actually a really heart-wrenching story, but I guess my sense of humour just aligns with the protagonist’s perfectly because I was laughing out loud the whole way through. Rosemary narrates a scene of a couple breaking up in a university cafeteria in the opening pages, and I was cracking up so hard my husband could hear me from the other end of the house.
A Short History Of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
I can hear your skeptical groans: how could a popular science book be funny? Suspend your disbelief, people, because A Short History Of Nearly Everything totally is! Set aside your preconceived notions, forget all about trying to read A Brief History of Time and falling asleep: Bill Bryson has the chops as a comic writer, and manages to communicate all the science-y concepts and jargon with his trademark folksy style. And he’s not afraid to shy away from poo jokes, which is surely huge points in his column! If you’re not convinced, you can check out my full review here, or pick up any of his others and you’ll see what I mean – I also highly recommend his hilarious book Down Under, about his travels through Australia.
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
It really saddens me that Cold Comfort Farm doesn’t feature more often in lists of funny books, so I’m doing what I can to redress the balance here. I must stress that you shouldn’t read extracts from the book or passages in isolation, even if you really want to get a feel for it before you plunge in. The introduction to my edition included a few “funny bits”, and I was scratching my head; I seriously thought the writer must have broken her funny bone because they made no sense at all on their own. The humour of the book, and its brilliance, really comes from reading it in full because a lot of the comedy relies on context. I really recommend this one if you’re already familiar with Austen or the Brontës or D.H. Lawrence and his cronies – really, any of the English lit classics of the early 19th and 20th centuries, because this book satirises the heck out of all of them, to great effect! Read my full review here.
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
I know I was hanging shit on heavy, bleak military stories a minute ago, and Catch-22 forces me to admit that they can be funny… just not often. That said, I really don’t think you need to be into military fiction to enjoy Heller’s magnum opus: the humour of Catch-22 comes from the fact that it is so damn relatable for anyone who has any experience at all with bureaucracy (so, basically everyone). It’s a dark satire, sure, but it offers comic relief at its finest. Most of the jokes come within the first 200 pages or so, and Heller just pretty much repeats them from there on out (as I mentioned in my review), but they’re REALLY funny jokes so I think we can forgive him.
Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
Here’s another one that’s hilarious because it’s just so damn believable! Sure, not everyone can relate directly to the trials and tribulations of a Jewish boy growing up in mid-20th century America, but Roth’s characterisation is so superb that you would totally believe, if you hadn’t seen the cover, that Portnoy’s Complaint was just an alarmingly honest and frank memoir. Everyone – myself included – makes a meal of that one scene that features the narrator doing something unspeakable with a piece of liver that his mother then cooks for the family dinner, but the humour can be far more subtle and far-reaching than that. Plus, the salacious side of essentially listening in to a psychotherapy session about sex and mothers is just too good to resist!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
So, I must admit, I’m including this sci-fi classic mostly because I feel like I would be subjected to a hailstorm of hate mail if I didn’t. People who love The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy feel really passionately about it, even if they’re not usually sci-fi readers. The story follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a befuddled Englishman who finds himself rescued from Planet Earth’s destruction by a kind-hearted alien. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s light-hearted – I probably didn’t LOL as often as I did with some of the other books on this list, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. Ultimately, I think it’s a great comfort read, and most of the joy comes from knowing the punchlines before you read them.
April 19, 2019 at 8:38 AM
One of my favorite authors to go to when I need a good laugh is a humorist named Dave Barry, who got his start writing a column for The Miami Herald and then published a whole bunch of books tackling just about every subject from travel to why men are the way they are to American history to politics to traveling to Japan; and they all feature his signature style of absolute silliness and running jokes into the ground and then some. I would constantly check out his books from the library when I was a teenager and reading them cover to cover, ending up in giggle fits all along the way. It’s been a while since I’ve read one of his books, but he’s still at it in his seventies (although he’s long since retired from his column). He just published a book about life lessons he’s learned from his dog, Lucy. He also published a book dedicated to our home state, Florida, that I’d really like to read at some point (since we Floridians have had to develop a sense of humor when it comes to the “Florida Man” meme).
April 19, 2019 at 12:08 PM
Oh, what a WONDERFUL recommendation! He sounds brilliant! Thank you! ❤️🙏
August 22, 2022 at 4:20 PM
That’s so true. I find his best book is A guide to guys. I’ve read it may be 100 thousand times but still it’s absolutely hilarious.
April 19, 2019 at 12:41 PM
What a great post! There are so many dramatic books but rarely do we focus on the funny ones. I’d like to add Three Men in a Boat into the mix. Oh, and The Diary of a Nobody. Both of those are hilarious! And now I’m going to check out some of your recommendations!
April 19, 2019 at 1:40 PM
Cheers Cleo, for your kind words AND recommendations! Great additions! Really hope you find something in here to tickle your funny bone, let me know what you choose 😉❤️
August 22, 2022 at 4:21 PM
Truly agree with Three Men in a boat.extremely funny book
April 19, 2019 at 1:08 PM
This is great list. I agree that Catch -2 2 and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are some of the funniest books ever written. Portnoy’s Complaint is also very funny.
I have had Cold Comfort Farm on my radar for a while. I really think that I would like it. I will try to get to it soon.
April 19, 2019 at 1:40 PM
Yes, Brian – PLEASE do! I’d love to read your thoughts on CCF, I think you’d have some great insights! (As always) 😉👍
April 24, 2019 at 4:33 PM
Any of the early Pratchett books have me in such stitches that I literally am shaking. Later on he got a lot more serious which was both good and bad. But I can reread those discworld books any day of the week.
April 26, 2019 at 6:27 PM
Yes, brilliant! Stay tuned, Phil, my review of The Colour of Magic is coming soon… 😉👍
February 15, 2020 at 11:17 AM
A couple more moldy oldie classics for me is KinFlicks by Lisa Alther and God Knows by Joseph Heller. Anything by Erma Bombeck as well
February 15, 2020 at 11:59 AM
Oooh yes, Joseph Heller could definitely elicit a chuckle 😉 Thank you!
February 20, 2020 at 1:36 PM
I have read several of the books you recommended, but plan to read the others soon. My husband and I still say things from Cold Comfort Farm…I saw something nasty in the woodshed. Plus, who doesn’t love a character named Dick Hallmonitor???
February 27, 2020 at 7:05 PM
November 9, 2021 at 1:04 AM
I know this post is long over, but for those who (like me) just found it… The Help, by Katheryn Stockett made me burst out laughing so loud that I woke my husband up from his sleep. The movie is fabulous, but the book is just as wonderful and worth reading and re-reading.
November 15, 2021 at 11:23 AM
Hahaha nothing on the internet is ever really “over”, is it? 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Jacqueline!
June 15, 2022 at 8:50 AM
I’m not sure why “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is regarded as a “funny” book. Nor can I understand how it was shortlisted for the Booker prize. I slogged through it to the end but it never got better. One of the most boring books I’ve ever read. I’m rather puzzled as to why someone would find the “cafeteria break-up” scene so hilarious … I thought it, like most of the book, was just stupid. I respect that some people really enjoyed it … to each his own. If we all agreed on everything it would be a tiresome world indeed. And before people start recoiling in horror at what I’ve written here, remember that each of us is equally entitled to an opinion.
June 20, 2022 at 10:10 AM
Ahahaha exactly Skye, to each their own! 😉 Hope you’ve found some other books that give you a chuckle! 🙂