A truly funny book is one of the easiest things in the world to enjoy, but finding the best ones isn’t always as simple. It was in 2009 that we asked some of the best people in comedy and literature to name the books that make them laugh out loud. Here, we look back at the results, and we also add some extras from the Esquire team to the mix.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)
Legally, we can’t put together a list of funny books without at least one David Sedaris book. These days, Ipso is a lot more interested in that kind of thing than in the past. It has two parts: the first is about Sedaris’ upbringing in North Carolina and his move to New York City; the second is about his move to France, and how he tried to learn the language and fit in. His French teacher tells him that “every day I spend with you is like giving birth.” Magnifique.
The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer
Jake Armitage is an architect and the husband of an unnamed woman. They live in a beautiful mansion high above the city with an unknown number of children, but they have a lot of fun together.
Or, is she? Soon, Mrs. Armitage, who has been married four times, starts to fall and lose her grip on herself in Harrod’s. In Penelope Mortimer’s semi-autobiographical book, she talks about how married life made her feel empty at the time. It has a woozy, unsettling feel to it. The Pumpkin Eater is bleak and sarcastic, but once you get used to it, it’s unique and sarcastic. As soon as she heard some good things about her, Mortimer threw up right away.
And Away… by Bob Mortimer
Yes, it’s just come out right now. The answer is no. Writing a good autobiography is hard, and a lot of British comedians who you think should be able to write a good book have been stumped by it. It’s like Steve Coogan’s. Guess what? I think he kept everything so that he could write about Partridge in his book.
Early on, Bob Mortimer’s dad died in a car accident when he was seven. His teens and early adult years were marked by a severe shyness and a depression that was caused by LSD. Despite all that, though, it’s still very funny. In And Away…, he tells the full, uncensored story of how he saved Jarvis Cocker from Michael Jackson’s goons at the 1995 Brit Awards. He knows how to make a joke out of a story.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman (2017)
One of the amazing things about New Yorker writer Elif Batuman’s second book is that, even though it talks about the love lives of Selin and a group of her friends at Harvard in the Nineties, you don’t want to throw it across the room. How can young people talk about linguistics for hours and talk about Russian literature in every sentence? Because Batuman is so good at cutting down her characters’ pretenses at just the right time – and with observations that are honest and funny, but never mean – you can root for them right to the end.
Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir by Shalom Auslander (2009)
As for the title of Shalom Auslander’s memoir about growing up in an ultra-Orthdox Jewish community in Monsey, New York: if you think it’s a little weird, hold on to your yarmulkes because there’s more where that came from, If you read Auslander’s memoir, you’ll see that he doesn’t hold back. “This memoir makes The God Delusion look like a church newsletter,” one reviewer said, noting that the Big Man isn’t safe. Hope: A Tragedy, which is a comic book about Anne Frank, or his most recent, Mother For Dinner, which is about cannibals. Oh, this is so good. It’s not for the weak.
The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne (2018)
There are some writers who, you think, can write funny only through self-punishment; you can almost hear the painful tweaking and tuning of every line. There are also people who don’t seem to have to work very hard to be funny. It looks like they don’t even have to think about it. Joe Dunthorne, a British novelist and poet, is one of them. His 2018 book about a couple trying to get on the property ladder during the 2011 London riots shows us that. We’re not saying it’s as easy as he makes it look, but he almost has us fooled.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)
Long-suffering Korede and her younger sister, Ayoola, live in Lagos, Nigeria. They help each other out when things go wrong. So, Korede can help Ayoola clean up. She has a bad habit of killing men, and Korede can help Ayoola. A good system they have, but it can’t stay in place for very long. As a thriller, My Sister, the Serial Killer is fast-paced and punchy. At the same time, it’s full of dark comedy.
The Catcher In The Rye by J.D Salinger (1951)
It’s weird how this book has become a symbol of doom and nihilism. I blame Mark Chapman. If you think this book is going to be hilarious from the start, you’d be wrong! Nobody has ever been able to capture the voice of an adolescent so well. They have the pretension, the self-importance, the heart-breaking sincerity, and the misguided passion. The narrator’s voice is just right: slangy and wise-cracking. There are also some great set-pieces, like an agonizing encounter with a prostitute, great rants about acting and the movie and “phoniness.” Iconic, cynical, and warm and funny, it’s the perfect coming of age book (or bildungsroman, if you want to get fancy).
Love in A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (1949)
This irresistible mix of love, family, sexuality, and other things reads like the work of a bored housewife. The impact is made by the difference between what people are thinking and what they are saying.
Delete At Your Peril by Bob Servant (2007)
This is a very, very funny book, and it’s a great gift for anyone who has a sense of humor and is fed up with spammers and their annoying scams. Bob Servant, a 62-year-old window cleaner and the former Dundee cheeseburger kingpin, fights scammers who promise easy money, love, and work. A lot of the hilarity comes from Bob’s outrageous demands and the way he draws spammers into his own crazy, mundane world. You will then quote parts of this book over and over again to your friends.
The Timewaster Letters by Robin Cooper (2004)
There are many different parts to Robin Cooper, but she also writes a lot of very silly but very funny letters. She is a spoon collector, an expert on wasps, and a professional fish fryer. In the Timewaster Letters, Cooper asks for things like a surprise clarinet party for his wife, designs scarecrows made of beef, or offers to be the National Cavity Insulation Association’s “Poet in Residence.” These are just a few of the ridiculous requests and drawings you’ll see in the letters. If you want to be like Robin Cooper, you should be like BAFTA-nominated comedy writer Robert Popper. Robin Cooper should be in every man’s bathroom.