The literati tend to recommend a pretty inflexible shortlist of funny books, such as Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, and Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, but there are plenty of other options that often get overlooked. Shake up your reading list and be prepared to laugh with one of these choices on your bookshelf.
I Don’t Care About Your Band – Julie Klausner
“Meeting Alex on MySpace was only one of the electronically conceived disappointments I’ve endured while embarking on the task of finding somebody to love me by typing into a box that plugs into a wall.”
This dating memoir will strike a chord with anyone whose love life has been a bit of a car crash. Klausner is honest about the bad and brave decisions she’s made with men, and examines what made her settle for the ones who treated her like dirt, including musicians, hipsters and narcissists.
Because she made her name as a comedy writer, there’s no chance of I Don’t Care About Your Band getting too serious, but it hits just the right note between a cautionary tale and an admirable slog through the messy obstacle course of modern dating. Anyone who enjoyed Bryony Gordon’s The Wrong Knickers will love this American alternative.
What the **** is Normal? – Francesca Martinez
“I feel so incredibly lucky to inhabit a body and just be alive that, almost every day, I thank the universe that I am me and not, say, a sock. Or a pot of hummus.”
Actress-turned-comedian Francesca Martinez has spent her life challenging people’s preconceptions. Born with cerebral palsy, she faced doom-laden doctors and irritating teaching assistants who constantly talked down to her, and an escape from real school to the fictional school of TV’s Grange Hill made her a target for bullies.
What could have been a misery memoir is instead a witty and often self-deprecating look back at Martinez’s life so far as a ‘wobbly’ person, buoyed by her family’s support and her own determination not to be defined by a diagnosis. Martinez will make you laugh and she’ll also teach you a lot about self-esteem – don’t miss her response to a lazy casting agent’s call for a disabled actor in a non-speaking role. I think ‘uplifting’ is an overused word, but it does sum up the effect of What the **** is Normal?.
Travels with my Aunt – Graham Greene
“Switzerland is only bearable covered with snow,’ Aunt Augusta said, ‘like some people are only bearable under a sheet.”
You probably know Graham Greene for hard-hitting classics like Brighton Rock and The Third Man, but this book shows you the funny side of his writing. It’s narrated by Henry, a straight-laced retired bank manager who meets his flamboyant 80-year-old Aunt Augusta at a funeral and is suddenly whisked off on adventures with her, to France, Istanbul and Argentina.
Far from being a frail old lady, Augusta is feisty and cunning, and she gets all the best one-liners in the book (appropriately enough, she was played by Maggie Smith, queen of the Downton Abbey one-liners, in the film adaptation). As he gets deeper into illegal escapades with his aunt, it turns out Henry’s very boring background isn’t quite so clear-cut after all – in fact, it’d be worthy of a Jeremy Kyle episode…
Wise Children – Angela Carter
“It’s every woman’s tragedy,’ said Nora, as we contemplated our painted masterpieces, ‘that, after a certain age, she looks like a female impersonator.”
Wise Children is a novel with a classic British sense of humour. Twins Dora and Nora Chance are Shakespearian actor Melchior Hazard’s illegitimate daughters, celebrating their 75th birthday and their father’s big centenary. From a Brixton flat, Dora looks back on the twins’ colourful life as chorus girls, one-time Hollywood film stars and pensioners growing old disgracefully.
Dora swears like a trooper and is a really likeable, if not always reliable, narrator. She sweeps you up in British nostalgia, full of references to things your own grandparents would have remembered – Lyons teashops, the wartime blackout, fur coats and music halls. But beneath all this surface detail, the novel explores big issues of identity, legitimacy and the concept of ‘family’, sprinkled with magical realism, and that combination makes it one of Carter’s best-loved books.
Last Bus to Coffeeville – J. Paul Henderson
“It used to be you could only buy beer from the funeral home. They used to keep it cold in the mortuary and pay the sheriff to turn a blind eye.”
Some road trip novels can be too achingly hip and focused on naval gazing (Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, anyone?), but this makes a refreshing change. Last Bus to Coffeeville features a varied cast of characters travelling on a stolen bus, including a jaded TV weather man and an orphaned boy who was accidentally placed in a school for deaf students.
Underpinning the bizarre journey is a sobering assisted suicide pact between a doctor and his ex-girlfriend who is rapidly losing her identity to Alzheimer’s – a disease the author, J. Paul Henderson, can relate to, as his own mother suffered with stroke dementia (Alzheimer’s can be one of the causes of dementia). Gentle humour, even in the darker moments of the plot, makes this a memorable must-read.