Funny Novels

I like to read a funny novel once in a while but when I’m in the mood, I never seem to know what I should pick. So when I discovered the ten books you can see on the picture, offered as a collection for only 9£ by the book people (only available in the UK), I had to have them as they were called a “collection of classic funny British and American novels”. One of the books, Lucky Jim, has been recommended to me by a friend as the funniest novel she has ever read.

Here are the ten novels:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson

Nothing….Except my Genius by Oscar Wilde

Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung

Modern Baptists by James Wilcox

The funniest books I’ve read so far were

John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row

Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary

Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,

Erich Kästner’s Drei Männer im Schnee – Three Men in the Snow (oop)

Philippe Jaenada’s Le chameau sauvage (not translated)

I also thought that Janet Evanovitch’s One For the Money was very funny. Other than that, I’m a bit at a loss.

The problem with recommendations for funny novels stems obviously from the fact that the sense of humour of one person is so very different from the sense of humour of another one. I even suspect that relationships have ended due to incompatibilities in that department (following right after incompatible tastes in music). Especially satire and black humour aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. While I consider the movie No Man’s Land to be extremely funny, other people think it’s in bad taste to laugh about three guys trapped between enemy trenches with a bomb strapped to one of them.

What is considered to be funny or comic and why is a topic even great minds deemed worthy of analysis. If you are interested to explore this some more I can recommend two classic essays which are quite interesting, Bergson’s Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic – Le rire: Essai sur la signification du comique  and Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious – Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten.

While I could make a long list of funny movies and series (and might do so in a future post), I have, as you may have realized, a hard time to come up with a similar book list.

Do you know any of the novels in my collection? Do you consider them to be really funny? Which are the funniest novels you have read?

73 thoughts on “Funny Novels

  1. I’ve read Scoop, Lucky Jim, The Diary of a Nobody. The best of the 3 were the first two. Cold Comfort farm wasn’t my taste.

    There’s a series of books, The Prion Humour Classics–A Melon for Ecstasy by John Fortune and John Wells is one of the funniest, but there are many excellent titles in the series.

    • It’s seems Scoop should be really funny if you and Tom like it. And Lucky Jim as well. I’ve heard Cold Comfort farm mentioned a few times but never because it was funny.
      That for the suggestions, I’ll have a look.

    • Thanks a lot Séamus. I didn’t know Flann O’ Brien’s book.
      TBM recently mentioned A Confederacy of Dunces and said she thought it was very funny.
      I’ll have to have a look at your Cold Comfort Farm review.

  2. I am a big fan of E F Benson, and really love his Mapp and Lucia novels (they strike me as very funny) but I can see why they wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. I also find David Lodge funny, and Clare Chambers, Lissa Evans and Shirley Jackson when writing about her own family (not the horror novels!).

    • Wonderful, thanks Litlove. Well, yes, sure it’s always a bit difficult to recommend funny novels.
      Mapp and Lucia hasn’t been mentioned so far, so that’s great. One of all of these will certainly end up being one of my favourites.

  3. I’ve only read Confederacy out of your list and absolutely loved it. I laughed throughout the entire book. I’m really curious to see what you think of it. I have read Cannery Row and that is one of my favorite books.

    • I remember you said that. I just read the first page after you mentioned it and that was already quite funny. I hope I’ll get the time to read some of them. I love Cannery Row. One of the rare novels I read more than once. I thought it was quite funny too. Not throughout but the characters are funny and it’s all do disastrous.

  4. You’re right; humour is such a personal thing that recommending funny novels can be quite a challenge! I love many of the ones you got, especially Cold Comfort Farm and A Confederacy of Dunces. Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is in dialogue with Jerome K. Jerome, is also very funny. Virginia Woolf’s Flush is another one I loved and which sounds right up your alley (so much so I suspect you’ll have read it). And since you like Douglas Adams, I’ll recommend Terry Pratchett, particularly Good Omens which he wrote with Neil Gaiman.

    • It so difficult. It’s also a cultural thing.
      I’m glad to hear you liked some of them. I’m getting quite excited now to start them. I’ve got Connie Willis as well but wasn’t aware it’s funny too.
      You are absolutely right, I love Flush.
      Terry Pratchett, thanks so much for reminding me. I have a feeling I will like him very much but always forget about him again. That goes right on the wish list.

  5. I loved Confederacy of Dunces too.
    Bridget Jones’s Diary was laugh-out-loud funny and I can’t think of anything else that comes close.
    A surprisingly funny book was Good Grief by Lolly Winston (the subject is widowhood).
    I also found Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols very witty.
    Scoop is considered a must-read for journalists.

    • Great to know you like Confederacy of Dunces too.
      Bridget Jones is extremely funny. It’s one of those that made me laugh from beginning to end. There may be other chick lit books which are very funny but it will be hard to be better than that.
      I know none of the others you mention, so thanks a lot.

  6. I really struggle to find funny books. The only one from your list that I’ve read is Three Men in a Boat, but I didn’t find it very funny. I quite like the German sense of humour and the funniest book I’ve read recently is Bad Karma by David Safier – even the synopsis had me crying! I hope you find something funny in your haul 🙂

    • Thanks for mentioning Safier. I could have included some more German novels but it seemed pointless as none of them has been translated. I have the Safier here. The topic is certainly funny.

  7. I’m looking through my list of books from the past few years and I see books that had a lot of humor in them but I wouldn’t call them funny. “As I Lay Dying” for example. Maybe I get a little closer to funny with Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog” or “Mist” or “The Good Soldier Švejk”. And I have no idea where “Tristram Shandy” of “JR” would fit in but they’re definitely funny.

    Cannery Row and Confederacy of Dunces–I found them funny, although I haven’t read Confederacy in quite a while. I wonder if I’d still find it as funny…might just have to check it out again.

    • Our tastes change. I think I would still like Cannery Row and will certainly try Confederacy of Dunces. I have heard Bulgakov mentioned as funny. I think the film version of the Good Soldier Svejik is quite funny.
      Thanks for the recommendations.

  8. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may go at the top of my list. Dwight mentions As I Lay Dying, also a great candidate. A couple others not yet mentioned that I found very funny: Mo Yan’s Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh and (although I know many people didn’t like it) James Hamilton-Patterson’s Cooking With Fernet Branca. If short stories are eligible the candidates just proliferate. Your post prompted me to hunt down one of my favorites – Harry Mathews’ “Country Cooking From Central France,” which happens to be available on-line in its entirety:

    http://www.english.txstate.edu/cohen_p/postmodern/literature/mathews.html

    • Thanks so much Scott. I’ll have a look at the link. A second mention of As I Lay Dying moves it up in the pile. I wouldn’t have thought of Faulkner to be funny though. Of course short stories are eligible and now that you mention them I remember a few more as well. I hadn’t thought of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a book but, of course. Thanks for that as well. I didn’t know Mo Yan att all.

      • “…hadn’t thought of Gentleman Prefer Blondes as a book”?? It’s only the book that James Joyce called “the great American novel,” and that George Santayana referred to as the greatest work of American philosophy. It should never be confused with the film or stage versions, which are something altogether different.

  9. I loved Scoop and find almost anything by Waugh to be the sort of humor I enjoy. I tried Cold Comfort Farm, but thought it was dated. Also, you might consider P.G. Wodehouse.

    • Thanks, of course, Wodehouse. Another one I haven’t read. Plays should be included in a definite list as well and all of Wilde would go on it.
      Scoop will be one of the first to try, I think. What you say about Cold Comfort Fram reminds me that indeed humour can be dated as well.

  10. I threw together a list of funniest books. It looks a heck of a lot like Dwight’s. But if somebody asks me for a funny book, I am sure not going to give them Gaddis or Faulkner or Kafka or Tristram Shandy – even though they are very funny. But for some reason not everyone agrees.

    I would instead go to the books in your pile, or basically anything by Wodehouse, or James Thurber (My Life and Hard Times) or Richard Russo’s Straight Man.

    No, I am wrong. I always recommend Straight Man.

    • Thanks Tom. I know what you mean about Dwight’s list. I’m sure in the right mood I’d find a lot of it hilarious but there are so many different forms of humour. Satire isn’t something I always like. Sometimes I’m more in for comedy or situational comedy (not sure that can be called like that ?) which is less refined. But it’s nice to have a list with different genres to choose from.
      While I have a Richard Russo novel here, it’s not Straight Man. Thanks for recommending it.

    • Great post, we were talking about that in our last book club session.

      Guy recommended Lucky Jim, I want to read it.
      I loved A Confederacy of Dunces, funny as Money can be.
      I tried EF Benson once, lots of chuckles.
      There’s a review of The Amateur Cracksman on Max’s blog.

      I didn’t find that Cannery Row was funny and I laughed a lot with Bridget Jones Diary.

      The Road to Los Angeles was huge fun. Fante is excellent for that. And also David Lodge.

      There’s a lot of humour in the first Djians (Maudit Manège / Echine).
      Well, and of course, Gary is funny.

      • Thanks, Emma. Thanks for mentioning the review on Max’s blog. Thanks for recommending Fante and David Lodge. I think Litlove mentioned him as well. The Djian I’ve read were not funny but I can see how he could be.
        I thought Cannery Row was funny.
        I ordered Gentlement Prefer Blondes after Scott mentioned it as one of the funniest and it states in the blurb that without it there would never have been a Bridget Jones.
        I should really get to A Confederacy of Dunces.

        • I tried PG Wodehouse, it’s funny.
          10:18 published Wodehouse, Benson, Von Arnim, Tom Sharpe, J. Kennedy Toole, Maugham: lots of discoveries for me. They’re a good publisher for funny novels.

            • It is strange and I thought the same. Nor Italian for that matter, German yes because I occasionally read German chick lit and there are a few funny writers. Or writers said to be funny. Sven Regener is very funny as well. I totally forgot him.

  11. Scoop is one of the funniest books ever written, no doubt.
    Confederacy of Dunces is funny, but I always think of it not being a “straight” comedy: it has a quality like Catch-22 of there being something deeper and ultimately not all that funny behind it. I read Mapp & Lucia and did chuckle: but I can see equally how it might fall pretty flat. Three Men in a Boat is sweet and very dated, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a Wodehouse book then it will hit the spot.

    Otherwise? Absolutely second Seamus Duggan’s shout for Flann O’Brien, I’d suggest The Third Policeman as well as At-Swim-Two-Birds. Saki is a personal favourite. Who knows what anyone finds funny? Irony, dryness, wit, turns of phrase, wacky situations, absurdity, confusion…what to recommend? Will I do the unforgiveable and point out that Joyce is a funny writer…?

    • Thanks Leroy. I’m quite partial to Catch-22 humour. Very black. No Man’s Land is like that. Funny but actualy not funny at all.
      I don’t do as well with more refined satire. Scoop really needs to be read soon. I was a bit startled when I looked up Flann O’Brien’s At-Swim-Two-Birds and saw Joyce mentioned as funny as well. Some may agree, I didn’t.
      I will certainly try O’Brien. Thanks. I’ve read a few reviews for Mapp and Lucia meanwhile and people were divided.
      It depends on my mood what I find funny. I’ve got a collection of Saki, will have to pick it up.
      It really is such an individual topic.

  12. Unfortunately I don’t know anything about your new found books. Anyway, that’s a lot of books you have there…have fun with it.

    For me, the funniest books are still from Manga.

    You know, when I read the title funny novel, my mind instantly remember how King’s mother called comic book as funny books.

  13. As mentioned already, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman has to be on the list. Quite surreal, and possibly not to everyone’s taste, but certainly one of my all-time favourites.

  14. What, no Lautréamont? Maldoror‘s one of the all-time funniest novels ever! Bernhard, Céline (in Voyage au bout de la nuit anyway), and–more gently–Don Quixote are also among the comedy classics.

    • I’ve read Lautréamont and Céline. While I’m fond of them they didn’t strike me as funny but, that’s just proving the point, we don’t consider the same things to be funny. I have such a beautiful Don Quixote edition that a guy gave me on a trip to Sevilla a few years ago. Should read it one day…
      I was thinking that the non-English examples were not very numerous but I suppose that was because of my collection.

      • I was actually half-joking about the Lautréamont being funny anyway. However, I was tickled to hear you say that you’re “fond” of both of those writers since they were so, um, “provocative” and all. That DQ from Sevilla sounds wonderful, by the way…

        • I’m tired of using the word “like”. It always means something else and says not much. I’m maybe more fond of the memory of reading them, although, no. The DQ Sevilla anecdote is an amazing one. Of course I only offered a snippet but it will end in a story one day. Just this much, the book has been taken form a huge library in one of the old and majestic houses the upper classes live in. Stolen by the son of the family and given to me as I’d said I’d love to read it this minute and they, as he said, would never notice that it’s gone. Maybe they did end up noticing but I have still not read it. This is still only a snippet…

  15. That Bear Ate My Pants! by Tony James Slater. A Brit volunteering at an animal refuge in Equador. I’m 10% in and have laughed out loud many times. Ebook only? (self-published. Approach without prejudice). Does have a lot of swearing.

    More when I have a real keyboard. Not mobile.

    • Thanks, Marcus. There is a similar show on British TV at the moment which seems hilarious as well. You just reminded me of some books by cultural anthropologists which were so funny. I don’t mind self-published.
      I’m looking forward to your other choices.

      • Re the Bear book: Here’s a short excerpt from the author’s website (you can also read 10%+ free on Kindle or at Smashwords.com).

        http://tonyjamesslater.com/home/read-an-excerpt/

        Monty Python and Terry Gilliam also produced books with new content not from the TV show or movies, so if you like them…

        In German: “Ich schlage vor, dass wir uns kuessen” by Rayk Wieland. Have you read this fairly recent one (2009)? A fake satirical account of an East German guy’s past. (a Schelmenroman).

        Somebody else mentioned Bad Karma by David Safier. That interests me too, so be sure to review it if you do please. Safier’s latest “Ploetzlich Shakespeare” also sounds fun. A body-switch comedy about a woman who is transported into the body of William Shakespeare.

        • Thanks, Marcus. I haven’t read Wieland, I’ll have a look. Safier has a few books out by now that all look quite funny. I’ll post on them, if I read them.

  16. I read “Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy” when I was much younger. I still remember it being hilarious but thinking that it would mostly appeal to someone who was interested in science and rationality.

    Along the lines of funny but having serious underlying theme, Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” made me laugh very hard.

    • Thanks, Brian. I’m not all that interested in science but I found Hitchhiker’s Guide so funny. It’s so hard to put into words why we think something is funny. It’s a lot more as well. It’s perfect in its way.
      Catch-22 is rising in the pile as well or I might choose it for next year’s readalong.

    • I love Southern Literature. And the humour. (I must have lived there in a former life. I sure about it. While you were probably battling the elements in Iceland). I’ll look for “Wise Blood”. Thanks.

  17. Bridget Jone’s Diary and HHGG are two of my favorite books. Have you read the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend? Please do.
    I am a huge fan of Steinbeck but I haven’t read Canary Row. Have you written anything about it in your blog? I want to read it badly now 🙂

    • I’ve heard of Adrian Mole, thanks for mentioning it. I didn’t review Cannery Row, it was a while ago. Emma didn’t think it was funny but two others thought so as well.
      I think it has some hilarious scenes. I want to read more Steinbeck this year. I know how you feel when you want to read something NOW. 🙂

  18. I definitely don’t read enough humorous books. I love the Stephanie Plum books–those are for me laugh out loud sorts of stories. Usually, though, books with humor is more subtle–at least the ones I end up reading. You might add The Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I found very humorous. I’ve heard good things about those Mapp and Lucia books, and I really do need to pick the first one up sometime. I’ll have to look up more of the other titles that have been suggested. I read Bridget Jones so long ago I remember liking it but not the actual reading experience!

    • Good to know about the Diary of a Provincial Lady. I’ve got that. Yes, Stephanie Plum is funny. Not in a refined way but funny all the same. I think it has turned into a geat list of suggestions. I’m very glad.

  19. Pingback: Sunday Caught My Interest « Reflections from the Hinterland

  20. Wonderful list, Caroline! I didn’t know that Stella Gibbons’ book was a funny book 🙂 I have read ‘Three Men in a Boat’ and it is one of my most favourite humorous novels. The second part ‘Three Men in a Bummel’ is equally good. I have the collection of E.W.Hornung’s Raffles stories and I have read a few of them. They are wonderful. I got it first because there were cricket scenes in the stories. I didn’t know that ‘Cannery Row’ was a funny novel. I thought that John Steinbeck always wrote serious stuff. It is interesting to know that you found ‘No Man’s Land’ quite funny 🙂 Have you read any of P.G.Wodehouse’s books? I always find his books quite funny and they make me laugh aloud. There is an anthology of his works called ‘What Ho, Jeeves’ which is wonderful. I have also found Charles Dickens’ ‘The Pickwick Papers’ quite humorous – some of the anecdotes made me laugh aloud. I am surprised that Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is not there in that collection that you got, because I think that is also one of the humorous classics. Happy Reading!

    • Thanks Vishy. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll have a look at the Wodehouse anthology. I never know where to start with his books. Glad to know you like Three Men in a Boat.
      Durrell would have been an option but maybe they just thought it was less funny than the others. It looks as if they wanted to mix US and UK books.
      I didn’t think Dickens wrote anything funny.
      Not everyone thinks Cannery Row is funny. It has sad moments. It’s more absurd.
      I thought No Man’s Land was funny beacuse of the bickering. The men spoke to each other like old couples about stuff that was not important while they were facing extinction. Very black humour.

      • The first chapter of the Wodehouse anthology is called ‘Uncle Fred flits by’. That is the first Wodehouse piece I ever read – I was reading it while commuting to work – and I laughed out loud while reading it and everyone around looked at me strangely 🙂 I fell in love with Wodehouse after reading that piece. Would love to hear your thoughts on Wodehouse, whenever you get to reading his works. I will read ‘Cannery Row’ one of these days and see whether I agree with you 🙂 ‘The Pickwick Papers’ is really funny. I have noticed that for some reason, this seems to be the least read by modern readers of Dickens. Most readers like reading ‘Oliver Twist’ or ‘David Copperfield’ or ‘Great Expectations’ and definitely ‘A Christmas Carol’. Even ‘Bleak House’. ‘The Pickwick Papers’ is really funny and makes one laugh and is very different from Dickens’ other works.

        • I need to read Wodehouse soon. 🙂
          I agree, The Pickwick papers is hardly ever mentioned and I would not have thought it could be funny. Maybe the title makes it sound too dry. It’s not a title that tempts me much but now that I know it’s so funny.

  21. I’m currently reading Incendiary by Chris Cleave which is an obnoxious extremely funny novel about a terrorist bombing of a football stadium in London. As soon as I recover from that book, I’ll probably read Cleave’s new book ‘Gold’ which is coming out in July.

    • Thanks so much for the suggestion I hadn’t heard of it before. I hope you will review it. I’ll have to have a look.
      I might have to do a post with all the suggestions.

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