Reading Funny

Reading & Writing

Thomas Penman
Last year I won an award called The Last Laugh for writing a funny book. Although I’m trying to learn how to keep jokes out of my writing for a while, it reminded me of how much I enjoy humorous writing. Thinking about a Top Ten of funny books (the sort of thing men do in their spare time) I went back to the shelf and noted some titles. The shock, I suppose, was that they were nearly all Northern writers. Peter Tinniswood, Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett, David Nobbs, Charlie Brooker and Keith Waterhouse can all produce wonderful turns of phrase, and there’s nothing like the pleasure of a funny line, so I picked a few at random here.

Helen Grant, ‘The Vanishing Of Katherina Linden’: ‘Boris had the unhealthy look of someone marinating in the effluent of his own sebaceous glands.’

Charlie Brooker on an X-Factor song; ‘Listening to it from beginning to end is like watching a bored cleaner methodically wiping a smudge from a Formica worksurface.’

Victoria Wood, ‘If there’s anything worse than spending Christmas with your own family it’s spending it with someone else’s, because not only will you be bored, miserable, irritable and bloated, you’ll also be baffled; ‘Oh yes, we always sing ‘Little Donkey’ in 8-part harmony in the garden at midnight.’

David Nobbs, ‘Pratt Of The Argus’; ‘Henry Pratt stared in disbelief at the first word that he had ever had in print. It was ‘Thives’. The full story read; ‘Thives who last night broke into the Blurton Road home of Mrs Emily Braithwaite (73) stole a coat, a colander and a jam jar containing £5 in threepenny bits.’

The one southerner in the group was Bruce Robinson, the director of the British cult movie ‘Withnail & I’ whose biography ‘The Peculiar Memories Of Thomas Penman’ is a ghastly, scatological masterpiece of comic writing. I would also add Peter Tinniswood’s moving, funny ‘The Stirk Of Stirk’, about the final days of Robin Hood, a book which has since been frequently ripped off without acknowledgement.
My biggest blind spot in funny writing is John Irving, whose books I have no rational reason for loathing. Other best comic novels?

6 comments on “Reading Funny”

  1. I remember reading Gerald Durrell’s My family and other Animals behind my Latin textbook at the back of class and laughing so hard I failed to stay silent and gave myself away. But detention just gave me more time to finish the book, so I didn’t much mind.

  2. Steve says:

    Absolutely anything by Douglas Adams.

  3. I.A.M. says:

    I entirely agree with Scott. Steve is very much correct also.

    I would add Jasper Fforde to9 the list, as his mad genre-shattering tales of the world inside literature’s pages are a wonder to behold. Paul Magrs’s “Brenda & Effie” mysteries are also quite fun, and apparently his Doctor Who tie-ins are also excellent.

    Speaking of Doctor Who tie-ins, Guy Adams’s The House That Jack Built, one of the recent Torchwood novels, is quite a wondrous mixture of humour and Jack’s touching romance through the ages.

  4. Lisa says:

    Most things by Christopher Brookmyre, as well as The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I am currently reading Piers Anthony’s “Two by Five” and groaning every two to five minutes. If you can tolerate puns try his Xanthi novels. This one actually deals with the writing process; how authors get ideas, one method for writing plays, and so on. Unfortunately, I enjoy puns, so I will definitely finish it. Otherwise, I’m with Steve and Ian up there, although I haven’t read “Brenda & Effie”. Don’t take jokes out, Chris, unless they confuse the editor.

  6. Mike Cane says:

    >>>Although I’m trying to learn how to keep jokes out of my writing for a while

    What? What is Bryant & May without the wry humor?!

    I know you can do “humorless” books — Roofworld, and I’ve read your short horror stories — but Bryant & May will bring you royalties into your dotage, decades from now. They are the 21st century Holmes & Watson!

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