Looking For The Funniest Book Ever Written Part 2

Reading & Writing

Here we go with another batch of books vying for best comic novel. Stephen Fry’s debut novel was everything everyone hoped it would be; erudite, intelligent and really filthy.Of course, Fry really only ever writes about himself, but this is the best, up there with Waugh, about the schooldays of a boy born with ‘a fine brain but a dreadful mind’ – delightful.

‘Adolph Hitler: My Part In His Downfall’ was the first of Spike Milligan’s crazy memoirs about the war, a scattershot mess of a book that gives an approximation of what Spike’s mind must have been like. Personally I find his manic style exhausting, but I know this is on a lot of readers’ lists, as are the other (many) volumes…

‘But this book or your head will explode!’ screams the tagline on ‘Ghastly Beyond Belief’, Neil Gaiman & Kim Newman’s trawl through the worst of horror, SF and fantasy books and films – genres which are often prone to excess. ‘One thing is established,’ the detective says, ‘the killer had wings.’ ‘Give me an oscillator and a fast boat!’ shouts a hero. You couldn’t make this stuff, a true collection of stuff that was made up, up. Reprint please!

‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ is Lissa Evans’ love note to the Dunkirk landings. After promoting the joy of swedes for the Ministry of Food, Catrin finds herself required to fabricate a ‘true’ Dunkirk story of heroism for a propaganda film. The script extracts alone are hilarious. A knockout.

John Fortune and John Wells were known for many things, but this book wasn’t one of them. It should have been, because ‘A Melon For Ecstasy’ is about a man who falls in love (sexually) with trees. And when he starts going around parks armed with a drill. the corrupt local council springs hopelessly into action…

Delafield’s ‘Diary Of A Provincial Lady’ is written in shorthand, a Pooterish masterpiece of 20th Century humour that shows how easily she could communicate unspoken feelings of embarrassment and annoyance. Quotation is virtually impossible, as the gentle humour builds through the account of the year, but here she is at tea:
Here she is on wartime blackouts; ‘Serena alleges that anonymous friend of hers goes out in the dark with extra layer of chalk-white powder so as to be seen, and resembles the Dong With The Luminous Nose. (Query: Is it in any way true that war very often brings out the best in civil population? Answer: So far as I am concerned, Not at all.)’ Deep English Warning, but there are 5 volumes to enjoy.

Here’s my pick of the bunch, the reason why I wrote ‘Paperboy’. Bruce Robinson is the author of ‘Whithnail & I’, and this is his clearly biographical account of life as a thirteen year-old on the South coast, incorporating puberty, grandpas, Morse Code, enemas and exploding frogs. It’s uproarious, touching and very obviously true. Sadly, it’s his only novel.

23 comments on “Looking For The Funniest Book Ever Written Part 2”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    If you ever do a list of the funniest American books, I will nominate Jack Douglas, who was Deep American. He wrote Never Trust A Naked Bus Driver, My Brother Is An Only Child, Benedict Arnold Slept Here, Shut Up And Eat Your Shoeshoes (set in Northern Ontario) and many more. He was never D.A.B.(Dull And Boring).

  2. admin says:

    I’ll check him out – thanks Dan

  3. John Howard says:

    Yet another choice selection. My favourite being Spike Milligan. I agree that the style was scattershot but as I grew up with The Goon Show I found that I could cope with it. Many moons ago I bought a second hand reel to reel tape recorder because it came with hours and hours of that radio show. This was long before the dawn of the CD and the BBC cashing in on its huge and highly saleable library.

    Haven’t heard of the John Wells & John Fortune book but will now start looking for it. (Just did a quick check and there is a New York bookseller wanting £155.95 + p&p. Think I might go for the UK seller at £4.50 + p&p…)

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Dan, surely that last title is “Shut Up and Eat Your Snowshoes”. My instinctive Canadian soul kicked in. Sigh.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    The Spike Milligan war stories I have is “Rommel? Gunner Who?” along with a collection of replica Goon Show scripts. How on earth is anyone to choose the funniest book? I like Three Men in a Boat for summer reading, perhaps because I read it first in my teens.

  6. agatha hamilton says:

    American books? ‘Confederacy of Dunces’, too, surely.

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    Indeed, it’s Snowshoes. I’ll have to try writing my comments down on a pad first and then carefully typing them into this tricky white rectangle. Bother. And trifocals are on the must buy list for the Fall. More bother. I hate new trifocals as they age everybody I know by many years. (If that’s an original observation of mine, admin may have it for Arthur in the next book. Should he want it.)

  8. Diogenes says:

    Big Trouble by Dave Barry. Anything by Carl Hiassen or Kyril Bonfiglioli. The Dortmunder novels are very funny as well.

  9. Reuben says:

    Probably not the funniest book ever, but I did rather like Steve Aylett’s LINT.

  10. snowy says:

    As people are recommending US authors, can I raise a hand for Joe R. Lansdale. A prolific and award winning writer. He has written so much, it is hard to single out any particular work.

    But if slightly mis-matched duos, solving unpleasant crimes in the backwaters of Texas, sounds appealing then the “Hap and Leonard” novels would be a fine place to start.

    I noticed that some of his short stories are available free for ‘Knidle’ users, so you can get a taste of his style for free.

  11. Dan Terrell says:

    Snowy a good U.S. book recommendation. I’ve read all the Hap and Leonard novels up to and through “Captains Outrageous” which I thought was less good, but then they were at sea not in the swampland. How were the several novels published since that? The stand-alone Bottoms was very good.
    Diogenes recommendation of Hiassen’s novels (good to great) and particularly Westlake’s early Dortmunder novels are all lol funny.
    Now back to the Invisible Code. It’s rainy. I’m still pacing myself, which may seem odd, but works well, and I intend to enjoy the ride through to the last page long holiday weekend.
    (NB: Lonsdale’s shorts are NOT free on U.S. Amazon, but not too costly.)

  12. snowy says:

    Dan, oddly I also only got as far as ‘Captains Outrageous’. His books are harder to come by here, at least that’s my excuse. ‘The Bottoms’ was good, but so strikingly different to the H&L books, it was like a facefull of ice cold water.

    Hiassen I find variable depending on which of his characters feature, but he is a reliably good writer and even if his plots get a little threadbare, his pace carries you through.

    The ‘Dortmunder’ books seem to have passed me by, I had to look it up, and I don’t recall having ever come across any of them. But it’s another name to go on my ever expanding list. Even the film adaptation of ‘The Hot Rock’ rings no bells.

    Perhaps my computer is broken, but I thought I saw at least two free stories on the US version of that well known website.
    ….[goes away to double check]….
    Must still be bust, because I can still see in the ‘Knidle’ section:

    Bullets and Fire
    Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back
    Incident On and Off a Mountain Road

    They are only single short stories, of twenty of thirty pages, so probably have a low sales rank, hence not readily visible until you force a re-sort by price. Well it’s a theory anyway.

    A word of advice for anyone searching for information about the H&L book mentioned above, Don’t click on the first link G..,!. offers, you might have a hard time explaining why that is in your browsing history!

  13. Dan Terrell says:

    Snowy – not to draw this out, but my PC shows those 3 shorts as .99 each. Maybe that’s based on my purchasing history which I’ve heard Amazon does. (What the market will carry, right?) Can you buy and download stuff from the U.S. site? We can’t based on my experience buy direct from Amazon.UK.

  14. Chris Everson says:

    Hello everyone. First time poster here, so please be kind.

    One book I loved was Colin Bateman’s 1997 book ‘Empire State’. Had me in stitches, was also sad at times and loved the plot. Other books of his seem to have garnered better reciews, but that’s my favourite of his by far. He sometimes seems to try a bit too hard, and with ‘Empire State’ it just seemed natural and not forced.

  15. snowy says:

    Dan, I thought there must be something funny going on. Which is why I dared to be bold/rude enough to question your findings. Not something I would ordinarily do. And you are quite correct to pull me up about it.

    I have occasionally noticed some odd pricing there, to the extent that I have mused about switching between different accounts to keep the spend in each down. Therefore appearing to be a low spender, needing to be enticed by special offers. But I suspect they may be cross matching the card used for payment to foil my well laid plan. Curse them.

    I have never tried to purchase or download from the US site. I can apparently receive goods from for example the .fr, .de or .ie domains without problems, though I have yet to try.

    Two things come to mind, the first and not germane to this question, is that there is a company that offers to act as a go-between for US-UK customers or is it UK-US customers? Physical goods are shipped to a inland address and then trans-shipped abroad to the customer for a fee based on the weight. No use for downloads though.

    The second thought might be a little out there, and tin foil hat at the ready. Did you sign in as yourself before you checked the prices? It’s something I don’t do, I put stuff in the ‘basket’ and only sign in to complete the transaction. My previous buying history being presumably unknown up until that point, and if the prices suddenly went up I would just cancel the item.

    I am very curious about this Dan, it seems to go against all usual practise. Who but the most foolish trader would overcharge a good customer?

    I’m a bit stuck how to take this forward, but there may be a way.

    Would any kindly soul reading this, who has a spare moment, nip over to the .com site. Have a look for ‘Bullets and Fire’, and drop a comment on the price shown and which continent you are on.

    [I’ve just re-done and it still shows $0.00 for the ‘Knidle’ edition.]

    Don’t worry on my account about dragging things out, if I can’t defeat a problem by a ‘coup de main’. I’ll gnaw the bloody bugger to death, one inch at a time. :-)

  16. Iain says:

    I have a fondness for Christopher Moore – who is to Lovecraft and King what Douglas Adams was to Asimov and Clarke. “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove”, “A Dirty Job”, “Practical Demonkeeping” are all pretty good. Not so fond of “Coyote Blue” though it does have its moments. I also found “The Muller-Fokker Effect” by John Sladek hilarious but it depends on your tolerance for SF-based pastiche.

  17. admin says:

    A nice range of reading here – my Kindle list is now becoming unmanageable and ridiculous!

  18. Diogenes says:

    The Dortmunder novels are very hard to find, except using Abebooks. They are one of the few novels Kindle has that no-one else stocks. Almost enough to make me buy a Kindle, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

  19. Jez Winship says:

    John Sladek’s Roderick and Roderick at Random (just one novel, really) is also very funny – a modern-day Candide with a naive and innocent robot let loose upon the wide, wicked world. It’s also very touching.
    Kyril Bonfiglioli’s comic crime capers about the dissolute and far from honest art dealer Mortdecai and his thuggish but unswervingly dedicated Scottish manservant Jock are also hilarious, particularly the first one, Don’t Point That Thing At Me. They were published in one volume as the Mortdecai trilogy.
    I remember Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne’s alternative world series set in the socialist American state of the USSA, and featuring numerous pop cultural figures (fictional and real) in re-imagined contexts, as being very good, too. It was published from time to time in Interzone, but never seems to have made it into book form over here.

  20. Dan Terrell says:

    Snowy – Amazon, I have on good authority, prices items – some at least – by postal zip code and buyer’s history. Also, of course, by actual wholesale cost of the item to them. Books stocked by Amazon in the United Kingdom are shipped by the Book Depository, which is an Amazon company. (It used to be, and perhaps still is, that British books not to be future-published in the States were batch ordered and shipped to Sterling, VA around the corner from me and then shipped out. (Not sure if this is still done since it has the Book Depository.)
    What I find interesting is how Amazon handles books in a customer’s save for later cart – not just in the order now basket. The prices on these go up and down due to amount reordered and availability – I assume, but also some times just to wave a flag.
    Final note: remember that computer location is used due to the terrtorial nature of the grid. My guess is Amazon.UK is “loss leadering” Lonsdale’s three shorts to get more U.K. sales, but that’s nt needed in the States.

  21. Chris says:

    May I make the suggestion of ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy-Toole, which is earthy, absurd and utterly delightful?

    And in the same vein as ‘Diary of A Provincial Lady’ the Mapp and Lucia novels of E.F. Benson, which are deeply English and camp, camp camp.

  22. Helen Martin says:

    Chris – you either love Mapp and Lucia or can’t stand them. I enjoyed them and enjoyed the tv series they made of them. My husband left the room as soon as the program came on. I hope to go to Rye some day. A twelve year old in our school was given M & L to read and said her favourite bit was them practicing for a spontaneous tableau. It’s another example of how marked the different styles of humour are.

  23. Elizabeth Rose says:

    H.E. Bates, Darling Buds of May. Second Jack Douglas, Joe R. Lansdale, and John Sladek. I prefer Laurence Shames to Hiassen for Florida fiction though. Liz

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