10 Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud

Books

Literary laughs for the lockdown era

I’m always wary of authors who write about the rich; it convinces me they secretly salivate about being part of the fast set, like Richard Curtis and Julian Fellowes. Charles Jennings is genuinely hilarious on the subject of the ghastly rich, but in ‘Up North: Travels Beyond the Watford Gap’, he turns his jaundiced eye to the North of England and brings down a storm of invective from those who live there.

JG Farrell is one of my favourite writers. His Empire Trilogy starts with the excellent ‘Troubles’, set in a faded hotel from which vantage point the hero observes the Irish struggle for Independence. The third, ‘The Singapore Grip’, concerns the capture of the British colony by the Japanese in 1942. But it was the second, ‘The Siege of Krishnapur’, that caught the attention of critics and public alike, winning the Booker prize. It is a heartbreaking, frequently hilarious story of a siege – an amalgam of several real life Indian sieges into one superb novel.

It’s always interesting to hear how other writers got their start. I seem to recall that Carl Reiner’s ‘Enter Laughing’ is the model here, about high-speed writing on the Sid Caesar show at a tender, terrified age. ‘How I Became a Famous Novelist’ by Steve Hely covers similar ground – a loser sets out to write bestseller and accidentally succeeds – and is a joy from start to finish.

Jonathan Coe sometimes reminds me of Michael Frayn; the same English dryness, a comic way with a sentence. Frayn’s ‘Make and Break’ featured a man selling office partitions at trade fairs – I think the company motto was ‘Keeping the World Apart’. In Coe’s charming ‘Expo 58’ a hopeless civil servant is sent to a trade fair and duped into becoming a spy with embarrassing ease. Everything absurd and awful about postwar Britain is here, and it’s a comic delight.

‘A Bright Moon for Fools’ is an oddity. There’s something of ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ about its Falstaffian hero, drunkenly plunging into Venezuela and causing chaos wherever he goes – but the mystery is what happened to the talented author, Jasper Gibson, who seems to have vanished after this electric debut.

Michael Green is remembered as an eccentric newspaperman who once started the printing presses to run off his own edition, only to find that he couldn’t stop them. His classic, ‘Squire Haggard’s Journal’, is along with WE Bowman’s ‘The Ascent Of The Rum Doodle’, a one-of-a-kind volume that requires nothing more than a little knowledge of history and a sense of humour to appreciate.

The journal is a bawdy parody of a late 18th century gentleman’s diary. Amos Haggard is a Hogarthian grotesque, chugging Madeira, horsewhipping servants, rogering prostitutes, evicting paupers and discharging his pistols at anything foreign, revealing the origin of the Little Englander in all his sclerotic, xenophobic horror. The diary is obsessed with demises and unusual diagnoses, including ‘Putrefaction Of The Tripes’ and ‘Death from Windy Spasms’, and whether by accident or design somehow manages to capture the flavour of the times more succinctly than many more carefully researched biographies.

The wonderful Fu Manchu parody ‘The Shanghai Surprise’, the fourth-wall-breaking time novel ‘The Moving Toyshop’ and all of the wonderful ‘Reginald Perrin’ books have been spoken of here before but they will all raise laughter in these odd days.

26 comments on “10 Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud”

  1. Brian says:

    Jasper Gibson is doing his best to keep us all amused in these worrisome times with his entertaining website.

    thepoke.co.uk

  2. Liz Thompson says:

    Any of the Edmund Crispin books have me laughing out loud. Particularly the one including the village rendezvous “Meet me at the pisser”. May you never experience Fen’s fate of the publisher going bust in time to save him from writing his book.

  3. Brian Evans says:

    It is the same Michael Green who wrote “The Art of Course Acting” which is the biggest laugh out loud book I have ever read.

  4. SteveB says:

    I think the book that made me laugh most in my life was Jennings goes to school, at the age of 8 or whatever!!! I still remember Flixton Slick etc

  5. admin says:

    The same Michael Green wrote all of the ‘Course’ books.

  6. Brian Evans says:

    I saw Michael Green on stage at the Questors Theatre in Ealing when they had an evening of course acting plays.These predated “The Play that Goes Wrong” farces.

    “Course acting” ie, amateur dramatics. One of the definitions of a course actor is “one who can remember his lines, but not the order in which they come”. Doesn’t this sound like the line in very famous Eric Morecombe and Ernie Wise piano playing sketch with “Andrew” Previn? This came later than the book.

    He describes a Course Play as ” a production in which the roles of actors and audience are reversed. The actors go on stage painfully being themselves, whilst the audience pitifully acts as though they are enjoying the production.” Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Coarse_Acting

  7. Peter Dixon says:

    Tom Sharpe’s first half-dozen were pretty good, Wilt, Porterhouse Blue, Blott on the Landscape – all great fun in the 80’s / 90’s.

    I sympathised with Wilt and his ‘Gas Fitters English,5’ or whatever because I taught part-time at a Technical College and was conned into taking a graphic design class of ‘College Certificate’ (i.e. too witless to achieve any level of national education) students for a 4.00 til 6.00 class.

    I’m 5’6″ and was faced with 19 miner’s sons who were 17, over 6ft and resented being made to stay late.

    I had to sign the register so that they could claim their grant allowance, then they tried to leave.
    I locked the door so they couldn’t get out. We were on the 5th floor, so they decided to throw desks and chairs out of the window onto cars parked below in order to persuade me.

    Their sole aim seemed to be to get to the college canteen where they could play pool.

    There was a certain amount of native animal cunning about them but they never resorted to actual violence upon the person.

    I’m not sure what they learned from me but I learned to get out of Further Education (Tom) sharpish.

  8. Jo W says:

    I used to have a few of the Michael Green books, but I thought they were The Art of Coarse….something.

  9. Jan says:

    PG Wodehouse laugh out loud funny everlasting, classic comedy right from his light + delicate touch his deft precise wonderful way with words right through the steadily building situations his characters find themselves embroiled in. Amazing stuff. Brilliant very difficult to better.

    However I have just re-read “The Bleeding Heart” by some geezer called Fowler and on p325 I find a Pc Julie Biggs suffering a sudden case of leaking shoe trauma and then finding a suspect in in St George’s Gardens. The conversation right through to “Your nicked mate. Bring the shovel”
    Funniest thing I have read in ages.

    One of them short stories was also pretty good. The one with the Clock. Not got round to the others yet. Am going to have a 2nd read of “Strange Tide”.

    At some stage could you please nip down to your basement + take some pictures of this well.
    Do something useful with.your life!

  10. Agatha Hamilton says:

    And what about ‘Cooking with Fernet Branca’ by James Hamilton-Patterson?

  11. Debra Matheney says:

    “My Family and Other Animals” had me howling in places, the last book I recall really making me laugh out loud while reading alone. I also enjoy “I Capture the Castle”. There is always Jane Austen.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Any of Stephen Leacock’s works, although he did write some economics material that you might want to avoid if looking for a laugh. He wrote very funny stuff (eg. “My Banking Career”) but was not a happy man.

    I just turned around to see if anything of his was piled up there. There’s The Winds of Dune, Sailing to Sarantium, Two Louis L’Amours, The Name of the Rose, M*A*S*H Goes to Las Vegas, Shane, The Wind in the Willows, Uther, Thrones, Dominations, and a book on stenciling. Perhaps I should just sort out these piles.

  13. Roger says:

    For “course” read “coarse” throughout.

    An inspiration for Squire Haggard – and as much tragic as comic in reality – is “Memoirs of the life of the late John Mytton, esq., of Halston, Shropshire, formerly M. P. for Shrewsbury, high sheriff for the counties of Salop and Merioneth and major of the North Shropshire yeomanry cavalry; with notices of his hunting, shooting, driving, racing, eccentric and extravagant exploits” by Nimrod.

  14. Roger says:

    Apologies Jo W – you beat me to it.

  15. Mike says:

    I used to chuckle at the Inspector Dover books by Joyce Porter.
    Peter Pook was always guaranteed to produce a laugh.

  16. Jo W says:

    # Mike
    Peter Pook, now there’s a name from the past. I was recommended his book, Banking on Form, by another employee in the branch of the bank I worked for. I got it from the Library and laughed out loud, on the bus going to work. When you can recognize the characters and situations, it helps. I went on to read most of his output, when I could.
    Can’t get his books now, not at the prices they go for second hand.

  17. Lyn Jackson says:

    One of my favourite humourists is S J Perelman and another I can remember my friend and I having hysterics over was Jerome K Jerome many years ago. And Wodehouse of course has been a favourite for many years.

  18. Bob Low says:

    Helen – it was nice to be reminded of Stephen Leacock. My dad bought me a Penguin paperback collection of his when I was a teenager, and a lot of the shorter pieces made me howl – ‘Boarding House Geometry’ was a favourite. He also was something of a polymath, with some controversial but well argued opinions about a lot of cultural subjects. His essay ‘Homer and Humbug’ is a good example, where he questions the received wisdom about the work of ancient Greek dramatists, describing them as ‘primitive literature’. As he had read them in the original language, his opinion was well informed. I’ve often thought that the great, humane, generous spirited Canadian Robertson Davies was almost a natural successor.

  19. Davem says:

    Nice to see others agree about JG Farrell, was such a great writer

  20. Peter Dixon says:

    Lyn, Perelman was a great writer but he always wrote short pieces, usually for The New Yorker, no novels or short stories as I recall. A true genius of language his successors (and copyists) were Clive James and Alan Coren who also wrote short, journalistic, pieces.
    Perelman as a wordsmith and humourist equals Wodehouse – I don’t know any writer who has accurately (or inaccurately) used the word ‘chopfallen’ other than Mr P.
    Just to throw in another name: Damon Runyon.

  21. Lyn Jackson says:

    Peter,yes I think you are right.He wrote some scripts for the Marx brothers.when he went to Hollywood his description of the women as having” their eyes clearly defined in their faces” and the men”with their chieselled grin and grisselled
    chin” is a favourite phrase of mine.
    Still have Damon Runyun books also. Loved them.but some very sad.

  22. Nick says:

    I have The Ascent of Rum Doodle, recently acquired second-hand. However, I remember borrowing it from the library in my late teens along with “Bureaucrats – and how to annoy them” by ‘R T Fishall’ (in reality, I believe, Patrick Moore!), which gave me great amusement.

  23. Diogenes says:

    The Barney Thomson series by David Lindsay
    The Charlie Mortdecai series by Kyril Bonfiglioli
    Cooking with Fernet Branca
    Dover series by Joyce Porter

  24. Mike says:

    The Flaxborough Chronicles by Colin Watson.
    The TV series also wasn’t too bad as far as I remember

  25. Jan says:

    I had forgotten all about Runyon yes he was very comical and the characters and dialogue he created were wonderful.

    I wonder how many were lifted directly from reality?

  26. diane caruso says:

    I find Andrea Camilleri”s books very funny.

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