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Funny Books: NPRs Readers Pick The Best
We thought you might need a laugh right about now, so this years summer reader poll celebrates all the books (and one short story, and a few uncategorizable gems) that make you laugh out loud.
Summer Reader Poll 2019: Funny Books
Tell us all about the books that make you laugh because we all need a laugh right now!
We Did It For The LOLs: 100 Favorite Funny Books
The news cycle is driving us to the edge of madness, so why not switch off, unplug and pick up a book? We know you could use a laugh right now and luckily, several thousand of you told us all about thebooks, stories and poems that make you laugh.
We took your votes (more than 7,000 of them!) and with the help of ourpanel of expert judges people so cool and so hilarious Im surprised they even talked to me created this list of 100 reads designed to make you laugh out loud. Want slice-of-life essays? Loopy poetry? Surreal one-panel cartoons? Blackly comic novels? Texts from famous literary figures? Scroll down weve got it all.
As with all our reader polls, this is a curated list and not a straight-up popularity contest; youll see that the books are grouped into categories rather than ranked from one to 100.
Click If You Dare: 100 Favorite Horror Stories
Summer Reader Poll 2017: Comics And Graphic Novels
Lets Get Graphic: 100 Favorite Comics And Graphic Novels
And, as always, there are a few things that didnt make the list surprisingly, Shakespeare didnt get enough votes to make it to the semifinals, and our judges decided the immortal Bard of Avon didnt exactly need our help to find new readers. (But read some Shakespeare anyhow, just for the scorching burns inMuch Ado About Nothing.) Then there were books that didnt quite stand the test of time, or were so new we couldnt tell whether theyd stand up.
Some of the authors on this list are incredibly popular, and you voted them in over and over again (three guesses as to whom, and the first two dont count, David Sedaris). Because space is limited, we try to hold each author to one spot on the list, but there are some exceptions in 2015, for the romance poll, we created theNora Roberts Rule. Weve applied it somewhat ... flexibly, but it generally means that each year, one particularly beloved or prolific author gets two spots on the list. This year, we used it for an actual Nora, Nora Ephron, which our judges thought was the perfect application.
And speaking of our judges, you will find a couple of their works on the list this year we dont let judges vote for their own work, but readers loved Samantha IrbysWe Are Never Meeting In Real Lifeand Guy BranumsMy Life as a Goddess, so the panel agreed they should stay.
Laughter is the best medicine, or so we hear so read two (heck, read three) and call us in the morning!
To make navigating the list a little easier, click these links to get to each category:Memoirs,Essays,Comics & Cartoons,Novels,Fantasy & Science Fiction,Nonfiction,Kids Books & YA,Poetry,Classics,Short Storiesand ...Deep Thoughts(no, really, justDeep Thoughts. We couldnt figure out where else to put it).
Daily Showhost Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984, to a white father and a black mother against the law under the apartheid system. In this memoir, by turns funny and wrenching, he describes the lengths his parents went to keep him safe and hidden from the authorities. I think it set me up for where I am now in life,he told NPRs Renee Montagne in 2016. More of my comedy and my showbiz, and that feeling came for me partly from my mother, came for me from the world that I lived in.
We put this in the Memoirs section because Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo are, more or less, based on Hunter S. Thompson and his buddy Oscar Zeta Acosta ... but one category cant really contain this drug-addled desert odyssey. If youre gonna take a road trip and youre gonna do it by car, Im sad to say that the best you can hope for is for yours to be the second-greatest of all time,says our critic Jason Sheehan. Why? Because Hunter Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta have already taken the top slot and will hold it forever.
Reading Tina Feys delightful memoir is like eating a bucket of movie popcorn you cant stop until you get to the bottom. But unlike a bucket of movie popcorn,Bossypantswill leave you light and happy and wishing you were at least a tenth as cool as Tina Fey. (And yes, of course, theres also lots about actually being a boss on the sets ofSaturday Night Liveand30 Rock.)
When Firoozeh Dumas moved to America as a child, she knew exactly seven words of English the names of seven colors. (Her father had taught English in Iran, but as it turned out, he wasnt that great at speaking American.)Funny in Farsiis a charming chronicle of her familys encounters with American culture, from her mothers fondness forThe Price is Rightto the true meaning of elbow grease.
A few years ago when we didthe romance poll,our judges created theNora Roberts Rule: Normally, an author gets only one slot in the final list, but someone as legendary as Ms. Roberts can have two (she got in as herself and as her pen name, J.D. Robb). We applied that rule again this year to another Nora Nora Ephron, because we couldnt decide between this candid, rueful, hilarious collection of essays on aging as a woman and her scathing autobiographical novelHeartburn,which youll see farther along in the list.
Oh, Carrie Fisher. We miss you so much. Luckily, Fishers words are still here for us Wishful Drinking,adapted from her autobiographical stage show, is a painfully funny, unsparing account of her childhood as Hollywood royalty; her own ascent to fame, far too young, withStar Wars;and marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon. Whats it like to have your parents marriage broken up by Elizabeth Taylor? And to have your own action figure at the age of 19? Fisher lays it all out.
Jenny Lawson kicks off this memoir with a story about how, at the age of 3, she allegedly almost set her familys apartment on fire by shoving a broom into the furnace and then waving it, aflame, around her head. And things dont get any less weird from there in fact, Lawson says she has spent her whole life being pigeonholed as that weird girl. Is it a little embellished? Yes. (Lawson herself calls it a mostly true memoir on the cover.) Is it hilarious? Also yes, even when Lawson is recounting the more painful parts of her life.
Mindy Kalings combination memoir, advice column and Hollywood tour is irreverent and eminently relatable from her childhood struggles with weight and popularity to her eventual career breakthrough. But the most resonant part is her description of herself as a teenage comedy nerd breaking away from a familiar childhood clique to write sketches and film clips with a new friend who actually appreciated the glories ofWaynes WorldandMonty Pythons Flying Circus.
Guy Branums collection of essays isnt just a hilarious memoir though dont get me wrong, it is VERY much that, says Pop Culture Happy Hours Glen Weldon. Its a call to arms, a stirring, touching, beautifully written manifesto for queer self-made autodidacts everywhere anyone who has failed to see themselves reflected in popular culture and knew that meant theculturehad to change, not them. The searing insight with which he dissects his late fathers love of the filmThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,for example, will have you reassessing fathers, sons, violence, masculinity and not for nothing the filmThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Patricia Lockwood grew up with a Catholic priest for a father (he had originally been a Lutheran, and kept his wife and family through a special Vatican dispensation) who converted onboard a submarine during a showing ofThe Exorcist.Her memoir is part freewheeling family portrait and part scathing, ribald critique of the Church and its predatory, controlling men our critic Annalisa Quinn calls the bookantic, deadpan, heartbreaking and so, so gross.
Augusten Burroughs darkly comic memoir chronicles his childhood as the son of alcoholic, troubled parents who eventually sent him to live in the chaotic household of a psychiatrist he describes as almost like a cult leader. Both his family and that of the doctorhave challenged his account but as long as youre not holding to journalistic standards of truth,Running With Scissorsis a wild ride of a read, by turns disgusting, upsetting and hilarious.
Sure, everyone knows Shirley Jackson as the queen of chills find me someone who claims to not have read The Lottery and Ill find you a liar. But Jackson had another life as a humorist, whose wry, detailed observations about her family and their small Vermont town originally published in womens magazines share a little bit of that edge, that darkness that makes her horror writing so powerful.
I just kept pushing, comedian Tiffany Haddishtold NPR in 2017, because I know what Im supposed to do here on this Earth.The Last Black Unicornis her account of what she had to keep pushing through on her way to success including an abusive marriage, years in foster care and, ultimately, the challenge from a social worker that put her on the path to a career in comedy. Haddish herself says she couldnt mine her marriage for laughs, but the rest of the book is honest, funny and, in the end, inspiring.
British actor and filmmaker Richard Ayoade The IT Crowds beloved, awkward Moss began directing music videos in 2007 and made his full-length directorial debut withSubmarinein 2010. Mix that love of film with his comedic chops and you getAyoade on Ayoade,an extremely loosely autobiographical series of essays (and silly footnotes) in which he interviews himself about his career as a filmmaker and the movies that shaped him. Did I mention the footnotes?
Amy Poehler takes off her wigs and costumes and steps out of character for her memoir,Yes Pleasea decision she says was difficult. But its fun getting closer to the real Poehler in this funny, eclectic, somewhat scattershot book and discovering the thought process behind some of her most indelible characters.
If David Sedaris thinks youre funny, youre probably pretty funny and he has called Sloane Crosley perfectly, relentlessly funny.I Was Told Thered Be Cakeis her debut collection, and it introduces her as an original yet definitely relatable voice. Who among us, after all, hasnt worried about dying suddenly and having friends and family discover something embarrassing like a stash of toy ponies under the sink while cleaning out our stuff?
Everybody has a favorite David Sedaris collection. Many champion his early fiction/memoir-hybrid stuff likeBarrel FeverandNaked,but inMe Talk Pretty,the hilarious essayist mines his real life strip-mines it, in some cases and the result feels richer, truer. In the first half, he selects moments from his childhood as well as his life as a writer in New York City for gentle (and not-so-gentle) (and often self-) mockery. In the second half, Sedaris manages to write about moving to a country house in France with his lover in a way thats so fresh and funny we somehow get over our seething jealousy.
Sarah Vowell walks the reader through the first three U.S. presidential assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley), but make no mistake: This is no whistle-stop tour. Vowell, in her sardonic but never caustic way, grounds us firmly in the era in question while never missing an opportunity to draw trenchant parallels to our own. She visits gravesites and ghoulish medical museums, but the book doesnt seem so much death-obsessed as death-charmed. Youll come away wanting to trace her steps to the Washington, D.C., boardinghouse where the Lincoln assassins met and plotted, which is now, as she notes, a karaoke restaurant serving better-than-average bubble tea.
Readers voted in almost every book David Rakoff ever wrote, but our judges agreed thatHalf Empty in which he writes about the power of what he calls defensive pessimism, or assuming the worst was, in fact, the best. I can see a great beauty in acknowledging the fact that the world is dark, Rakoff told NPRs Linda Wertheimer in 2010. While writing the book, he learned he had the cancer that would eventually kill him, but as he put itin another interview, with defensive pessimism, you imagine the worst-case scenario you can and you go through it step by step, and you dismantle those things and you manage your anxiety about it.
Merrill Markoe has won multiple Emmy Awards for her work as a writer onLate Night with David Letterman,but she is less well-known than a lot of the other funny women on this list. (On her website, she claims to be haunted by the fear that the creation of Stupid Pet Tricks was going to be the only thing that would appear in her obituary.) So pick up this volume of essays and start getting to know Markoe we promise, shesreallyfunny.
Readers loved this painfully relatable collection of essays from poll judge Samantha Irby, and rightfully so you may cringe occasionally as you read, but itll be because you know youve done exactly what Irby is describing in such droll, deadpan fashion. Also, her cat, Helen Keller, is one of the greatest comic creations of all time.
Erma Bombeck was an American humorist who, yes, captured the travails of suburban life and homemaking in the pages of newspapers and womens magazines as well as weekly segments onGood Morning Americafor over a decade. But she was also a consummate prose stylist. You cant read a Bombeck essay without hearing the weary affection behind every withering observation and her clear-eyed charm that never devolved to familiar clichs. This collection of essays finds her at the very top of her game as a voice for millions of Americans who were beginning to realize that the American dream was one that came with its share of night terrors.
Phoebe Robinson is one-half of the awesome podcast2 Dope Queensand afierce voice for diversity in comedy. Her debut essay collection is about black hair, yes, but also about what its like to be the one black friend in your group (Hint, she writes, its annoying), what its like to be black in general (very cool and awesome and also annoying) and, as she puts it, all the stuff that makes some dude on the Internet call me a See You Next Tuesday. You should also check out her follow-up collection,Everythings Trash, But Its Okay.
Writer Michael Arceneaux grew up black, gay and Catholic in Houston, an experience he chronicles in this eloquent, honest and extremely funny essay collection. Hetold Fresh Airs Terry Grossthat his very religious mother hated the books title, but it actually came from a conversation they had. I know that youre born gay. I know that you cant help it. But if you have sex and get hit by a bus, I dont know where youre going to go, his mother told him to which he replied, Well, girl, I cant date Jesus.
The Awkward Thoughts Of W. Kamau Bell
Tales of a 6 4, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mamas Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian
Comedian W. Kamau Bell says he has spent most of his life feeling awkward growing up tall, but not an athlete, interested in comedy but feeling out of place in comedy clubs. He writes about that, along with race relations, intersectionality, politics and being a blerd (a black nerd) in this conversational collection that will leave you feeling like youve spent the afternoon with a very funny and definitely smarter-than-you friend.
Scaachi Koul grew up in Canada the child of Indian immigrants, an experience she draws on in this sharp-edged collection of essays. Koul takes on some tough subjects privilege, gender roles, online abuse and all the things that have made her miserable but she manages to wring laughs out of it all.
Writer Melissa Broder started unt in 2012 to deal with a merciless cycle of panic attacks and anxiety that went on and on. Which doesnt sound like great material for comedy, but sometimes the only way out of unhappiness is to make fun of it. As she puts it in the introduction to this collection, based on those darkly funny tweets, There arent that many ways to find comfort in this world. We must take it where we can get it, even in the darkest, most disgusting places.
Collecting her bestsellersMetropolitanLifeandSocial Studies,this indispensable volume of Fran Lebowitzs essays transports the reader to a place (New York City) and a time (late 70s-early 80s) with uncanny specificity. Lebowitz writes lean but compact prose as effortless as it is ruthless. You could bounce a quarter off every blistering sentence, every scalding take (her ferocious defense of smoking in restaurants, for example) and come away with your eyebrows happily singed. They call her the modern-day Dorothy Parker, but theres a generation of contemporary writers whod kill to be called the heir apparent to Fran Lebowitz.
Our judges and you, the readers, were unanimous in wanting to see Issa Raes debut collection on this list. Named after her hit Web comedy series but written in her own voice, rather than that of her character in the show its a winningly deadpan account of all the awkward, frustrating and embarrassing moments that helped shape her (as well as a guide to navigating any awkward situations you might find yourself in). Also, Rae had a great conversation with our own Michel Martin about the Web series,which you can check out here.
John Hodgman wrote his first few books in a voice one might call Erudite, Condescending Polymath, but with 2011sThat is All,he began to drop that pose and let notes of searching melancholy enter the mix. That process continued apace with this, his fourth book, a collection of essays built from his life as a writer, husband, father, friend, homeowner, full-time Yankee and part-time Mainer. Hes as funny and charming as ever here, but he is also more worried, more doubtful, shuffling off the carapace of intellectual swagger to expose something more raw and relatable.
In this collection, comedy writer Jessi Klein she won an Emmy as the head writer forInside Amy Schumer considers everything from life as a tomboy to her philosophical objections to baths (I feel like getting in the bath is a kind of surrender to the idea that we cant really make it on land, she writes). Poll judge Aparna Nancherla says Klein is an absolute genius at taking an experience shes had and making it universally relatable using the most delightful imagery you would have never thought of, but is, in fact, the perfect and only description.
Noelle Stevensons breakout graphic novel about a charming shape-shifter who apprentices herself to the local villain starts as a lighthearted comic fantasy and blossoms into a morally and emotionally complex (but still funny) story about good and evil, love and friendship and betrayal.Our critic Tasha Robinson calls ita perpetual surprise ... still puckish even when it turns grim, but for something that starts out so lighthearted and silly, its astonishingly intense.
History and literature (even Canadian history and literature) were never more fun than in Kate BeatonsHark! A Vagrant.Beatons loose, rubbery and incredibly expressive renderings of the Kennedy family, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and Odysseus encountering Sirens posing with Facebook duck lips will make you laugh for sure and you might even learn something. (For example, she was way ahead of the rest of us onRosalind Franklin.)
Glen Baxter is British, something that isnt immediately apparent in his masterful drawings of cowboys holding each other at gunpoint over a shirtful of kumquats or a strange speech balloon. And if that previous sentence went in a direction you didnt exactly expect, so do Baxters surreally deadpan one-panel cartoons, each with a caption like Hubert gazed on in awe at the morsel or The concept of the dimmer switch had yet to reach the Lazy K bunkhouse.
If you grew up in the 80s, Gary Larsons laconic cows and chickens, befuddled scientists, aliens and ever present women in cats-eye glasses were an indelible part of your cultural landscape. Or if you were my dad, you bought yourself aFar Sidecartoon-a-day calendar every year, carefully saved your favorite jokes, wrapped them up and gave them to yourself at Christmas so you could savor them all again (Jane Goodall, that tramp!).
Cartoonist Roz Chast turns her pen on herself in this painfully funny account of taking care of her aging parents after they became incapable of living alone. Chasts jittery, wordy style is perfect for depicting the indignities of age as they affected her overbearing mother and her gentle, unassuming father who referred to each other unironically as soul mates and who, in Chasts words, aside from WWII, work, illness and going to the bathroom ... did everything together.
Chris Onstads resonantly weird comic about anthropomorphic animals doesnt really have an ongoing story, but it does have a few standout arcs including this one, about the legendary, 3,000-man Great Outdoor Fight. Ray Smuckles nominally a cat discovers that his dad, Ramses, won the 1973 fight, so he is determined to repeat the feat with the help of his best friend, Roast Beef. But things go sideways when Ray realizes he is going to have to beat Beef to win. Onstads art is spare at best, but his cats (and otters and robots) speak with a kind of poetry thatll stick in your head long after you close the book.
There are grim, dystopian visions of what life would be like if one gender went missing thinkY: The Last Man and then theres Aminder Dhaliwals gently goofyWoman World. Human males are mysteriously extinct in her world, and the women really arent all that worked up about it. Our critic Etelka Lehoczky says their comfortable, uninhibited, matter-of-fact (and occasionally nude) lives make for aremarkably sly and devastating critique of patriarchy.
Allie Brosh adapted her deranged but deep blog into this book, which collects her bright, crude and incredibly quotable comics aboutAll The Things, from grammar peeves and depression to the unholy power of a little kids dinosaur costume. Shedescribed it to Fresh Airs Terry Grossas stand-up comedy in book form, adding that her signature style tubular bodies, shark-fin hair and mismatched goggle eyes is what Im like when I view myself. I am this crude absurd little thing, this squiggly little thing on the inside.
Eats nuts, kicks butts! Ryan North and Erica Henderson reboot one of the weirder Marvel heroes as a bubbly, irrepressible computer science major who relies just as much on her STEM chops as on her ability to communicate with squirrels in defeating the bad guys. The marginalia including footnotes and imaginary social media chats between SG and other Marvel characters are almost as fun as the main story.
A boy, his stuffed tiger, some tuna sandwiches and a really useful cardboard box cartoonist Bill Watterson didnt need much to spin this heartfelt, gloriously loopy paean to childhood (and childhood imagination). Watterson stopped drawing the strip more than 20 years ago (sob!) but luckily we still haveThe Essential Calvin and Hobbes.Its a magical world, Hobbes, ol buddy ... lets go exploring!
Artist Maria Qamar known on Instagram ashatecopy turned her online work into this bright, satirical pop art-inflected tribute to the overbearing aunties who meddle in her life. An aunty is any older woman who thinks she knows whats best for you,Qamar told NPR. My moms family is huge, so I have a million aunties.
V. v. good! as Bridget Jones herself would say. Helen Fieldings messy, relatable is an icon of chick lit and really, literature in general. Follow along with Bridget Jones for a tumultuous year of too many cigarettes, too many alcohol units consumed, three colorful best friends and the one and only Mr. Mark Darcy.
John Kennedy Tooles singular novel is the kind of book youll finish, put down, and instantly pick up to read again though you may feel a little weird spending so much time with Tooles belching, bellowing protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly as he torments his long-suffering mother, attempts (with comic lack of success) new jobs, and lolls in bed with his Big Chief tablets full of ramblings about medieval history. The city of New Orleans is almost as much of a character as Reilly is; Tooles rendering of street life, local characters and accents brings it blazing off the page.
Joseph Hellers masterpiece captures the brutal absurdity of war by building absurdity into the prose itself (The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him). Structurally innovative and blisteringly funny in its indictment of humanity in general and the military in particular, Hellers novel became a phenomenon, and its title, referring to a military diktat that a soldier cannot claim insanity to avoid flying missions, because asking not to fly proves one sane, entered the lexicon as a means to describe, broadly, a no-win situation.
To make a French exit means to leave without saying goodbye and in the case of moneyed, striking widow Frances Price, to ditch Manhattan for Paris, along with her lumpish, loyal son and geriatric cat in order to avoid looming penury and scandal. All good things must end, says Frances at the start of the book so savor Patrick DeWitts mix of understatement and over-frankness while it lasts.
Kevin Kwans tale of love complicated by absurd amounts of money is as fizzy as a flute of Champagne sipped in a super-deluxe first-class cabin. As far as NYU professor Rachel Chu knows, her boyfriend, Nick Young, is reasonably well-off. But when she agrees to spend the summer with him back home in Singapore, she discovers his family owns half the island and everyones got their knives out for the nobody from New York.
Julie Schumachers epistolary novel is a little bit unusual instead of recording a correspondence between writers, the story here unfolds through an increasingly unhinged series of letters from one man, a disaffected creative writing professor whos got no problem writing incredibly insulting letters of recommendation for his students. He is the sort of rageful person who you feel yourself to be, before the superego takes over and tells you, Dont say that,Schumacher told NPR in 2014.
Rob, the ostensible hero of Nick Hornbys brilliantly incisive comic novel, is not just a bad boyfriend though he is very much that hes a bad nerd. Hes the kind of obsessive whos not content to love what he loves in his case, music. No, he and his co-workers at his London record shop insist on reducing music to an endless series of lists to be memorized, categorized, cross-referenced and, mostly, used as a cudgel to lord their expertise over others. Years before nerd culture became inescapable, Hornby had captured something essential about the contemporary male how fear of intimacy inspires a fondness for arcana, and the corresponding conviction that personal taste is a reliable arbiter of worth.
If youve only seen the movie version ofThe Princess Bride,youre in for a treat (not to denigrate the movie, which is pretty much the most quotable movie of all time). All your favorite characters have complex, well-rounded backstories. And William Goldmans original framing device is much funnier and more elaborate than the movies simple storytime Goldman claims to be searching for the book his father read to him as a child, only to discover that the real book is excruciatingly boring and his father was only reading him the good parts (not a spoiler, I promise). And in the interest of not spoiling things, we wont talk about how different the ending is ...
What happens when a power couple short-circuits? Nora Ephrons autobiographical novel about the collapse of her high-profile marriage to reporter Carl Bernstein is filled with righteous fury, though its filtered through Ephrons gimlet eye for the perfect, cutting detail. Her novelistic stand-in is a food writer, so she includes several recipes that send up the prose style of those we would nowadays call foodies, even as they underscore Ephrons tart-tongued ambivalence about being treated as a woman writer.
We love Dave Barry for his gently humorous approach to real life but poll voters also loved his debut novel, a comic thriller about a truly catastrophic chain of events set off when a dumb kid with a watergun gets mixed up in an actual assassination attempt. In his foreword, Barry refers to the novel as part of the Bunch of South Florida Wackos genre, so fans of Carl Hiaasen will definitely get a bang out ofBig Trouble.
If youve ever seena leg lampin a basement rec room, or triple-dog-dared a friend to do something stupid, youve experienced the comic legacy (har har) of Jean Shepherd, whose affectionately ironic stories about his Depression-era Indiana childhood were eventually made into the cult movieA Christmas Story. (Interestingly enough, a lot of them were originally published inPlayboymagazine but you can find them in this handy-dandy compilation and its follow-up volume,Wanda Hickeys Night of Golden Memories.)
What if Jesus Christ knew kung fu? Thats the after-midnight dorm room musing at the heart of Christopher Moores novel about the parts of Jesus life that arent detailed in the Bible. He is born and laid in the manger, sure and then the next time we see him, hes in his 30s and kicking money-changers out of the Temple. So what was he doing all those y