Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tuesday List: Books that Make Me Laugh



My blogfriend Christine Poulson suggested that she and I should make lists of books that make us laugh: that seemed an excellent idea, especially as we had such good interactive fun when we did our favourite Agatha Christies a few months ago. And given a cold dark November – we can all do with ideas to cheer ourselves up…

So we’re posting our lists on the same day, and will link here's the link to Christine's list.




These are my choices, in alphabetical order by author:



Lucky Jim's girlfriend, a right go-er in a paisley frock




1) Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis I have very mixed feelings about Amis and his works and his political views and his attitudes to women. But Lucky Jim is one of the finest and funniest books of the 20th century, and it never fails to make me laugh. Jim’s faces – the madrigal singing – the burnt sheets on the bed – ‘not the paisley frock’: all splendid. And a link with one my favourite poets, Philip Larkin. (I guess I appreciated him at opposite ends of his career: the other very funny book was his 1986 Old Devils, or History Boyos as I like to think of it.)

2) The Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson are going to be televised again in the UK this Christmas – fans will be hoping and fearing: can TV really do justice to the social battles of Tilling? It’s a matter of life and death because the stakes are so low. Au Reservoir, darlings, time for some Moonlight Sonata (uno duo tre), a chota peg, and some homard a la Riseholme.

3) Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings and Darbishire books are like PG Wodehouse crossed with the sublime Molesworth (both of whom I’m sneaking onto the list here). The charm of the two little boys, the fact that Buckeridge never makes them clever, and the plotting which is beyond description – all key factors. My favourite moment in all the books comes when Jennings, on the roof, shouts down a chimney pot ‘I’m looking for a ray of light in the darkness’, which portentous sentence goes straight down the flue, ‘amplified like a megaphone’ and is sent booming out of the fireplace, causing Matron to jump a mile and spill her tea.

4) Christopher Buckley’s father was a very right-wing American political and grammar commentator: his own take on life is different. His books are very American, which perhaps is why they are not better-known in the UK, but they are so funny they would appeal to anyone. Thank You For Smoking is a hilarious take on the tobacco industry (I mean, just the title...), and The White House Mess is splendidly funny not only on politics, but also on office life everywhere.

5) Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon is another blog favourite – the setpiece scenes in the book – literary gatherings and Passover – are among the great, funny party scenes of literature. Just click for more than you could need. 





Bridget Jones in her teddy



6) Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. I get pointlessly exercised when people describe the books as romcom or chicklit. The first one is House of Mirth for modern times, and I think all three books are wonderful observational satires that can tell you a lot about British life in the past 20 years. And make you laugh and snort and spill your coffee.

7) Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Anyone who looks at this blog much must know I am obsessed with her, and these books still make me laugh no matter how often I read them. So I won’t say any more this time – just click here to see endless blog entries.

8) My search for Warren Harding by Robert Plunket This is my most obscure choice, a book I have banged on about on the blog several times. It is a modern version of the Aspern Letters, as a young academic weasels his way into the household of a woman he thinks may have valuable documents. It is compelling and intriguing, and asks questions about the mistresses of presidents, and our rights to privacy. But it is also hysterically funny, laugh-out-loud funny, don’t-read-on-public-transport funny.

Cousin Teresa takes out Caesar, Bonzo Jock and the big borzoi (I didn't even have to look that up)




9) The short stories of Saki - favourites are Cousin Teresa, The Un-Rest Cure, Sredni Vashtar, The Way to the Dairy, The Open Window and – oh joy – The Story-Teller, a tale that any sensible child will love to bits.

10) Calvin and Hobbes The comic strip by Bill Watterson was part of our family life: adults and children could all be felled with a quote: “Ya like that Susie?” and “I just like the word smock” and “IF you get A present…” and “Mom was up too late packing.” Our collection books fell apart with re-reading, so we had to shell out for the complete C&H in 3 massive hardbacks…  Bill Watterson always refused to license the image for any purpose whatsoever – so ANY Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt or mug or sticker you may ever see is pirated. He must have missed out on, literally, millions of dollars because of this, but obviously doesn’t care, and you can only respect him for his decision. Still - I had hoped to be able to reproduce a strip here, but this is apparently complete impossible: you cannot (legally) use C& H online. So please go to this website and see some sample strips. 


That’s 10 – but I would have liked to have fitted in Adrian Mole; Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (very amusing but also serious and clever murder story); The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (young Americans in Paris in the 1950s); Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera – a very recent read, hilarious on the joys of growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970s; Penelope by Rebecca Harrington and Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell – two brilliant campus novels, 50 years apart; and Doctor in the House by Richard Gordon – it’s really just a collection of anecdotes, no doubt many of them traditional and mythical, but overall the book is delightful and knockout funny. And what about the Provincial Lady? And...? Stop me before I blog forever. 

Now I’m hoping for more laughs from Christine’s selections - and some more suggestions from readers and commentators below.

37 comments:

  1. I could have blogged forever, too. I had to stop myself taking some off the list and putting others on. How could I have omitted Peg Bracken's I Hate to Cook Book? Or Molesworth? Guessed you would have Nancy Mitford, but for some of the others, you have added, yet again, to my reading list.

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    1. Oh yes, Peg Bracken, one of my favourites, just sooo funny, forgot her!

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    1. Between our two lists we have a fabulous collection.... Three Men in a Boat and Peg Bracken are the 2 I really shouldn't have missed. Here's the link to your list again in case anyone missed it at the top: http://www.christinepoulson.co.uk/10-books-that-have-made-me-laugh/

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  3. Moira - You've got some great choices here! And I think it's good to be cheered up. I know I laughed a lot throughout Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker novels...

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  4. Some great choices there (love the Chabon, which I must read again) and just about to start reading an Amis, though from the 70s, which tended to be less funny ...

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    1. Yes, he was a funny man (in several senses) in real life, but some of the books do not reflect that. I'll be interested to know what you make of whichever book you read. And in hearing your choices for funny books?

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  5. I have two unread KA books and they are the two you mentioned. I also came across Wonder Boys at the weekend when looking for something else, plus I have the Caudwell.......so something in common this week after all.
    I'll have to ponder my 10 - Curtin's The Replay for one, a couple from Carl Hiaasen for definite, the other 6 or 7 need some thought. I'm fairly sure John Irving has had me in hysterics at times, though the mood doesn't last across the course of his books.

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    1. Would love to read your list Col, will look forward to that...?

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  6. Peg Bracken: I Hate to Cook, I Hate to Housekeep. Ethelind Fearon The Reluctant Hostess - very very funny, with terrible suggestions for spending days making scenic canapes for your cocktail party (half a gherkin slice for the moon etc) and feeding the unexpected guest on an omelette followed by zabaglione. Gardener and Cook in the same series are not up to the same standard and her recipes are truly dire. I'm always plugging Betty Macdonald (The Egg and I, The Plague and I, Anybody Can Do Anything, Onions in the Stew). OK she was no saint, but she is funny. And I like Cornelia Otis Skinner's Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (I must have mentioned the erupting blue tweed hat before now). Oh, and Alida Baxter's entire series about her early life living in Soho and Lower Saxony. (PG Wodehouse, he's funny too, but everybody knows that.)

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    1. I'd quite forgotten about Alida Baxter, she was really funny, what happened to her? I still quote lines of hers. And Betty MacDonald, I really liked The Egg and I, and went on a pilgrimage to where the farm was when I was living in Seattle. The sad thing is that it's not even that remote any more - she'd have quite a nice time living there in the 2000s. She wrote a children's book I covered a while back: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/books-of-1952-betty-macdonald.html
      And now I need to look up the Hostess and the Skinner....

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    2. I think Alida Baxter married again and wrote children's books (as did MacDonald and Monica Dickens). She was so funny but she's a well-kept secret - I've never met anybody else who's read her!

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    3. Loved the list, and thrilled to discover a couple of Betty McDonald fans. Reading her is like being buttonholed by a brilliant raconteur, and many of her phrases have wedged themselves, whole, into my brain. And 'The Plague and I' has to be the funniest/only funny book about having TB ever written.

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    4. Oh yes, another fan! That's such a good description of her, and there are phrases of hers that I too remember. Haven't actually read Plague and I, so I can see I must...

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    5. Lucy, the only other people who I knew to have read AB were the people I gave them to, desperate to spread the word back then. I must admit I haven't thought about her in years, and now I want to re-read. Every time someone opens a door with a lot of clanking and key-turning and bolts drawn, I remember her husband groaning 'Oh Christ, Chateau d'If' when they visit her mother. Makes me laugh every time.

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    6. Just remembered the previous boyfriend who took her to endless meetings of strange little societies, and the town in Lower Saxony with its "rather self-conscious red-light district".

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    7. And her husband was "a do-it-yourself man - if I asked him to put up a shelf he said 'do it yourself'". I think she had this in common with Betty MacDonald - bowling along, being very funny about her husband, and then you suddenly realize this relationship is not OK, and isn't going to survive, there is going to be a split. Vanishingly rare in funny domestic writing at the time. (I hope I'm remembering this right and not maligning a happy marriage.)

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  7. Moira, this is a wonderful post and I like your choice of books that make you laugh even though I haven't read most of them. I have read Saki and would like to read some his stories again. I absolutely love Calvin & Hobbes and my all-time favourite strip is the one where Calvin, angry because his father isn’t paying attention to him, scares the hell out of him by blowing into a paper bag and exploding it right next to him. The expression on Calvin’s father’s face is hilarious. There’s a lesson in it for parents who are too busy to spend time with their kids. On another note, I also like Wodehouse humour even though it is often stereotype.

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    1. thanks Prashant, and PG Wodehouse is a nice suggestion. Calvin and Hobbes - he did do wonderful expressions, and just thinking about boy and tiger makes me laugh.

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  8. How could I have forgotten Evelyn Waugh's Scoop? 'Feather-footed through the splashy fen passes the questing vole . . .' Now I must stop. But this has been great fun and there are lots of recommendations I am going to follow up.

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  9. After your post yesterday I was hunting through my much-worn old Puffins in search of Geoffrey Trease, and came across "Jennings Goes to School"; even the introduction made me laugh, and I started wondering whether there were any other Jennings and Darbishire fans out there. I can't tell you how pleased I am to find you singing their praises! My only other possible addition to your list would be the Just William books- some of the stories are definitely better than others, but the best are wonderful. I am also a fan of Nancy Mitford and Bridget Jones (first book at least) and look forward to checking out the rest of your list; there really is nothing better than a properly funny book. Thank you!

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    1. Oh yes another fan! They are such lovely books, I wish modern children read them more. And yes also, Just William, great addition to the list...

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  10. I think Auntie Mame was mentioned here recently - a very funny book.

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    1. Oh yes, Vicki, excellent choice. It's actually ver cheering that there are so many funny books around, isn't it?

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  11. Deric Longden's books managed to be both shriek-out-loud funny and excruciatingly sad in the same paragraph. I think you'd love the scene in (I think it's "I'm A Stranger Here Myself." where he imagines his blind wife's old clothes in her wardrobe having a conversation. There's another beautiful line about a silk blouse worn by his wife following her as she turns around "a few moments later." Lovely bits of clothing observation.

    I can't believe you know (and love!) Jennings! Fossilised fishhooks! I would also include the Paddington books by Michael Bond - Paddington is frequently utterly hilarious and the way he reacts to the world around him is just sublime.

    Oh yes, and Faith Addis's books about running a children's holiday camp in Devon - The Year of the Cornflake and Green Behind the Ears - like Longden's books, they are ones I read at least once every few years. Very broadly comedic and they always make me limp with laughter - someone else who had a great ear for dialogue and the things people say.

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    1. Oh lots for me to check up on here, thanks. And yes Paddington - brilliant plotting and a hard stare. Don't know Longden or Addis at all. Jennings I am proud to have introduced to many American children who couldn't be living more different lives, but loved him to bits with minimal explanation of prep schools, Latin and cricket...

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    2. Deric Longden is a must-read. I first encountered him with "The Cat who Came in from the Cold" but they are so, so much more than cute kitty books. (in fact, the first two, before the cats turned up, about his first wife's struggles with M.E. (at that time nobody knew what it was) - Diana's Story - and his mother - Lost For Words - are incredibly sad but at the same time have so much that is laugh out loud funny and life affirming. They are some of the books I go to first when I need picking up. You might have seen the TV dramatisations of Lost For Words (Thora Hird as his mother... Oh my, you would LOVE the anecdote where Thora Hird meets her "stunt double" for the dramatisation, who turns out to have been a former burlesque dancer... and the Songs of Praise presenting, highly religious, very ladylike Thora has a look through her stunt double's vintage burlesque album... "in some photographs she had not been quite quick enough with the fan..." and responds brilliantly.

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    3. Oh my goodness, I have to read these straight away!

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  12. Hmmm, there must be some funny books that I have liked. But they don't come to mind. The first Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich was very funny (and had some other good points), and kept me reading that series longer than I should have. Calvin and Hobbes I loved. I will probably try Wonder Boys, and maybe the Nancy Mitford books. But really humor in books is not my thing. I enjoyed the Peg Bracken book, but it has been a very long time since I read it.

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    1. Didn't quite get on with Evanovich but keep thinking I might try her again. Calvin & Hobbes will live forever I think. And some of the others are more novels with funny bits rather than straight humour - might that appeal to you more?

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    2. Yes, novels with funny bits are more appealing. I used to read Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who... series and want to read them again. Same for the Donald Westlake Dortmunder series that is similar. The Hot Rock was wonderful. Glen has LOTS of Robert Benchley books.

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    3. Love Robert Benchley. But comic crime tends not to appeal, I like some jokes, but not too many, and not that keen on farcical situations. We are so fussy aren't we?

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  13. Oh, yes, the marvellous, wonderful, genius Saki! I adore his work. And I like the Mitford ones and E F Benson's. Not read the others.

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    1. All worth a try. Or just read Saki again, he never fails does he?

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