Books To Make You Laugh

A lot of Australians are currently feeling very depressed after one of the longest, most vacuous, federal election campaigns in recent memory1. What we need now are some books to make us laugh2. Here are five books that have made me laugh out loud (or at least produced embarrassing muffled snorting noises, if I happened to be reading them on public transport).

1. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, featuring the eccentric Durrell family and the ridiculous situations they find themselves in, often caused by their various dogs, birds, snakes, scorpions and other animal companions. For example, here’s Roger the dog’s reaction to Mother’s elaborate new bathing-costume:

“He seemed to be under the impression that the bathing-costume was some sort of sea monster that had enveloped Mother and was now about to carry her out to sea. Barking wildly, he flung himself to the rescue, grabbed one of the frills dangling so plentifully round the edge of the costume and tugged with all his strength in order to pull Mother back to safety. Mother, who had just remarked that she found the water a little cold, suddenly found herself being pulled backwards. With a squeak of dismay she lost her footing and sat down heavily in two feet of water, while Roger tugged so hard that a large section of the frill gave way. Elated by the fact that the enemy appeared to be disintegrating, Roger, growling encouragement to Mother, set to work to remove the rest of the offending monster from her person . . . “

2. Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay, which I have previously gushed about here. The scene in which the siblings drive to Wales is especially funny.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and specifically, the story entitled Jesus Shaves, in which Mr Sedaris attends French classes in Paris, and his fellow students attempt to explain Easter, in their extremely limited French, to a Moroccan student:

“The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. ‘It is,’ said one, ‘a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit.’ She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid.

‘He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.’

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

‘He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.’

‘He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.’

‘He nice, the Jesus.’ “

Unable to translate complicated phrases such as “to give of yourself your only begotten son”, they end up talking about chocolate, which is delivered, of course, by “the rabbit of Easter”. Or rather, as it turns out, the bell of Rome.

There’s also a very funny story about young David’s battles with his speech therapist (although, as a trained speech pathologist, I have to emphasise that we’re not like that at all now).

4. King Dork by Frank Portman, which I don’t have in my possession, so I can’t provide any quotes, but I remember becoming helpless with laughter over the effort the teenage boys put into their band names and album concepts. Favourite band name: We Have Eaten All The Cake. (Unfortunately they don’t put as much effort into writing songs or rehearsing, so their first big gig is a disaster. I should also point out that parts of this novel, especially the conclusion, are not funny at all, although it’s also completely plausible that the narrator and his friend would be as unconcerned about these particular issues as they are.)

5. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, which I have written about here, is so full of hilarity that it’s impossible to choose just one scene. The cows, named Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless? Adam clettering the dishes with his twig? The Starkadders pushing each other down the well? The Quivering Brethren’s hymn-singing being conducted by the poker-wielding Brother Ambleforth? Seth lounging in doorways, with his shirt unbuttoned? Mr Mybug’s ludicrous theories about how all the Brontës’ novels were actually written by Branwell? Or those “finer passages”, helpfully marked by the author with one, two or three stars?

Of course, humour is completely subjective and dependent on context, so it’s possible you won’t find these books as amusing as I did. Please feel free to add your own funny book recommendations in the comments. We need all the laughter we can get around here.

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  1. I couldn’t even bear to listen to the vote counting on the radio, so I spent Saturday night watching Series Two of The Thick of It. For those not familiar with this BBC production, it’s about a stupid, bigoted and hypocritical MP named Abbot, who’s inexplicably promoted far beyond his levels of competence into the Cabinet. Each episode involves his spin doctors running around, desperately trying to cover up his blunders.
  2. so we don’t cry.

9 thoughts on “Books To Make You Laugh”

  1. I feel compelled to add The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. Any scene involving Uncle Matthew or Cedric or Sonia; I’m sure they would be awful to know in real life but they are monstrously, wonderfully funny to read about.

  2. Commiserations on the election result. Cold Comfort Farm is so brilliant. Other funny fiction would be inevitably Wodehouse and I loved the William boos by Richmal Crompton when I was young. Also used to love the comic adventures of Oor Wullie and The Broons which in the Sunday Post are a Scottish institution – time has stopped in about 1950 and everyone uses words like “jings!” and “crivvens!”

  3. It makes me so happy to see you promoting Hilary McKay! I adore everything she’s ever written. In addition to her modern books, she has a wonderful sequel to The Little Princess that’s sweet and funny and feminist. I would also add James Herriot to the list of funny authors. I can’t count the number of times I’ve laughed in public while reading about his adventures as a country vet.

    1. Thanks, Abby. I didn’t know about that Little Princess sequel, so I will find out more about that one. I’ve read a few more Hilary McKay books since Saffy’s Angel, but it remains my favourite.

      I absolutely loved James Herriot’s books as a child. In fact, I wanted to BE James Herriot (except live somewhere warmer than the Yorkshire Dales, so I wouldn’t have to dig through metres of snow each time I got called out at night to deliver a calf.)

  4. I know what you mean about the election, it’s just depressing. However the person I voted for won, so that was nice.

    I love reading Cold Comfort Farm, it always cheers me up. Mrs Beetle is wonderful, as is Aunt Ada and the woodshed, and Amos and the Quivering Brethren… There are so many funny characters.

    I’ve just finished reading Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys, that also made me laugh: the narrator is a middle aged housewife in rural Devon during the first half of World War II, and the book is made up of her letter’s to her childhood friend Robert who’s a Colonel in the army. She describes the whole village and what they get up to – Lady B who writes a letter to Hitler every evening and tells him what she thinks of him, Faith who’s always perfectly dressed and has a minor breakdown when clothing rationing is introduced, Mrs Savernack who wants to join the Home Guard but isn’t allowed as she’s a woman – so she finds a horse and rides around the town all the time to protect against invading Germans. There’s also Henrietta’s husband Charles, the local doctor, who takes his life in his hands every night to drive around without lights (or the soldiers stationed there will shoot him).

    1. Thanks, Kitty. I remember reading about Henrietta’s War when I was writing the last Montmaray book, but didn’t ever get round to finding a copy. I will add it to my list.

      1. It’s been republished recently, in a series of ‘Vintage’ books, but I’m afraid I can’t remember the publisher. I bought it from Book Depository fairly easy.

        I first saw it advertised in the back of Let’s Kill Uncle, that Mum read a review for in the newspaper and sent me for my birthday recently. That’s good too, but not so funny or cheerful, so I didn’t list it.

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