I'm an experienced corporate communicator and editor with an eye for interesting events and an attachment to my trusty Oxford dictionary.
Published March 13th 2012
Five Books to Make You Laugh
In these days when scientists are constantly declaring specific genes responsible for certain behaviours it's refreshing to know that scientific research points to a sense of humour being a learned trait, not something we can blame on the FB123 funny bone gene. Now, before you think that lets your parents off the hook for your inability to understand Gary Larson cartoons, think again. A sense of humour it appears, is determined by family and cultural environment.
Thankfully humour was an ever-present dimension of my upbringing, along with an encouragement to read. Laughter can relieve stress, increase pain tolerance and even boost your immune system, but in these difficult economic times some people may not have much to laugh about. The answer can be found in books - funny, witty, pun-laden, satirical, or slapstick books. Other Weekend Notes writers have recently shared their literary favourites with readers in Five Recommendations for Autumn Reading, Five Books Everyone Should Read and Seven Classic Novels You Should Read. So now it's my turn and I'd like to make you laugh. Obviously my suggestions won't be for everybody. They may not have you rolling in the aisles but they might just have you consider humourous books occasionally, as an alternative to serious reading. Your immune system will thank you for it.
Notes From a Big Country by Bill Bryson
We are big fans of Bill Bryson in my family (environment will obviously tell). I found it difficult to choose my favourite Bryson book, because his quirky, wry, self-deprecating style always gets me smiling. I decided to go with Notes From a Big Country because it actually made me laugh out loud on a crowded bus on one infamous occasion.
Bryson is an American writer of humourous non-fiction. After living for many years in England, he returned with his family to the USA. Notes From a Big Country is a collection of the columns he wrote for the Mail on Sunday newspaper, detailing his idiosyncratic view of the American way of life. My favourite, and the one which made me laugh out loud on the bus, is "Well Doctor, I Was Just Trying to Lie Down...", a hilarious look at accident statistics. Yes, I know, some of you will wonder how accident statistics could possibly be a source of amusement (environment again) but just go with me on this one. I think anything by Bryson is worth a read. Find out all about the man and his books at his website here.
The Complete Stories of Saki by Hector Hugh Munro
Reading is often about fashion and some of my favourite humourous authors are not currently fashionable, more's the pity. I have spent many happy hours with my head buried in the works of Hector Hugh Munro, whose pen name was Saki (no, not the manga series). Munro was a political sketch writer for the Westminster Gazette, and was killed by a sniper during the First World War. His last words were reportedly, "Put that bloody cigarette out!", an ironic epitaph that sounds like it came from one of his stories.
Saki's short stories deftly sketch the foibles of upper-crust Edwardian society, while showing a sympathy for children, powerless in a world of adults. Some stories are gently amusing, while others are wickedly satirical. I challenge you to read the politically incorrect "The Unrest Cure" or the uproarious "The Lull" without at least raising a smile.
Naturalist, conservationist and author Gerald Durrell described his unconventional upbringing on the island of Corfu as "rather like living in one of the more flamboyant and slapstick comic operas". My Family and Other Animals (surely a title anyone with family can appreciate) describes Durrell's childhood years on Corfu from 1935 to 1939, with incisive detail, fondness and a great sense of the ridiculous.
The Heart of a Goof by P. G. Wodehouse
Another one of my out-of-fashion, favourite authors, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's own name wouldn't be out of place amongst the caricature monikers he gave many of his characters. Perhaps best known for his Jeeves and Blandings Castle stories, P. G. Wodehouse was a novelist, playwright and lyricist, who is acknowledged by his contemporaries and modern authors alike as the master of humourous English prose. Stephen Fry says of Wodehouse's work, "You don't analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour", and I couldn't agree more.
Maybe it's my Irish ancestry that makes me enjoy satirical stories of the English aristocracy so much (there's that environment again), and no-one does it better than Wodehouse. I've chosen the golfing stories of The Heart of a Goof, simply because they're not as well known as some of Wodehouse's other work, but are just as amusing. The comic possibilities of golf are fully realised in this and Wodehouse' other golfing compendium, The Clicking of Cuthbert.
While not exactly literature, Gary Larson's The Far Side Gallery series are books that have made millions of people laugh, so I just had to include them. The defining cartoons of a generation, a dip into any Far Side collection is a dip into the ironic, the absurd, and most importantly, an exploration of our place in the world. They provide an opportunity to laugh at ourselves in a way that our busy, inwards-focusing lives don't always allow. Besides, I've always loved people who quit while they're ahead. Once Larson decided he'd mined the human condition for all it was worth he retired rather than subject us to inferior reworkings of the same jokes. Revel in the quirky humour in any of the Far Side collections.
Great selection Geraldine, love the Aussie inclusions especially the Far Side!
Though not necessarily a 'humourous' novel by definition, the last book that made me laugh out loud was Slam by Nick Hornby. Like most of Hornby's novels, it was full of those comical observations that make you go, 'It's funny cause it's true!"