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Top Books to Read When You Need a Good Laugh

Home > Everywhere > Book Reviews | Books and Writing | Comedy | Lists | Literary
by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published November 1st 2018
When all we've got left is laughter
I recently wrote about my favourite horror novels of all time, and focused on the fact that much of my own published written output is in that genre. Well, it is not all I read, nor all I write. I have a huge portfolio of fantasy, my science fiction has seen some life, and my poetry is often autobiographical and introspective. I like to think I can put my hand to writing a bit of everything.

However, having said all that, it may come as something of a surprise, but I am a huge fan of comedy. And at the moment, with the world the way it is, maybe comedy is what we need. We all need a good laugh. We deserve a good laugh.
cat, book, reading, introspective
Yes, we ALL need a good laugh. (Pexels)

Monty Python and The Goodies highlighted much of my teenaged years (and, let's be serious, my recent years as well) and one of my greatest joys was introducing my son to them and sharing laughter with him. I love the Zucker Brothers films in general, and find many of Leslie Neilsen's comedies great. I do prefer British comedy over much else (mention of Kenny Everett here as an addition), find most American filmed comedy and TV sitcoms useless, and am disappointed by too much Australian comedy. My favourite stand-up comedians are Frankie Boyle, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Richard Jeni and Dara O'Briain; my favourite comedienne is Bridie Connell. I find Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Hugh Dennis vastly under-rated. 'Weird Al' Yankovic is one of my favourite musical artists, period.

Yes, I am trying to not only convince you that I like comedy, but also to let you know vaguely where my tastes sit. This will make the decisions you are about to see make more sense. I hope.

Of course, being who I am, I enjoy the written form of comedy. In fact, my first published novel was a comedy work (as marginally funny as it was, looking back in retrospect). I have won prizes in two comedy writing contests. And as recently as October 2018 some of my comedy poems were published in a local newspaper. So, I like to think I can write comedy at some level.

And thus we come to this list. These are my favourite comedy novels. Not collections of shorter pieces (which does leave Woody Allen's brilliant works out), not autobiographies or collections of life anecdotes (sorry, Kitty Flanagan), not non-fiction, and not film or TV scripts. These are actual novels. Long form work, one story, lots of laughs.

The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett
book, cover, the colour of magic

The first of the Discworld books and, in my opinion, the very best. The whole world-building is on a par with any in fantasy, but even that is funny. The chest with legs, the rather pathetic wizard, the brief snatch of life in another world (ours), the edge of the disc I laughed so much.

One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
book, cover, one of our thursdays is missing

This is the third or fourth book in the series, and I like it the best. Better yet, it can be read as a stand-alone book because the world that is created is so perfectly designed it is stunning. The world inside books with characters from life and books existing and fanfic having their own place and oh, look, it's complicated and confusing but it makes sense when you read the book and I love it. The humour, by the way, comes as much from the situations as the writing. This is an amazingly inventive world.

The Road To Mars by Eric Idle
The story of a robot who wants to be a stand-up comic in outer space is the precis. But in the hands of one of the finest word-smiths in that brilliant sextet Monty Python (I'm a huge fan for what's it worth), this story becomes a thing of beauty. I've read some reviews that deride it a little, but it appealed to me and made me laugh and that's what I want.

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
cover, book, hitchhikers guide to the galaxy

One of the funniest things ever written anywhere. The story of poor Arthur Dent following the destruction of the Earth by the Vogons has become such a part of pop culture that people who have never read it, seen its various screen incarnations or heard it on the radio still know the title. The situations and characters are as funny as the writing, and the little 'excerpts' from the actual Guide are amongst the funniest things ever written. Just a superb masterclass in the art of humour writing.

Life, The Universe And Everything by Douglas Adams
book, cover, life the universe and everything

I was going to restrict myself to one book per author (hence the reason I struggled with Rankin's work, as you shall see), but, in the end, I couldn't. Because the third book in the H2GT2G series is, in my opinion, an equal to the original. While it lacks the impact of the first, and the way the characters are developed, the writing is funnier and tighter, the situations are more surreal (the poor creature Dent keeps on killing is one of the best things ever put onto page). It is vastly under-rated by its more illustrious predecessor, but it is as good. Adams' early death was a great loss for the artistic world. (For what it's worth, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was also close to appearing in this list.)

Puckoon by Spike Milligan
book, cover, puckoon, spike milligan

This was the first book I ever read where the fourth wall was so completely broken down. My Uncle John gave me a copy of this book, and I thank him whole-heartedly for introducing me to Milligan's written work. I was already a fan of the Q TV series and the Goons, but to read Puckoon (and his poorly written legs) was a revelation. There are passages of surrealism, and so many I didn't understand until I was older. It is a book to be savoured, and it still makes me laugh now.

Stark by Ben Elton
book, cover, stark, ben elton

I was a fan of Elton's TV series, and of the series he'd had a hand in writing (The Young Ones, Blackadder) and so when this book came out, I bought it in hardcover. Two things surprised me first, that it was set in Australia; second, that it was funny but made a valid and real point. The story of the world dying due to environmental destruction, and the rich saving themselves, is still unfortunately resonant today. But it is also genuinely funny. He's written quite a few good books since I love Dead Famous and Chart Throb and Upstart Crow is one of the best sitcoms this century, but none of his books match his debut novel.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
book, cover, catch-22

I first read this book when I was in year 9 at high school (13 years old) and I understood maybe half of it. I re-read it in year 13 (17 years old) and suddenly it was funnier and made more sense (though that term is used loosely in terms of this book) and I fell in love with it. The whole story of Yossarian and his efforts to get out of the armed forces, is just insane and bizarre. And the supporting characters and the stuff they do (Milo Minderbinder buying eggs for 5c, selling them for 3c and making a profit; Major Major Major Major Major and his depressing life) are just out there. This book is not to everyone's taste, but it has been regarded as a classic of American literature, and, I feel, rightfully so. However, Closing Time, its sequel, was unnecessary.

Armageddon The Musical by Robert Rankin
The first of the Armageddon books, featuring the Presliad with Barry the time travelling Brussels sprout, and look, like so many of the stories here, it's complicated, but Robert Rankin is one of my favourite authors. I was going to put a second Rankin book here The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies Of The Apocalypse because for a while that was my favourite, but I re-read them both and opted for this one. What Rankin does so superbly is his gentle turn of phrase that is just hilarious.

Personal thing here (oh, come on, you knew there had to be one somewhere here): I met Rankin at a Comic-con in Adelaide. He autographed my Hollow Chocolate Bunnies book by writing all over the splash page greatest autograph EVER! and we talked wrestling and comics and movies and he gave me the name of a publisher who went on to include a story in one of his anthologies. BEST celebrity meeting ever; genuinely nice guy; I will NOT hear a thing against him. So there!

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
cover, book, good omens

And, yes, Pratchett makes a second appearance on the list as well. So, we finish with a book that I first read in high school and did not read again for over fifteen years when I finally bought my own copy. It was funnier as an adult. Essentially, it is about the birth of the son of Satan, but that's the elevator pitch and it is so much more than that. Once again, it is those little turns of phrase that make this into a comedy classic. The writing is what takes this into the realm of my favourites.

And that is my top ten list. What do you think? What did I miss? What do you think I got wrong? Feel free to comment below!
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Why? We all need a good laugh
Where: Everywhere
Your Comment
Oh Steve - I think I love you! Catch 22 is my all-time favourite book (of any genre). Brilliant. I also agree with you about Python, Pratchett and Douglas Adams. I miss them.
by May Cross (score: 3|8029) 1080 days ago
Having read EVERY TERRY PRATCHETT book written and co-written, I strongly recommend starting with “THE WYRD SISTERS” or “WITCHES ABROAD”! You will it stop laughing! The footnotes will keep you laughing and make others ask what you are reading! Sir Terry Pritchett was so wonderful that the Queen knighted him!
His books have been translated into over 30 languages.
If you have a child who ‘hates’ reading, give them Terry Pratchett books and watch the transformation.
Most libraries have at least half of his books - paperback and hard cover.
Boys and girls love them. Men and women love them.
Plays have been made of his books.
Movies have been made, too!
I discovered Terry Pratchett when I was about 40!
There are even Terry Pratchett World Conferences where 6’ tall blokes paint themselves BLUE, wear red beards and kilts!
If you want to find some fabulous fun, you have to read TERRY PRATCHETT no matter how old or young you are!
Check out his websites, too ❤️
by fluffynut (score: 2|988) 1078 days ago
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