A Sydney based writer, director, actor. Loves going out and exploring what Sydney has to offer.
Published August 26th 2012
Whet Your Literary Appetite (And Your Pants)
It's one thing to read a book and find it funny. It's another to find it so hysterical that you involuntarily let loose short bursts of laughter. Here I share a list of books I've read that have made me experience such spasms. This is by no means a complete list; there are many more novels I'm waiting to read or may not even have heard of. Yet.
1. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole I will never forget the image of a thin senile old lady falling over a gigantic man with a green hunting cap, the two of them entangled in a mess on the floor. I roared, chuckled and then giggled for what was probably a few months.
The characters are Miss Trixie and Ignatius Reilly (though Miss Trixie believes his name is 'Gloria') from A Confederacy of Dunces, undoubtedly one of the funniest books I have ever had the good fortune to come across. Ignatius, the main character, is a despicable person. Selfish, greedy, rude: a man who uses his talent for words purely for insult.
I don't like descriptive writing, however, this is detailed writing. Each word is like a puzzle piece, building an amusing and absurd picture. The rest of the cast are exquisite portrayals, such as Patrolman Mancuso, who must wear a different outfit each day in a bid to capture "suspicious characters instead of grandfathers and boys waiting for their mothers", his first outfit consisting of ballet tights coupled with a yellow sweater.
2. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis As the title tells us, Lucky Jim is about Jim. However, he's not usually very lucky. His job bores him, his boss is a scatterbrained twat, he desires the wrong girl and he's surrounded by silliness, disrespect and lies. The best lies, of course, are his own.
At first Jim's sloth-like characteristics gave me a distaste for the protagonist, but as the plot thickened I grew to sympathise with him. Amis paints an array of quirky characters and as Jim attempts to un-involve himself with the lot he gets more involved and the situations become more hilarious. When starting the book I often thought, "oh funny…" but by the end I was letting free random eruptions of laughter that caused anyone in the vicinity to wonder what was making the crazy girl cackle.
3. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand Cyrano de Bergerac is a stageplay about Cyrano de Bergerac. I was lucky to find Carol Clark's translation, which captures the exuberance, colour and humour of the original French work.
Cyrano de Bergerac, the play, has everything a good play requires: a multitude of characters, poetic monologues, snappy exchanges, duels and a big nose. Cyrano de Bergerac, the man, has many drawbacks: enemies, a lost love, a quick temper and a big nose. Cyrano de Bergerac, still the man, rebukes someone who calls his nose only "very big":
"You're lacking in invention, Young man. You could have said so many things.
You could have been aggressive, for example:
'Good heavens, man, if I'd a nose like that
I'd have it amputated right away!
… Or else descriptive:
'It's a rock, it's a peak, it's a cape … No, not a cape,
It's a peninsula!' …
Naïve: 'Is it a monument? When does it open? ...'"
The story is well known. Cyrano, a wordsmith, aids a young, handsome man to court the beautiful Roxane by being his voice. The problem? Cyrano is also in love with Roxane. The result? Entertainment.
4. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
There is good reason why Catch 22 is considered a classic. It's well written; a moving, and at times tragic, tale of the Second World War. Amidst the horrors of the book is humour: one moment I was crying, the next I was laughing.
The events are presented in non-chronological order. Each character has his or her own peculiarities: 'Yossarian', an army Captain who is convinced that people are trying to kill him; 'Nately's Whore', who wants to kill Yossarian; 'Chaplain Tappman', who is taunted by his atheist assistant; and 'Major Major Major Major', whose name says it all.
"…Yossarian was a collector of good questions and had used them to disrupt the educational sessions Clevinger had once conducted… Yossarian attended the education sessions because he wanted to find out why so many people were working so hard to kill him. A handful of other men were also interested, and the questions were many and good when Clevinger … finished and made the mistake of asking if there were any.
'Who is Spain?'
'Why is Hitler?'
'When is right?'"
The session continues in this funny fashion, however, I don't have enough room to write more. Instead I shall delight my boyfriend and best friend by reading them the rest of the book. I say 'reading', when in fact I mean 'laughing out the words'.
5. Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography
The first wonderful thing to find with this book is its reversible cover, its second side announcing 'The Luckiest Kids in the World: The Pony Party', with a picture of three beaming children on a happy pony. More wonderful things lie inside the book, one of my favourites being the 'spot the difference' photos depicting two entirely different images.
Snicket is the supposed author of the thirteen books of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series tells the woeful tale of three orphan siblings and, like the autobiography, is hilarious. The autobiography ties in with the overall story and thus is a must read for fans of the series.
Daniel Handler is the actual author of these books and I imagine him to be the sort of guy who says something funny each time he opens his mouth. During his commentary for the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (which in my evidently un-humble opinion is terrible) he calls actor Jude Law an imposter and sings about leeches.
Great choice but any selection should include Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. This contains the funniest ever sustained passage of humorous prose when an inebriated Gussie Fink-Nottle presents the prizes at Marker Snodsbury Grammar School.
PG Wodehouse surpassed his own remarkable standards in this novel.