Holidays on Ice
Name the funniest books? Tough call. But worthy. They say laughter is the best medicine. I don't know about that, but it's certainly cheaper, and it feels fantastic. Few things are as satisfying and fulfilling as a good belly laugh, with the eyes squeezed shut, clutching one's side and wheezing away. Love it. Unfortunately, while I find many books amusing, funny, entertaining, and grin-worthy, there are a very select few that can elicit actual laughter in me – the prized laughing out loud ('LOL', I believe the kids call it) is a rare and precious gem.
It seems to be more about a turn of phrase, and the quickness of the writer's skill that can turn a smile into a guffaw, for me, than it is about the particular situation. A description of an absurd situation can be funny, but it takes a particular style and sharpness of word choice to get me. I assume everyone is different. For instance, I have had innumerable people recommend P.G. Wodehouse to me as a writer that made them laugh until they cried. Ditto Kurt Vonnegut. And while I enjoyed both authors very much (and perhaps didn't choose the best book of each), neither made me emit so much as a titter.
One of the books that cracked me up to the point of helplessness at numerous points throughout its reading was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I wish these two had collaborated on a regular basis, because while I like Gaiman fine on his own (I was a big fan of the Sandman comic series), and Pratchett is good too (though I've only explored a couple of the Discworld novel), I really think they brought out the best in each other collaboratively. I must have laughed out loud every two pages in that novel, from the very beginning, in the Dramatis Personae, when a character is described as an angel who "did not fall so much as saunter vaguely downwards".
Sometimes it's as simple as a keen sense of observation and the uncanny ability to call people on their foibles. A great example of that is the book Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander, the self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek guide to the trends and fascinations of white people, from French immersion to hybrid cars to the HBO series The Wire and more.
Another writer who sometimes hits my funny bone in just the right way is David Sedaris. Sometimes I find him too caustic, too neurotic or too bitter to get me going, but some of his pieces have been perfection. A friend gave me a copy of Sedaris' Holidays on Ice for Christmas one year, and I phoned him and read a passage from the story Santaland Diaries to him, snorting and choking and cackling my way through the whole bit. The premise of Santaland Diaries is Sedaris' stint as a Christmas elf at Macy's Department Store, while trying to get on his feet in New York (a problem I sense he does not possess today).
"Often the single adults are foreigners who just happened to be shopping at Macy's and got bullied into the Maze by the Entrance Elf, whose job it is to hustle people in. One moment the foreigner is looking at china, and the next thing he knows he is standing at the Magic Tree, where an elf holding a palm-sized counter is asking how many in his party are here to see Santa.
"How many in your party?"
The foreigner answers, "Yes."
"How many in your party is not a yes or no question."
Then a Santa Elf leads the way to a house where the confused and exhausted visitor addresses a bearded man in a red suit, and says, "Yes, OK. Today I am good."He shakes Santa's hand and runs, shaken, for the back door.
What is it about that passage that makes me laugh? I can't rightly say. I know I'm tickled by the use of the word "shaken"– perhaps because it's a word generally reserved for serious, traumatic situations, and this is light and strange and funny? Maybe we don't need to dissect it this much, opting instead to simply enjoy.
All I know is what works for me, and the below selection is a pretty good chunk of what has made me annoy my husband by squeaking like a delighted hamster and shaking the bed with laughter while he tries to sleep.
What about you? What books have made you laugh out loud, from a chuckle to a bark, a giggle to a guffaw? Leave us a comment below (via Facebook) or send us an email - you may see your suggestion in a future feature.
Have a Laugh with the AbeBooks Staff . › Play Video
From the bizarre generic world of living in the suburbs, to the trials and tribulations of raising kids, Erma Bombeck phrased things in a way as to make the banal laugh-out-loud funny.