The news cycle is driving us to the edge of madness, so why not switch off, unplug and pick up a book? We know you could use a laugh right now — and luckily, several thousand of you told us all about the books, stories and poems that make you laugh.
We took your votes (more than 7,000 of them!) and with the help of our panel of expert judges — people so cool and so hilarious I’m surprised they even talked to me — created this list of 100 reads designed to make you laugh out loud. Want slice-of-life essays? Loopy poetry? Surreal one-panel cartoons? Blackly comic novels? Texts from famous literary figures? Scroll down — we’ve got it all.
As with all our reader polls, this is a curated list and not a straight-up popularity contest; you’ll see that the books are grouped into categories rather than ranked from one to 100.
And, as always, there are a few things that didn’t make the list — surprisingly, Shakespeare didn’t get enough votes to make it to the semifinals, and our judges decided the immortal Bard of Avon didn’t exactly need our help to find new readers. (But read some Shakespeare anyhow, just for the scorching burns in Much Ado About Nothing.) Then there were books that didn’t quite stand the test of time, or were so new we couldn’t tell whether they’d stand up.
Some of the authors on this list are incredibly popular, and you voted them in over and over again (three guesses as to whom, and the first two don’t count, David Sedaris). Because space is limited, we try to hold each author to one spot on the list, but there are some exceptions — in 2015, for the romance poll, we created the Nora Roberts Rule. We’ve applied it somewhat … flexibly, but it generally means that each year, one particularly beloved or prolific author gets two spots on the list. This year, we used it for an actual Nora, Nora Ephron, which our judges thought was the perfect application.
And speaking of our judges, you will find a couple of their works on the list this year — we don’t let judges vote for their own work, but readers loved Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting In Real Life and Guy Branum’s My Life as a Goddess, so the panel agreed they should stay.
Laughter is the best medicine, or so we hear — so read two (heck, read three) and call us in the morning!
To make navigating the list a little easier, click these links to get to each category: Memoirs, Essays, Comics & Cartoons, Novels, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nonfiction, Kids’ Books & YA, Poetry, Classics, Short Stories and … Deep Thoughts (no, really, just Deep Thoughts. We couldn’t figure out where else to put it).
Born A Crime
Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah
Daily Show host Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984, to a white father and a black mother — against the law under the apartheid system. In this memoir, by turns funny and wrenching, he describes the lengths his parents went to keep him safe and hidden from the authorities. “I think it set me up for where I am now in life,” he told NPR’s Renee Montagne in 2016. “More of my comedy and my showbiz, and that feeling came for me partly from my mother, came for me from the world that I lived in.”
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
A Savage Journey To The Heart Of The American Dream
by Hunter S. Thompson
We put this in the Memoirs section because Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo are, more or less, based on Hunter S. Thompson and his buddy Oscar Zeta Acosta … but one category can’t really contain this drug-addled desert odyssey. “If you’re gonna take a road trip and you’re gonna do it by car, I’m sad to say that the best you can hope for is for yours to be the second-greatest of all time,” says our critic Jason Sheehan. “Why? Because Hunter Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta have already taken the top slot and will hold it forever.”
by Tina Fey
Reading Tina Fey’s delightful memoir is like eating a bucket of movie popcorn — you can’t stop until you get to the bottom. But unlike a bucket of movie popcorn, Bossypants will leave you light and happy and wishing you were at least a tenth as cool as Tina Fey. (And yes, of course, there’s also lots about actually being a boss on the sets of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.)
Funny In Farsi
A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America
by Firoozeh Dumas
When Firoozeh Dumas moved to America as a child, she knew exactly seven words of English — the names of seven colors. (Her father had taught English in Iran, but as it turned out, he wasn’t that great at speaking American.) Funny in Farsi is a charming chronicle of her family’s encounters with American culture, from her mother’s fondness for The Price is Right to the true meaning of “elbow grease.”
I Feel Bad About My Neck
And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
by Nora Ephron
A few years ago when we did the romance poll, our judges created the Nora Roberts Rule: Normally, an author gets only one slot in the final list, but someone as legendary as Ms. Roberts can have two (she got in as herself and as her pen name, J.D. Robb). We applied that rule again this year to another Nora — Nora Ephron, because we couldn’t decide between this candid, rueful, hilarious collection of essays on aging as a woman and her scathing autobiographical novel Heartburn, which you’ll see farther along in the list.
by Carrie Fisher
Oh, Carrie Fisher. We miss you so much. Luckily, Fisher’s words are still here for us — Wishful Drinking, adapted from her autobiographical stage show, is a painfully funny, unsparing account of her childhood as Hollywood royalty; her own ascent to fame, far too young, with Star Wars; and marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon. What’s it like to have your parents’ marriage broken up by Elizabeth Taylor? And to have your own action figure at the age of 19? Fisher lays it all out.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson kicks off this memoir with a story about how, at the age of 3, she allegedly almost set her family’s apartment on fire by shoving a broom into the furnace and then waving it, aflame, around her head. And things don’t get any less weird from there — in fact, Lawson says she has spent her whole life being pigeonholed as “that weird girl.” Is it a little embellished? Yes. (Lawson herself calls it “a mostly true memoir” on the cover.) Is it hilarious? Also yes, even when Lawson is recounting the more painful parts of her life.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
by Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling’s combination memoir, advice column and Hollywood tour is irreverent and eminently relatable — from her childhood struggles with weight and popularity to her eventual career breakthrough. But the most resonant part is her description of herself as a teenage comedy nerd breaking away from a familiar childhood clique to write sketches and film clips with a new friend who actually appreciated the glories of Wayne’s World and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
My Life As A Goddess
A Memoir Through (Un)popular Culture
by Guy Branum
“Guy Branum’s collection of essays isn’t just a hilarious memoir — though don’t get me wrong, it is VERY much that,” says Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Glen Weldon. “It’s a call to arms, a stirring, touching, beautifully written manifesto for queer self-made autodidacts everywhere — anyone who has failed to see themselves reflected in popular culture and knew that meant the culture had to change, not them. The searing insight with which he dissects his late father’s love of the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, for example, will have you reassessing fathers, sons, violence, masculinity and — not for nothing — the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
by Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood grew up with a Catholic priest for a father (he had originally been a Lutheran, and kept his wife and family through a special Vatican dispensation) who converted onboard a submarine during a showing of The Exorcist. Her memoir is part freewheeling family portrait and part scathing, ribald critique of the Church and its predatory, controlling men — our critic Annalisa Quinn calls the book “antic, deadpan, heartbreaking — and so, so gross.”
Running With Scissors
by Augusten Burroughs
Augusten Burroughs’ darkly comic memoir chronicles his childhood as the son of alcoholic, troubled parents who eventually sent him to live in the chaotic household of a psychiatrist he describes as almost like a cult leader. Both his family and that of the doctor have challenged his account — but as long as you’re not holding to journalistic standards of truth, Running With Scissors is a wild ride of a read, by turns disgusting, upsetting and hilarious.
Life Among The Savages
by Shirley Jackson
Sure, everyone knows Shirley Jackson as the queen of chills — find me someone who claims to not have read “The Lottery” and I’ll find you a liar. But Jackson had another life as a humorist, whose wry, detailed observations about her family and their small Vermont town — originally published in women’s magazines — share a little bit of that edge, that darkness that makes her horror writing so powerful.
The Last Black Unicorn
by Tiffany Haddish
“I just kept pushing,” comedian Tiffany Haddish told NPR in 2017, “because I know what I’m supposed to do here on this Earth.” The Last Black Unicorn is her account of what she had to keep pushing through on her way to success — including an abusive marriage, years in foster care and, ultimately, the challenge from a social worker that put her on the path to a career in comedy. Haddish herself says she couldn’t mine her marriage for laughs, but the rest of the book is honest, funny and, in the end, inspiring.
Ayoade On Ayoade
A Cinematic Odyssey
by Richard Ayoade
British actor and filmmaker Richard Ayoade — The IT Crowd’s beloved, awkward Moss — began directing music videos in 2007 and made his full-length directorial debut with Submarine in 2010. Mix that love of film with his comedic chops and you get Ayoade on Ayoade, an extremely loosely autobiographical series of essays (and silly footnotes) in which he interviews himself about his career as a filmmaker and the movies that shaped him. Did I mention the footnotes?
by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler takes off her wigs and costumes and steps out of character for her memoir, Yes Please — a decision she says was difficult. But it’s fun getting closer to the real Poehler in this funny, eclectic, somewhat scattershot book and discovering the thought process behind some of her most indelible characters.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake
by Sloane Crosley
If David Sedaris thinks you’re funny, you’re probably pretty funny — and he has called Sloane Crosley “perfectly, relentlessly funny.” I Was Told There’d Be Cake is her debut collection, and it introduces her as an original yet definitely relatable voice. Who among us, after all, hasn’t worried about dying suddenly and having friends and family discover something embarrassing — like a stash of toy ponies under the sink — while cleaning out our stuff?
Me Talk Pretty One Day
by David Sedaris
Everybody has a favorite David Sedaris collection. Many champion his early fiction/memoir-hybrid stuff like Barrel Fever and Naked, but in Me Talk Pretty, the hilarious essayist mines his real life — strip-mines it, in some cases — and the result feels richer, truer. In the first half, he selects moments from his childhood as well as his life as a writer in New York City for gentle (and not-so-gentle) (and often self-) mockery. In the second half, Sedaris manages to write about moving to a country house in France with his lover in a way that’s so fresh and funny we somehow get over our seething jealousy.
by Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell walks the reader through the first three U.S. presidential assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley), but make no mistake: This is no whistle-stop tour. Vowell, in her sardonic but never caustic way, grounds us firmly in the era in question while never missing an opportunity to draw trenchant parallels to our own. She visits gravesites and ghoulish medical museums, but the book doesn’t seem so much death-obsessed as death-charmed. You’ll come away wanting to trace her steps to the Washington, D.C., boardinghouse where the Lincoln assassins met and plotted, which is now, as she notes, a karaoke restaurant serving better-than-average bubble tea.
by David Rakoff
Readers voted in almost every book David Rakoff ever wrote, but our judges agreed that Half Empty — in which he writes about the power of what he calls “defensive pessimism,” or assuming the worst — was, in fact, the best. “I can see a great beauty in acknowledging the fact that the world is dark,” Rakoff told NPR’s Linda Wertheimer in 2010. While writing the book, he learned he had the cancer that would eventually kill him, but as he put it in another interview, with defensive pessimism, “you imagine the worst-case scenario you can and you go through it step by step, and you dismantle those things and you manage your anxiety about it.”
Cool, Calm, And Contentious
by Merrill Markoe
Merrill Markoe has won multiple Emmy Awards for her work as a writer on Late Night with David Letterman, but she is less well-known than a lot of the other funny women on this list. (On her website, she claims to be “haunted by the fear that the creation of ‘Stupid Pet Tricks’ was going to be the only thing that would appear in her obituary.”) So pick up this volume of essays and start getting to know Markoe — we promise, she’s really funny.
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life
by Samantha Irby
Readers loved this painfully relatable collection of essays from poll judge Samantha Irby, and rightfully so — you may cringe occasionally as you read, but it’ll be because you know you’ve done exactly what Irby is describing in such droll, deadpan fashion. Also, her cat, Helen Keller, is one of the greatest comic creations of all time.
If Life Is A Bowl Of Cherries What Am I Doing In The Pits
by Erma Bombeck
Erma Bombeck was an American humorist who, yes, captured the travails of suburban life and homemaking in the pages of newspapers and women’s magazines — as well as weekly segments on Good Morning America for over a decade. But she was also a consummate prose stylist. You can’t read a Bombeck essay without hearing the weary affection behind every withering observation and her clear-eyed charm that never devolved to familiar clichés. This collection of essays finds her at the very top of her game as a voice for millions of Americans who were beginning to realize that the American dream was one that came with its share of night terrors.
You Can’t Touch My Hair
And Other Things I Still Have to Explain
by Phoebe Robinson
Phoebe Robinson is one-half of the awesome podcast 2 Dope Queens and a fierce voice for diversity in comedy. Her debut essay collection is about black hair, yes, but also about what it’s like to be the one black friend in your group (“Hint,” she writes, “it’s annoying”), what it’s like to be black in general (“very cool and awesome and also annoying”) and, as she puts it, “all the stuff that makes some dude on the Internet call me a ‘See You Next Tuesday.’ ” You should also check out her follow-up collection, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay.
I Can’t Date Jesus
Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyonce
by Michael Arceneaux
Writer Michael Arceneaux grew up black, gay and Catholic in Houston, an experience he chronicles in this eloquent, honest — and extremely funny — essay collection. He told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that his very religious mother hated the book’s title, but it actually came from a conversation they had. “I know that you’re born gay. I know that you can’t help it. But if you have sex and get hit by a bus, I don’t know where you’re going to go,” his mother told him — to which he replied, “Well, girl, I can’t date Jesus.”
The Awkward Thoughts Of W. Kamau Bell
Tales of a 6′ 4, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian
by W. Kamau Bell
Comedian W. Kamau Bell says he has spent most of his life feeling awkward — growing up tall, but not an athlete, interested in comedy but feeling out of place in comedy clubs. He writes about that, along with race relations, intersectionality, politics and being a blerd (a black nerd) in this conversational collection that will leave you feeling like you’ve spent the afternoon with a very funny and definitely smarter-than-you friend.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter
by Scaachi Koul
Scaachi Koul grew up in Canada the child of Indian immigrants, an experience she draws on in this sharp-edged collection of essays. Koul takes on some tough subjects — privilege, gender roles, online abuse and all the things that have made her miserable — but she manages to wring laughs out of it all.
So Sad Today
by Melissa Broder
Writer Melissa Broder started the @sosadtoday Twitter account in 2012 to deal with a merciless cycle of panic attacks and anxiety that went on and on. Which doesn’t sound like great material for comedy, but sometimes the only way out of unhappiness is to make fun of it. As she puts it in the introduction to this collection, based on those darkly funny tweets, “There aren’t that many ways to find comfort in this world. We must take it where we can get it, even in the darkest, most disgusting places.”
The Fran Lebowitz Reader
by Fran Lebowitz
Collecting her bestsellers Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, this indispensable volume of Fran Lebowitz’s essays transports the reader to a place (New York City) and a time (late ’70s-early ’80s) with uncanny specificity. Lebowitz writes lean but compact prose as effortless as it is ruthless. You could bounce a quarter off every blistering sentence, every scalding take (her ferocious defense of smoking in restaurants, for example) and come away with your eyebrows happily singed. They call her the modern-day Dorothy Parker, but there’s a generation of contemporary writers who’d kill to be called the heir apparent to Fran Lebowitz.
The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl
by Issa Rae
Our judges and you, the readers, were unanimous in wanting to see Issa Rae’s debut collection on this list. Named after her hit Web comedy series — but written in her own voice, rather than that of her character in the show — it’s a winningly deadpan account of all the awkward, frustrating and embarrassing moments that helped shape her (as well as a guide to navigating any awkward situations you might find yourself in). Also, Rae had a great conversation with our own Michel Martin about the Web series, which you can check out here.
True Stories from Painful Beaches
by John Hodgman
John Hodgman wrote his first few books in a voice one might call “Erudite, Condescending Polymath,” but with 2011’s That is All, he began to drop that pose and let notes of searching melancholy enter the mix. That process continued apace with this, his fourth book, a collection of essays built from his life as a writer, husband, father, friend, homeowner, full-time Yankee and part-time Mainer. He’s as funny and charming as ever here, but he is also more worried, more doubtful, shuffling off the carapace of intellectual swagger to expose something more raw and relatable.
You’ll Grow Out Of It
by Jessi Klein
In this collection, comedy writer Jessi Klein — she won an Emmy as the head writer for Inside Amy Schumer — considers everything from life as a tomboy to her philosophical objections to baths (“I feel like getting in the bath is a kind of surrender to the idea that we can’t really make it on land,” she writes). Poll judge Aparna Nancherla says Klein “is an absolute genius at taking an experience she’s had and making it universally relatable using the most delightful imagery you would have never thought of, but is, in fact, the perfect and only description.”
Comics And Cartoons
by Noelle Stevenson
Noelle Stevenson’s breakout graphic novel about a charming shape-shifter who apprentices herself to the local villain starts as a lighthearted comic fantasy — and blossoms into a morally and emotionally complex (but still funny) story about good and evil, love and friendship and betrayal. Our critic Tasha Robinson calls it “a perpetual surprise … still puckish even when it turns grim, but for something that starts out so lighthearted and silly, it’s astonishingly intense.”
Hark! A Vagrant
by Kate Beaton
History and literature (even Canadian history and literature) were never more fun than in Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. Beaton’s loose, rubbery and incredibly expressive renderings of the Kennedy family, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and Odysseus encountering Sirens posing with Facebook duck lips will make you laugh for sure — and you might even learn something. (For example, she was way ahead of the rest of us on Rosalind Franklin.)
Almost Completely Baxter
New and Selected Blurtings
by Glen Baxter and Marlin Canasteen
Glen Baxter is British, something that isn’t immediately apparent in his masterful drawings of cowboys holding each other at gunpoint over a shirtful of kumquats or a strange speech balloon. And if that previous sentence went in a direction you didn’t exactly expect, so do Baxter’s surreally deadpan one-panel cartoons, each with a caption like “Hubert gazed on in awe at the morsel” or “The concept of the dimmer switch had yet to reach the Lazy K bunkhouse.”
The Complete Far Side
by Gary Larson
If you grew up in the ’80s, Gary Larson’s laconic cows and chickens, befuddled scientists, aliens and ever present women in cat’s-eye glasses were an indelible part of your cultural landscape. Or if you were my dad, you bought yourself a Far Side cartoon-a-day calendar every year, carefully saved your favorite jokes, wrapped them up and gave them to yourself at Christmas so you could savor them all again (Jane Goodall, that tramp!).
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
by Roz Chast
Cartoonist Roz Chast turns her pen on herself in this painfully funny account of taking care of her aging parents after they became incapable of living alone. Chast’s jittery, wordy style is perfect for depicting the indignities of age as they affected her overbearing mother and her gentle, unassuming father — who referred to each other unironically as “soul mates” and who, in Chast’s words, “aside from WWII, work, illness and going to the bathroom … did everything together.”
The Great Outdoor Fight
by Chris Onstad
Chris Onstad’s resonantly weird comic about anthropomorphic animals doesn’t really have an ongoing story, but it does have a few standout arcs — including this one, about the legendary, 3,000-man Great Outdoor Fight. Ray Smuckles — nominally a cat — discovers that his dad, Ramses, won the 1973 fight, so he is determined to repeat the feat with the help of his best friend, Roast Beef. But things go sideways when Ray realizes he is going to have to beat Beef to win. Onstad’s art is spare at best, but his cats (and otters and robots) speak with a kind of poetry that’ll stick in your head long after you close the book.
by Aminder Dhaliwal
There are grim, dystopian visions of what life would be like if one gender went missing — think Y: The Last Man — and then there’s Aminder Dhaliwal’s gently goofy Woman World. Human males are mysteriously extinct in her world, and the women really aren’t all that worked up about it. Our critic Etelka Lehoczky says their comfortable, uninhibited, matter-of-fact (and occasionally nude) lives make for a “remarkably sly and devastating critique of patriarchy.”
Hyperbole And A Half
Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
by Allie Brosh
Allie Brosh adapted her deranged but deep blog into this book, which collects her bright, crude and incredibly quotable comics about All The Things, from grammar peeves and depression to the unholy power of a little kid’s dinosaur costume. She described it to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross as “stand-up comedy in book form,” adding that her signature style — tubular bodies, shark-fin hair and mismatched goggle eyes — is “what I’m like when I view myself. I am this crude absurd little thing, this squiggly little thing on the inside.”
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Comics)
by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Eats nuts, kicks butts! Ryan North and Erica Henderson reboot one of the weirder Marvel heroes as a bubbly, irrepressible computer science major who relies just as much on her STEM chops as on her ability to communicate with squirrels in defeating the bad guys. The marginalia — including footnotes and imaginary social media chats between SG and other Marvel characters — are almost as fun as the main story.
The Essential Calvin And Hobbes
A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury
by Bill Watterson
A boy, his stuffed tiger, some tuna sandwiches and a really useful cardboard box — cartoonist Bill Watterson didn’t need much to spin this heartfelt, gloriously loopy paean to childhood (and childhood imagination). Watterson stopped drawing the strip more than 20 years ago (sob!) but luckily we still have The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy … let’s go exploring!
Trust No Aunty
by Maria Qamar
Artist Maria Qamar — known on Instagram as hatecopy — turned her online work into this bright, satirical pop art-inflected tribute to the overbearing “aunties” who meddle in her life. “An aunty is any older woman who thinks she knows what’s best for you,” Qamar told NPR. “My mom’s family is huge, so I have a million aunties.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary
by Helen Fielding
“V. v. good!” as Bridget Jones herself would say. Helen Fielding’s messy, relatable heroine is an icon of chick lit — and really, literature in general. Follow along with Bridget Jones for a tumultuous year of too many cigarettes, too many alcohol units consumed, three colorful best friends and the one and only Mr. Mark Darcy.
A Confederacy Of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole
John Kennedy Toole’s singular novel is the kind of book you’ll finish, put down, and instantly pick up to read again — though you may feel a little weird spending so much time with Toole’s belching, bellowing protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly as he torments his long-suffering mother, attempts (with comic lack of success) new jobs, and lolls in bed with his Big Chief tablets full of ramblings about medieval history. The city of New Orleans is almost as much of a character as Reilly is; Toole’s rendering of street life, local characters and accents brings it blazing off the page.
by Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller’s masterpiece captures the brutal absurdity of war by building absurdity into the prose itself (“The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him”). Structurally innovative and blisteringly funny in its indictment of humanity in general and the military in particular, Heller’s novel became a phenomenon, and its title, referring to a military diktat that a soldier cannot claim insanity to avoid flying missions, because asking not to fly proves one sane, entered the lexicon as a means to describe, broadly, a no-win situation.
by Patrick Dewitt
To make a “French exit” means to leave without saying goodbye — and in the case of “moneyed, striking” widow Frances Price, to ditch Manhattan for Paris, along with her lumpish, loyal son and geriatric cat in order to avoid looming penury and scandal. “All good things must end,” says Frances at the start of the book — so savor Patrick DeWitt’s mix of understatement and over-frankness while it lasts.
Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan
Kevin Kwan’s tale of love complicated by absurd amounts of money is as fizzy as a flute of Champagne sipped in a super-deluxe first-class cabin. As far as NYU professor Rachel Chu knows, her boyfriend, Nick Young, is reasonably well-off. But when she agrees to spend the summer with him back home in Singapore, she discovers his family owns half the island — and everyone’s got their knives out for the nobody from New York.
Dear Committee Members
by Julie Schumacher
Julie Schumacher’s epistolary novel is a little bit unusual — instead of recording a correspondence between writers, the story here unfolds through an increasingly unhinged series of letters from one man, a disaffected creative writing professor who’s got no problem writing incredibly insulting letters of “recommendation” for his students. “He is the sort of rageful person who you feel yourself to be, before the superego takes over and tells you, ‘Don’t say that,’ ” Schumacher told NPR in 2014.
by Nick Hornby
Rob, the ostensible hero of Nick Hornby’s brilliantly incisive comic novel, is not just a bad boyfriend — though he is very much that — he’s a bad nerd. He’s the kind of obsessive who’s not content to love what he loves — in his case, music. No, he and his co-workers at his London record shop insist on reducing music to an endless series of lists to be memorized, categorized, cross-referenced and, mostly, used as a cudgel to lord their expertise over others. Years before nerd culture became inescapable, Hornby had captured something essential about the contemporary male — how fear of intimacy inspires a fondness for arcana, and the corresponding conviction that personal taste is a reliable arbiter of worth.
The Princess Bride
S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
by William Goldman
If you’ve only seen the movie version of The Princess Bride, you’re in for a treat (not to denigrate the movie, which is pretty much the most quotable movie of all time). All your favorite characters have complex, well-rounded backstories. And William Goldman’s original framing device is much funnier and more elaborate than the movie’s simple storytime — Goldman claims to be searching for the book his father read to him as a child, only to discover that the real book is excruciatingly boring and his father was only reading him the good parts (not a spoiler, I promise). And in the interest of not spoiling things, we won’t talk about how different the ending is …
by Nora Ephron
What happens when a power couple short-circuits? Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel about the collapse of her high-profile marriage to reporter Carl Bernstein is filled with righteous fury, though it’s filtered through Ephron’s gimlet eye for the perfect, cutting detail. Her novelistic stand-in is a food writer, so she includes several recipes that send up the prose style of those we would nowadays call foodies, even as they underscore Ephron’s tart-tongued ambivalence about being treated as a “woman writer.”
by Dave Barry
We love Dave Barry for his gently humorous approach to real-life — but poll voters also loved his debut novel, a comic thriller about a truly catastrophic chain of events set off when a dumb kid with a watergun gets mixed up in an actual assassination attempt. In his foreword, Barry refers to the novel as part of the “Bunch of South Florida Wackos” genre, so fans of Carl Hiaasen will definitely get a bang out of Big Trouble.
In God We Trust
All Others Pay Cash
by Jean Shepherd
If you’ve ever seen a leg lamp in a basement rec room, or triple-dog-dared a friend to do something stupid, you’ve experienced the comic legacy (har har) of Jean Shepherd, whose affectionately ironic stories about his Depression-era Indiana childhood were eventually made into the cult movie A Christmas Story. (Interestingly enough, a lot of them were originally published in Playboy magazine — but you can find them in this handy-dandy compilation and its follow-up volume, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories.)
The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore
What if Jesus Christ knew kung fu? That’s the after-midnight dorm room musing at the heart of Christopher Moore’s novel about the parts of Jesus’ life that aren’t detailed in the Bible. He is born and laid in the manger, sure — and then the next time we see him, he’s in his 30s and kicking money-changers out of the Temple. So what was he doing all those years? Enter “Levi who is called Biff,” resurrected by the angels after two millennia to tell the story of his adventures with his childhood best friend — including a trip to China to study martial arts.
by Tom Robbins
Dueling perfumers! Ancient Eurasia! A multidimensional quest for immortality! Pan, the goat-god! Characters named Wiggs Dannyboy and Bingo Pajama! Welcome to Tom Robbins’ sprawling, sexy cult novel (are there any Tom Robbins novels that cannot be said to be cult novels?). Jitterbug Perfume. Every Robbins novel has its devotees, but Jitterbug matches the author’s gift for hilarious wordplay with his ability to spin disparate plot threads that ultimately weave together in surprising but hugely satisfying ways.
Daisy Fay And The Miracle Man
by Fannie Flagg
We thought the Fannie Flagg book that might end up on this list would be Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe — but readers went for Flagg’s first novel, about irreverent almost-sixth-grader Daisy Fay Harper and her life on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast during the 1950s. (The title comes from Daisy’s ne’er-do-well dad, who concocts a get-rich-quick scheme with a local preacher to milk the faithful for money by pretending to raise Daisy from the dead.)
by Andrew Sean Greer
“Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer-winning comic novel about a middle-aged gay man on a round-the-world trip is light in tone but never slight in impact,” says our own Glen Weldon. “The narrator observes the absent-minded Arthur Less’ sexual and logistical perambulations with an artisanal blend of exasperation and affection, only occasionally granting us access to the wider, deeper story Less is running away from. As funny as it is, it’s achingly poignant about what’s been lost — an entire generation of gay men who aren’t around to model what aging can look like. All that, plus a final image that leaves you gasping — and grinning.”
by Paul Beatty
Paul Beatty was the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, for his blistering satire The Sellout. It’s the story of an African American man who ends up being tried in court for reintroducing segregation in his hometown, and even owning a slave — a terrible transgression in our supposedly post-racial era. Our critic Michael Schaub calls it a comic masterpiece and also “one of the smartest and most honest reflections on race and identity in America in a very long time.”
Made For Love
by Alissa Nutting
Alissa Nutting’s wild ride of a novel is set in Florida (where else) and begins with the protagonist rolling up at her father’s trailer only to find he’s living with a sex doll. Named Diane. “It’s absolutely ridiculous but also FULL OF JOKES, and the characters are fully realized and hilarious,” says poll judge Samantha Irby. “There’s dolphin romance and a lifelike sex doll and robots!! It’s perfect.”
My Sister, The Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede, the protagonist in Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel, is tired. Tired of cleaning up the bloody crime scenes after her beautiful sister Ayoola murders yet another boyfriend. Korede knows she has to stop her sister, but she can’t quite bear to see her get caught. Our critic Annalisa Quinn praises Braithwaite’s “vicious, delicious deadpan” that borrows from soap operas as much as it does from Hitchcock.
The World According To Garp
by John Irving
“In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.” That’s the famous last line of John Irving’s novel — a sprawling, darkly funny family saga about a moderately successful writer, his uncompromisingly feminist mother (who turns out to be much more successful with her own writing), and the strange but winning community that forms around them.
by Richard Russo
Richard Russo’s sprawling, irascibly funny novel invites us to eavesdrop on the townsfolk of the less-than-idealized upstate New York village of North Bath — once a posh spa resort, and now home to a motley assortment of down-on-their-luck locals. And there’s none more motley or luckless than Donald “Sully” Sullivan, a wisecracking, 60-year-old, bandy-legged old cuss who clings to a rootless existence “divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable — all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.” Russo’s prose and dialogue crackle with dry, mordant wit.
by Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen was all over the poll results, but we went with Skinny Dip, a classic that packs in everything you want from Hiaasen: crooked businessmen, crooked scientists (crooked everyone, really), an attempted murder gone flamboyantly wrong, colorfully bizarre supporting characters (also crooked) and exotic animals, all stewing in the swampy Florida heat.
The Wangs Vs. The World
by Jade Chang
The Wangs — the titular family in Jade Chang’s debut novel — are having a bad year. Financial disaster has left them destitute, and they’re on an epic cross-country road trip from their lost mansion in California to a new life crowded into the remaining family home in the Catskills. Critic Jason Heller says “their madcap trip serves as a travelogue of American weirdness, from desolate sands of the Mojave desert to the breakfast buffets of the Deep South.”
Fantasy And Science Fiction
A Discworld Novel
by Terry Pratchett
There are almost as many ways to read Terry Pratchett’s classic comic fantasy series as there are volumes in it. Do you prefer witches? Specifically, badass teenage witches? Perhaps you’re more the type for wizards? Bumbling guardsmen? Charismatic swindlers? Death personified (and his pale steed Binky)? Or maybe a stand-alone adventure (seriously, read Monstrous Regiment)? There’s one thing most Pratchett fans agree on — skip the first two books, and if you must start at the beginning, go with Equal Rites, which introduces one of Pratchett’s most iconic characters: the formidable witch Granny Weatherwax.
The Tough Guide To Fantasyland
by Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones starts with the idea that every single fantasy narrative is set in one place, called “Fantasyland,” and follows it to the furthest reaches of absurdity in this mock travel guide. If, while on your Tour of Fantasyland, you need help decoding a Small Ambiguous Confrontation, figuring out whether a brown-haired person with silver eyes is Good or Evil or deciding what to order at an Inn (the answer is nothing, because Inns serve only Stew and Beer), the Tough Guide is an indispensable companion — far more useful than the Bard, Female Mercenary or Unpleasant Stranger that Management may have added to your party.
To Say Nothing Of The Dog
by Connie Willis
If time travel really existed, it seems obvious that historians would have a go at it. Connie Willis imagines just that in To Say Nothing of the Dog — a romp between centuries that kicks off when a time-traveling Oxford researcher accidentally brings something back from the Victorian era, prompting a mad scramble to prevent the timeline from disruption. The title is a reference to Jerome K. Jerome’s 1889 comic travelogue, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), which you’ll find in the Classics section of this list. And yes, there is a boat and a thoroughly delightful dog.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (Series)
by Douglas Adams
Do you know where your towel is? Are you prepared for the horrors of Vogon poetry? Do you know how to fly? (It’s easy: Just throw yourself at the ground, and miss.) Douglas Adams’ spacefaring epic about a bumbling, bathrobe-wearing human and his hitchhiking alien friend has warped the minds of countless impressionable baby nerds. Adams’ voice and his comic sensibility were sui generis; lots of authors have tried to imitate him over the decades, and lots of authors have failed. Don’t forget your Babel fish.
The Eyre Affair
Thursday Next (Series)
by Jasper Fforde
If you’ve ever talked about diving into a book, getting lost in a book or wishing you could visit your favorite literary character in person, Jasper Fforde’s delightfully surreal Thursday Next series is for you. Thursday herself is a literary detective in an alternate 1980s England where the Crimean War never ended, dodos have been reverse-engineered out of extinction and the BookWorld is as real as the world outside your door — and just as prone to crime and mischief (just ask all the Shakespeare forgers and Dickens thieves).
A Walk In The Woods
Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
by Bill Bryson
In all of his books, Bill Bryson skillfully and hilariously mixes exhaustive scholarship with personal, and often ruefully self-deprecating, anecdotes. Never more so, perhaps, than in A Walk In The Woods, about his many abortive attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail. Whether he’s supplying the reader with useful information about the behavior and habitat of black bears, or describing in painful detail how woefully unprepared he found himself for the challenge before him, Bryson is an indispensable guide to both the eccentrics, and the ecology, of the AT.
How To Weep In Public
Feeble Offerings on Depression from One Who Knows
by Jacqueline Novak
Jacqueline Novak’s combination memoir and advice book is a brilliant read for anyone who has depression — and anyone wanting to learn more about it. It’s the darkest of dark humor (check out the chapter about the joys crying on your cat), written by someone who knows that when you’re down in the dumps, lying on the floor is great because at least you can’t fall any further.
The New Joys Of Yiddish
by Leo Rosten and Lawrence Bush
“No dictionary has ever taken so much pride or pleasure in exploring a language,” says poll judge Guy Branum. “From the nuances of the many words for penis and prostitute to the use of classic jokes to illustrate definitions, it’s bound to leave you farmisht, verklempt and occasionally farblondjet.” And, I might add — a lebn af dayn kopf!
Notes from a Loud Woman
by Lindy West
Sometimes it seems like any woman who speaks up in public gets tagged as “shrill.” Writer Lindy West embraces the label in this memoir — now a very funny TV show — about life as a loud, fat woman who refuses to comply with the demands society places on women’s bodies and voices — and not only survives, but thrives.
How To Be A Woman
by Caitlin Moran
Part memoir and part banners-on-the-barricades defense of feminism, Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman is packed with funny, provocative observations on what it’s like to be a woman today. “People get really scared when women reclaim words, talk about themselves honestly and also make jokes because it’s a really unstoppable combination,” Moran told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 2012. “It’s part of the reason why I decided to use humor in my book because it’s kind of hard to argue with someone who’s making you laugh.”
The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach
Morbidly fascinating and cringingly funny, Mary Roach’s dissection (heh) of humanity’s use of cadavers in science and medicine is enlivened (sorry) by her cheery enthusiasm for the subject and her deft ability to explain, say, the process of decomposition in hilarious, disgusting detail — and utter clarity. The book touches on issues of morality, ethics and spirituality, but never gets bogged down in them, buoyed by a sincere fondness for the wonders of science.
Kids’ Books And YA
Sal & Gabi Break The Universe
by Carlos Hernandez
Gabi Real just knows Sal Vidon is the one who planted a raw chicken in a bully’s locker, but how? Sal is an amateur magician, true — but beyond that, he has a truly arcane skill: He can open holes in the space-time continuum and pull out all kinds of things, including alternate versions of his deceased mother. Quantum high jinks, a wonderful team of friends and descriptions of incredibly delicious Cuban food make this a delightful read, though you may be hungry afterward.
Sideways Stories From Wayside School
by Louis Sachar
Wayside School was supposed to have 30 classrooms in a row, all on one floor. But instead, it was built with 30 classrooms all on top of each other in a teetering tower full of terribly cute children and extremely odd teachers. (Watch out for Mrs. Gorf — you don’t want to be turned into an apple!) OK, the children are pretty odd, too, (especially Leslie, who tries to sell her own toes) but extremely entertaining.
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer
Join Milo and Tock the Watchdog on a road trip through the Kingdom of Wisdom in search of the exiled princesses Rhyme and Reason — with stops along the way to jump to Conclusions, get stalled out in the Doldrums and tangle with short Officer Shrift. Norton Juster’s classic takes every figure of speech you can imagine and makes them gloriously literal — you’ll never look at a square meal the same way again.
Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging
Confessions of Georgia Nicolson
by Louise Rennison
Fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicolson is a comic creation right up there with her spiritual older sister, Bridget Jones. Angus is her cat — who keeps trying to eat the poodle next door. And thongs? “They just go up your bum, as far as I can tell.” Georgia’s sometimes minute-to-minute chronicle of the indignities of life with embarrassing parents and a toddler sister is a comic delight. Yes, the book is full of snarky British slang, but author Louise Rennison has thoughtfully included a glossary at the back of the book for us Yanks.
The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales
by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Writer Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith’s picture book riffs on classic kids’ tales such as “Chicken Little” and “The Gingerbread Man” but outfits them with a knowing, smart-alecky, meta-fictional attitude. The narrator admonishes one character for trying to start her story on the inside cover of the book; other characters get flattened when the Table of Contents collapses on them. Lane Smith’s gorgeously grotesque art lends the book a disquietingly surreal feeling while driving home the humor. There have been plenty of children’s books that delight in fracturing classic fairy tales, but none of them is this gleefully, and thoroughly, weird.
Where The Sidewalk Ends
The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein
by Shel Silverstein
Every kid should have copies of Shel Silverstein’s poetry books, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends — but every discerning kid knows that Sidewalk is the superior of the two, because it has “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout,” ol’ man Simon in his garden full of diamonds and, of course, the terrible Boa Constrictor. (Oh, heck, it’s up to my neck!) Silverstein’s Ralph-Steadman-for-kids illustrations are just the icing on the kingly cake.
Archy And Mehitabel
by Don Marquis
Archy, a free verse poet reincarnated as a cockroach, lives in a newspaper office and spends his evenings jumping on the keys of a typewriter to bang out, yes, free verse descriptions of the critters he encounters every day — including, most memorably, Mehitabel the alley cat, who claims to have once been Cleopatra. Get the edition illustrated by Krazy Kat creator George Herriman, for maximum cat-and-cockroach glee.
The Best Of Ogden Nash
by Ogden Nash and Linell Nash Smith
“Being a Great Bad Poet is actually super hard,” says poll judge Alexandra Petri, but Ogden Nash is one of the best. His loopy abuses of rhyme and meter swing so far out that they come back around to greatness, and this collection brings together a feast of his greatest. It’s an easy read, too, since so many of his poems are bite-size. Always remember: “If called by a panther/Don’t anther.”
The great-great-we’re-not-counting-all-the-greats granddaddy of all the works on this list. Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes sends up the intellectual fashions of Athens in this work, thought to have been produced for the stage around 423 B.C. Aristophanes doesn’t pull any punches — in fact, he was so mean about his contemporary Socrates, depicting him as a fraud and mocking his famed teaching style, that Plato indirectly blamed him for Socrates’ trial and execution. Spicy!
Jeeves And Wooster (Series)
by P. G. Wodehouse
Apparently, there are people in America who don’t know that House star Hugh Laurie was once a comic actor. Which is a shame, because he is the perfect embodiment of upper-class nitwit Bertie Wooster in the ’90s TV adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s classic novels. Wooster and his impossibly competent butler, Jeeves, exist in a lovely, unmoored England with a vaguely 1920s feel, untroubled by anything more than unpleasant aunts, finicky fiancées and hapless friends. Carry on, Jeeves!
Voltaire coined the term “best of all possible worlds” in this scabrous 1759 satire on optimism and disillusionment. Candide himself is a cheerful young man whose at first uncomplicated life goes as wrong as it possibly can, leading him — eventually — to reject his tutor’s stubborn insistence that all is for the best. Though it was banned for blasphemy (among other sins) shortly after its publication, it’s never been out of print since, and it’s considered one of the most influential works in Western literature.
Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons
There’s something nasty in the woodshed! Sophisticated city girl Flora Poste finds herself an orphan at the age of 19, so she decides to move in with her rural relatives, the doom-and-gloom Starkadders — including Aunt Ada Doom, a recluse ever since her woodshed encounter at the age of 2 — and takes it upon herself to improve their lives. Our favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl, calls it “a deliciously entertaining read.” The movie’s pretty great, too.
Pride And Prejudice
by Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen was plenty funny even without zombies or secret diaries (or Bridget Jones’s Diary — which you’ll find elsewhere on this list). If you can read about Mrs. Bennet’s nerves, or Mary’s purse-lipped piety, or Kitty and Lydia’s antics without cracking a smile, you’re more sour a soul than Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
by Mark Twain
Sure, we know Mark Twain as a writer and a humorist — but as a young man he went west and tried his hand at prospecting in the wilds of Nevada, alongside his good friend Calvin Higbie (the book is inscribed to Higbie, in honor of “the Curious Time When We Two WERE MILLIONAIRES FOR TEN DAYS” after finding and losing an ill-fated gold claim). It’s not quite fact and not quite fiction — rather, it’s a glorious tall tale of misadventures in a place long gone.
Importance Of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Few people have contributed as many bons mots to English literature as Oscar Wilde, and a lot of them are in his most popular play, about two Victorian louts who are anything but earnest in their endless attempts to wiggle out of the era’s stifling social strictures. Wilde’s writing is like a good cocktail: tart, refreshing and complex — and liable to leave you a little giddy.
The Loved One
An Anglo-American Tragedy
by Evelyn Waugh
Personally, as a journalist (says Petra), I was hoping readers would vote in Evelyn Waugh’s wicked journalism satire Scoop — but no, you guys preferred The Loved One, his savage take on death, American style. Waugh had visited Hollywood in 1947, and while he had no truck with the big studios or their interest in his work, he found great inspiration in the famous Forest Lawn cemetery (Bette Davis is buried there!) and its team of morticians.
by Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis’ biting satire of college life follows the unfortunate Jim Dixon, a junior medieval history professor at a middle-of-nowhere university who has to put up with all kinds of indignities. Amis was swapping letters and jokes and rants about the world in general with his friend the poet Philip Larkin as he wrote it (in fact, Jim Dixon is based partly on Larkin), so if you don’t know Larkin’s bitter gem “This Be the Verse,” go read it now and you’ll get an idea of where their heads were at. Just be ready for a little profanity.
The Portable Dorothy Parker
by Dorothy Parker and Marion Meade
If Dorothy Parker isn’t already the voice of your inner monologue, you can carry her around in book form with The Portable Dorothy Parker, which collects favorite stories like “The Big Blonde,” her magazine writings and criticism, and, of course, her eminently quotable poetry, which though dark, delicately skirts the edge of utter hopelessness (“you might as well live”).
Three Men in a Boat; Three Men on the Bummel
Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog)
by Jerome K. Jerome and Geoffrey Harvey
“I did not intend to write a funny book at first,” Jerome K. Jerome (and yes, that is his name) once said. Apparently, he intended this comic travelogue to be an actual travel guide for people considering boating expeditions along the Thames — but the characters, based on Jerome and his friends, quickly took over. (We regret to inform you that Montmorency, the excellent dog, is entirely fictional.) Jerome made comic hay out of the most mundane things, like weather, boats and English food — keep an eye out for the episode of the canned pineapple!
The Pursuit Of Love
by Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford was a journalist, novelist and part of the notorious “Bright Young Things” who ruled London’s social scene between the wars. Our judge Guy Branum picked The Pursuit of Love, Mitford’s lightly fictionalized memoir of her aristocratic British childhood and her famous (and sometimes infamous) sisters. “The book delights in cruel wit and endless scandal,” he says — and if you enjoy The Pursuit of Love, there are two more books featuring the same characters.
My Life and Hard Times
by James Thurber
No list of funny books would be complete without writer and cartoonist James Thurber, one of the finest American humorists of the 20th century. Lots of readers voted in his story “The Night the Bed Fell,” a confection of chaos that only tangentially concerns the actual bed — but we thought we’d give you more Thurber, so here’s the book that contains that story, his illustrated account of growing up in Columbus, Ohio, with a family of peerless eccentrics and a rather put-upon bull terrier.
The Benchley Roundup
by Robert Benchley and Nathaniel Benchley
Humorist and occasional actor Robert Benchley held down one curve of the famed Algonquin Round Table (along with Dorothy Parker, whom you’ll find elsewhere on this list), and this collection, curated by his son Nathaniel, rounds up (har har) some of his most timeless pieces on everything from Shakespeare to football. As our poll judge Alexandra Petri says, “You gotta have Benchley! He’s a funnier Thurber!”
Texts From Jane Eyre
And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters
by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
You KNOW, you just know that if Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester could text, he’d be bombarding her with florid all-caps inanities — and that she would shut him down demurely. “JANE I BOUGHT YOU A DRESS MADE OF TEN THOUSAND PEARLS AS A BRIDAL PRESENT.” “where on earth would I wear that.” But honestly, the best part of this entirely delightful book is Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s impression of Emily Dickinson, whose fractured phrases are already text perfect.
Tenth of December
by George Saunders
“Victory Lap” is part of George Saunders’ acclaimed collection Tenth of December, which you should also read. But start with this story (conveniently, the first one in the book), which veers from uneasily charming to bleakly funny to black as night, right before it whacks you in the head with a precious, expensive geode; those stars you’re seeing are a tiny sparkle of hope.
by Jack Handey
“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.” We had to end the list with Jack Handey’s little nuggets of absurdity, so cue the sunset backdrop and the easy-listening music, and remember that rain means God is crying — probably because of something you did.