Monday, October 22, 2007

6 BOOKS that made me laugh out loud by Daniel Menaker

Daniel Menaker is the author of a novel, The Treatment, and two collections of short stories. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, and many other publications. His esteemed career as an editor at The New Yorker was followed by an equally esteemed career in book publishing. He spent most of his book years at Random House, but I was lucky enough to meet him during his stint at HarperCollins. Below, he shares six books that made him laugh out loud.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

I started laughing at the protagonist's first name, Alexander--which, with its A. the Great echo stood in such stark contrast to his character--and then laughed on and off through the rest of the book. Well, smiled, or chuckled, I should say, because, in addition to my amusement, I would shake my head in wonder at the transgressive audacity of the voice, and the honesty about hidden desires.

The Magic Christian by Terry Southern

A satire about the greed and cruelty of capitalism, in which the anti-hero, Guy Grand, amuses himself by ornately offering money to ordinary people who must in one way or another--usually a physical way--degrade themselves as they try to get it.

Candy by Terry Southern

Based closely on Voltaire's Candide, this is a scathingly funny send-up of the cupidity and sexual opportunism of various Sixties counter-cultures, in which the naive title character falls for one kind of social or spiritual con after another.

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

The sections in which Sarah Gamp talks about her nonexistent friend "Mrs. Harris" cracked me up every time. Here is one of a novel's marginal characters citing a fictional friend who can always be counted on to demonstrate the fineness of her own creator. I marvelled at early anticipation of meta-fiction in this invention, in which Dickens makes fun of all storytellers, including himself.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Well, one of Heller's military martinets in a court martial in this book bellows to the stenographer "Read me back my last line" and the stenographer says, "Read me back my last line." Let that stand for the sharp genius of the whole book. I realize its influence almost every day--not long ago someone said to me, "Don't tell me what to do," to which I found myself responding, "Don't tell me what to do."

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

A book that by anecdotal consensus of my friends and colleagues is the funniest novel ever, period. The title character is a mediocre don at a red-brick university in England, and during a house visit to the supremely tedious and conventional chairman of his department he must, among other desperate maneuvers, try to cover up or dispose of the bedsheets in which he has burned a large hole. Like the other books in this list, Lucky Jim has a very high desperation quotient.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous causaubon said...

long time reader, first time commenter. keep up the good work.

just wanted to add to your list (although the Terry Southern and the Catch-22 are on my list as well)...

"Puckoon" and "Rommel? Gunner Who?" both by Spike Milligan

and when i'm really stoned and feelin' giggly- the collected prose of Woody Allen "The Insanity Defence"

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

strangely enough, the first 2 books that came to mind were Catch 22 and Spike Milligan's war memoirs, which begin with Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall (not Rommel? Gunner Who?). Think the sensibilities of Monty Python (the boys were all BIG fans of Spike, who appears in The Life of Brian) in the British Artillery ...

6:29 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Yes to all six.
Lucky Jim made me laugh, Wilt by Tom Sharpe made my ribs hurt for week.
"a very high desperation quotient" indeed!

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any conversation about a book that makes you laugh out loud has to include "Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly...enough said

10:25 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

I have to agree with Catch-22. I remember having to put the book down for five minutes to compose myself after the scene in which Yossarian harrasses the nurse in the hospital. I'm going to hell, I know.

Anyway my other faves are Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, The Hitchiker's Guide series by Douglas Adams, and Schroedinger's Ball by Adam Felber - it's like Catch-22 for the absurdities of modern physics, but don't let that scare you off, it's absolutely ridiculous and awesome all the way through.

10:46 PM  
Blogger tumbleweed said...

I have to agree with the aforementioned "Good Omens." It is so charming and sweet and completely fucking hilaaaarious.

Also? I am surprised no one mentioned anything by David Sedaris. Old news, I know, but I plotz with LOL every time.

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on tumblweed, anything written by David Sedaris is laugh out loud funny, as is Augusten Burrough's "Magical Thinking"

A bit random, but Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish".

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

The entire Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde is hilarious. His humour is similar to Monty Python; intelligent and ridiculous at the same time.

5:22 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I suppose the host should contribute to these when he can. A few books that made me laugh out loud: Money by Martin Amis, Home Land by Sam Lipsyte, Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, Norwood by Charles Portis, Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Cara said...

If you like Good Omens, try Lamb:The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood pal. I snicker every time I read it and I've seen random people burst into laughter while reading it on the subway. Sublime.

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any book by Terry Pratchett makes me laugh out loud. They are never to be read in public - the man is a menance to appearing slightly sane in public and is just as funny in real life. He is always first on my list of 'famous people to invite to a dinner party' although others have to ask me who he is.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ive got that book at home and it's real fun!!!!!

2:43 PM  

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