I love books and stories of all kinds (well, not so much experimental meta-fiction, but that’s my failing). But what I find absolutely delicious are books that make me laugh. Not books that make me chuckle or smile appreciatively, but books that make me embarrass myself in public. Books that make me shake so hard in bed that I wake The Mister. David Sedaris’s Barrel Fever did that. So did Fraud by the late, great David Rakoff. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions made me laugh and cry more than any other book.
Humor writing is not an easy thing. I’ve edited two books of humor writing and I’ve gotten good at articulating why something comes out funny or why it doesn’t. But that, of course, only covers part of it. Good humor writing is the perfect alchemy between language, timing, voice, story, and that certain I-don’t-know-what that funny people have. And then there’s the matter of taste.
Additionally, funny books have to have depth and resonance and bottomless insight and wisdom. It’s a tough gig, it really is.
But I think we can all agree that the worst is someone trying to be funny, but failing. Sort of like those friends who laugh so hard while telling their own stories that you just end up feeling uncomfortable.
So, here’s a few I really loved in a wheezing, snot-coming-out-if-my-nose kind of way. Apologies to those of you on whom I’ve already forced these:
You’re Not Doing it Right by Michael Ian Black
It’s possible you should be between the ages of 29-52 to properly appreciate this book. You might need to have kids or be married. The again, maybe not. But if you meet any of these criteria, I beg of you, do yourself a favor and read this. As my friend Carrie said, “I can’t stop laughing at his wonderful asshole self.”
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
This is part coming-of-age memoir, part feminist manifesto by a bad-ass British woman with a foul mouth. Let me just put it this way: if you come over to my house and say anything bad about Caitlin Moran I will have to ask you to leave. Because I love her. And she’s my best stranger friend.
And here are a few that were supposed to be laugh-out-loud but didn’t quite get there for me. I liked them, but no guffawing was heard.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling is cute as hell and funny enough to hang out with for a few nights. But the book never achieved hilarious transcendence. It’s more like reading the diary of a very clever college girl.
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Lawson is the very, very funny Bloggess. And this memoir is funny and charming but not laugh-out-loud. To be fair, I didn’t finish it. But that’s saying something because I am nearly religious about finishing books. Maybe it was just too Texas-y for me?
Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty and Other Alarming Things by Ashley Cardiff
Ok, I may have laughed out loud a few times, but I also didn’t finish it. It’s possible you may have to have been born in the ’90s to properly appreciate this memoir (due out in July 2013). She’s very frank and very funny, but after a while it all felt a bit young and silly to me. Still, I’m sure she’ll get a lot of attention when the book comes out.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
I loved this book, but it did not make me shake with laughter, and that is my standard here. Tina Fey rules. What more can I say. Read this if you haven’t, but don’t expect bed shaking. Tina Fey is my second-best stranger friend, btw.