Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Make with the Funny Already

With everybody in the literary world understandably feeling a little down, I salute Paper Cuts for posting about the funniest novel ever written. It isn't often that I'm so in line with the zeitgeist, but I happen to agree with those responding to the call for nominations -- Lucky Jim is the funniest novel ever written. Other funny novels are:
  • Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore (There were no books by women on the Paper Cuts list (and the blogger David Kelly points this out). This is a big problem. People really don't like to think of women as funny. That's messed up. Anna Farris. Funny.)
  • The Information, by Martin Amis (The "He was impotent..." passage is what I'm thinking of here.)
  • The Mystery Guest, by Gregoire Bouillier (If this is even a novel. Who knows? Who cares? 'Tis funny, I say.)
I laughed a whole bunch of times at Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End, but I thought it was so sad that I don't think of it as a comedy. It is, I suppose, and so it should go on the list. Of course, if one were to open the question beyond just novels, there'd be many more very strong contenders, including memoirs like How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Please Excuse My Daughter, and Rock On, essays by David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman, Sarah Vowell, and David Rakoff, and short stories by people like Arthur Bradford, George Saunders, and of course, more Lorrie Moore.

So what novels get you laughing?

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At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Edan said...

Thank you, Patrick, for speaking up for the funny ladies. I must second Lorrie Moore. I also love AM Homes' humor (she is so ruthless!) and Joy Williams is often very funny.

Of course, on Team Penis, we have George Saunders.

At 12:08 AM, Anonymous e said...

Charles Portis makes with the funny: Dog of the South, Masters of Atlantis and even (or especially) True Grit.

Richard Russo's Straight Man made me laugh, and there's a scene in Kavalier and Clay where the guys are being yelled at by their boss, who is not wearing pants. Trust me, it's funny. Chabon is such a good writer, I think people forget that he's very funny.

Saunders, yes. Also, I believe Twain might squeak in there. And not just because of the news, but David Foster Wallace's reporting was so great, so hilarious.

Last thing: Is Lucky Jim really funny? I tried to read it when I was young and it didn't move me. I could try again.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Patrick said...


It's very, very English, and I know some people who just can't get into it. For whatever reason, it really resonates with me. The main character is so bound up, so consumed with rage for his surroundings, and, I think, for himself, that he can barely function. Another novelist might've made Lucky Jim a sort of depressing character study, but Amis finds the humor in the situation. Take this passage, which I think is pretty characteristic:

"If Welch didn't speak in the next five seconds, he'd do something to get himself flung out without question -- not the things he'd often dreamed of when sitting next door pretending to work. He no longer wanted, for example, to inscribe on the departmental timetable a short account, well tricked-out with obscenities, of his views on the Professor of History, the Department of History, medieval history, history, and Margaret and hang it out of the window for the information of passing students and lecturers, nor did he, on the whole, now intend to tie Welch up in his chair and beat him about the head and shoulders with a bottle until he disclosed why, without being French himself, he'd given his sons French names, nor..."

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous e said...

Thanks, Patrick. As a fan of Jonathan Coe, who is also English and funny (see: The Winshaw Legacy), I should give Lucky Jim another shot.

But The Information scarred me so I will not return to Amis the Dread, er, the Younger no matter how judiciously you excerpt him.

Finally, as a member of Team Penis, I'm wondering where I can get my shirt?

Do you guys carry those? I take a small. I mean, large. XL, maybe.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Patrick said...

Well played, e, well played.

At 8:33 AM, Blogger shandon said...

Thanks, e, for mentioning True Grit. I would add The Princess Bride by William Goldman and Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis to the fiction list. On the nonfiction side, The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allan Smith and Maybe He's Dead edited by Mary Ann Madden (both inexplicably out of print) make me laugh my ass off.


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