My blogfriend Christine Poulson suggested that she and I should make lists of books that make us laugh: that seemed an excellent idea, especially as we had such good interactive fun when we did our favourite Agatha Christies a few months ago. And given a cold dark November – we can all do with ideas to cheer ourselves up…
So we’re posting our lists on the same day, and
These are my choices, in alphabetical order by author:
|Lucky Jim's girlfriend, a right go-er in a paisley frock|
1) Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis I have very mixed feelings about Amis and his works and his political views and his attitudes to women. But Lucky Jim is one of the finest and funniest books of the 20th century, and it never fails to make me laugh. Jim’s faces – the madrigal singing – the burnt sheets on the bed – ‘not the paisley frock’: all splendid. And a link with one my favourite poets, Philip Larkin. (I guess I appreciated him at opposite ends of his career: the other very funny book was his 1986 Old Devils, or History Boyos as I like to think of it.)
2) The Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson are going to be televised again in the UK this Christmas – fans will be hoping and fearing: can TV really do justice to the social battles of Tilling? It’s a matter of life and death because the stakes are so low. Au Reservoir, darlings, time for some Moonlight Sonata (uno duo tre), a chota peg, and some homard a la Riseholme.
3) Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings and Darbishire books are like PG Wodehouse crossed with the sublime Molesworth (both of whom I’m sneaking onto the list here). The charm of the two little boys, the fact that Buckeridge never makes them clever, and the plotting which is beyond description – all key factors. My favourite moment in all the books comes when Jennings, on the roof, shouts down a chimney pot ‘I’m looking for a ray of light in the darkness’, which portentous sentence goes straight down the flue, ‘amplified like a megaphone’ and is sent booming out of the fireplace, causing Matron to jump a mile and spill her tea.
4) Christopher Buckley’s father was a very right-wing American political and grammar commentator: his own take on life is different. His books are very American, which perhaps is why they are not better-known in the UK, but they are so funny they would appeal to anyone. Thank You For Smoking is a hilarious take on the tobacco industry (I mean, just the title...), and The White House Mess is splendidly funny not only on politics, but also on office life everywhere.
5) Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon is another blog favourite – the setpiece scenes in the book – literary gatherings and Passover – are among the great, funny party scenes of literature. Just click for more than you could need.
Bridget Jones in her teddy
6) Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. I get pointlessly exercised when people describe the books as romcom or chicklit. The first one is House of Mirth for modern times, and I think all three books are wonderful observational satires that can tell you a lot about British life in the past 20 years. And make you laugh and snort and spill your coffee.
7) Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Anyone who looks at this blog much must know I am obsessed with her, and these books still make me laugh no matter how often I read them. So I won’t say any more this time – just click here to see endless blog entries.
8) My search for Warren Harding by Robert Plunket This is my most obscure choice, a book I have banged on about on the blog several times. It is a modern version of the Aspern Letters, as a young academic weasels his way into the household of a woman he thinks may have valuable documents. It is compelling and intriguing, and asks questions about the mistresses of presidents, and our rights to privacy. But it is also hysterically funny, laugh-out-loud funny, don’t-read-on-public-transport funny.
Cousin Teresa takes out Caesar, Bonzo Jock and the big borzoi (I didn't even have to look that up)
9) The short stories of Saki - favourites are Cousin Teresa, The Un-Rest Cure, Sredni Vashtar, The Way to the Dairy, The Open Window and – oh joy – The Story-Teller, a tale that any sensible child will love to bits.
10) Calvin and Hobbes The comic strip by Bill Watterson was part of our family life: adults and children could all be felled with a quote: “Ya like that Susie?” and “I just like the word smock” and “IF you get A present…” and “Mom was up too late packing.” Our collection books fell apart with re-reading, so we had to shell out for the complete C&H in 3 massive hardbacks… Bill Watterson always refused to license the image for any purpose whatsoever – so ANY Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt or mug or sticker you may ever see is pirated. He must have missed out on, literally, millions of dollars because of this, but obviously doesn’t care, and you can only respect him for his decision. Still - I had hoped to be able to reproduce a strip here, but this is apparently complete impossible: you cannot (legally) use C& H online. So please go to this website and see some sample strips.
That’s 10 – but I would have liked to have fitted in Adrian Mole; Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (very amusing but also serious and clever murder story); The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (young Americans in Paris in the 1950s); Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera – a very recent read, hilarious on the joys of growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970s; Penelope by Rebecca Harrington and Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell – two brilliant campus novels, 50 years apart; and Doctor in the House by Richard Gordon – it’s really just a collection of anecdotes, no doubt many of them traditional and mythical, but overall the book is delightful and knockout funny. And what about the Provincial Lady? And...? Stop me before I blog forever.
Now I’m hoping for more laughs from Christine’s selections - and some more suggestions from readers and commentators below.