Friday, December 10, 2010

Laughter is the Best Medicine: Top Five Humor Books

Making a list of favorite books or music is a tricky exercise. Great works of creativity may exist for all of time without end, but the audience and its environment changes. Even if a part of us tries to hold on to old favorites as a link to our past, a work so compelling sometimes bursts through that our list morphs into a different form.

The old sentiment is replaced by the new experience. As readers and listeners, we grow and learn, we forget and discover. We live and we live more.

Then a Justin Bieber comes along, making you want to crush delicate butterflies and grow your nails for the sole purpose of introducing them to a blackboard.

What was so nice to read ten years ago is so lame now. What was so lame ten years ago is a Thoroughbred today. To add to the confusion, the way content is delivered is rapidly changing. Stillness and reading divorced and remarried as movement and reading. The world appears unrecognizable and favorites churn and churn, spitting old entries out while attracting new ones.

Favorite lists are works in progress.  They change with the reader, his tastes, and if he is smart- his boss. Interestingly, another trend worth noticing is all time favorite lists are loaded with entries from recent times or the farthest past, leaving the middle periods dark and without representation.  Coldplay becomes a favorite as it rubs shoulders with that Neil Diamond LPs– leaving Michael Jackson dead and buried in Neverland.

The point being that a list of favorites can never be the last word even in the creator’s mind, let alone trustworthy enough to be used as a guiding light for others.

So right at the outset, I state that this list will not be a favorite tomorrow.  It was so different even yesterday. Each entry exists here because when I read these books, parts of them sprang outside of the pages and found a home inside of me. They etched a place in my mind close enough to be available when I searched my memories for the funniest books I have ever read.

The books in this list just made me laugh and feel good like nothing else.

Before I share my list, a few words on why I pick a list of funny books.

While writing has many genres, variations, and period influences, good writing has one.  It’s called Good Writing. A well written book cuts across time, style and audience because it acts as a magical mirror to the reader.  A mirror to how he identifies his existence with the characters, the conflict, and the end. Occasionally, the book lifts him to ‘how’ he would like to identify with the reflection –propelling his mind to a dimension of the unknown, full of pure delight.

And good writing is especially tough to achieve when you write humor.

Humor is a tough joke to pull because a writer has to work double hard with the timing when words are printed on paper.  The placement of the sentence on a page full of sentences has to be exact, more than even a live comic act.  While a standup can sense his audience during a performance and time his words, a writer cannot.  He writes, he writes, and he writes. He throws jokes at the wall and he prays that some stick. That people will ‘get it’.  That the human eye will not miss the carefully crafted build up to the punch-line that started a paragraph or three pages earlier. Personally as a writer, I find creating tearjerkers more uncomplicated than making a simple toilet joke. It is so much easier to sketch drama queens than to describe a guy walking into a door of glass.

So funny books are difficult to pull off. Here is the list of my favorite funny books.

Right Ho Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

Picking a specific Wodehouse out of his vast body of work is like remembering how you felt when your daughter first placed her tiny hands in yours. Especially, if you have no daughter.

Each Wodehouse is a gem, an escape hatch to the idyllic life of the Berties and the Ukridges - where the biggest crisis in the world involves escaping evil Aunts and scheming spinsters.  Wodehouse’s plots are liquid and change every moment, and you realize that if  he had ever written a murder mystery or so called ‘serious’ book , it would be just as great.  The man was simply a master of the clever twist of phrase, and describing people and places with a fine comb.

Right Ho Jeeves is probably his finest work.  It makes you laugh so hard that stuff comes out of your nose and arranges itself in a giant smiley.  When you read Gussie Fink-Nottle’s prize distribution affair in the book, you wonder if it is the funniest string of words ever put to paper.

I am kidding. You don’t wonder. You know it is.

Ah, PG Wodehouse should have lived for ever.  The milk of human kindness and all that would be in abundance if he had. If you are still to read a Wodehouse, go get yourself one on   You will feel like a better person right from page one.

Note to Tender leaves editor:  Product Placement. Check

The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy by Douglas Adams

It is surprising how HHGTTG found its way to a mainstream audience. The humor is so out there and wild that one can’t help but feel amazed at how this book has changed writing in particular and the world in general.  Thank God for Douglas Adams.

The series is so outrageously funny that we have fallen into a trap of treating it as only a humor book. In my mind, it should be counted as one of the great epics of all time with Ulysses, especially since Ulysses is so darn difficult to pronounce. 

The merchandizing industry made billions with HHGTTG –games, television, radio, and even that horrible movie - but at the core it remains a delightfully simple story of discovery, told in Adam’s unique style.  Some versions of the book’s cover scream that Adams is the greatest comic writer after Wodehouse.  They could not have been more right.

R.I.P Douglas Adams. You make me want to read books over and over again. You make me want to be a writer who writes for himself, and not the publisher.

If you have lived on another planet, and have not read a HHGTTG – do so now! It is mostly harmless, but really really funny.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

The honesty with which this book is written tends to linger with you for a long time. While Wodehouse and Adams create imaginary worlds with their words, Sedaris talks pretty funny about his own upbringing and efforts to live in France.  Very few can do self-depreciating humor like Sedaris can.
If you are looking for some warm laughs, this one will not disappoint. David Sedaris writes pretty funny.

 Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man by Tim Allen

There is something earnest and innocent about Tim Allen’s eyes that makes one want to hug him.  With that lost and glazed look, he reminds you of the neighborhood drug dealer.

Not surprising, because he was a drug dealer. 

What a comeback this man’s life has been!  And Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man is his own funny story. Hugely successful, the book on its release slammed to the top the bestseller’s list, making him perhaps the only person ever to have the highest grossing film ( The Santa Claus),  the highest rated Television series (Home Improvement) and the bestselling book out in the market at the same time.

The book is written from the heart and that is why I love it. Also, if there ever was a book title which gave great advice, then Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man is the one.

 Any Dave Barry Book

I insert any Dave Barry book to round off my list because it is so hard to say what his books are about or remember the titles of his individual works.  Dave Barry is like an automatic gag generator, some make you laugh while the remaining make you laugh harder.

He writes and writes, often repeats jokes, bends to the slapstick (Bends to the slapstick will make a great name for a rock band), yet always brings a smile to your face.

It does not matter which Dave Barry book you read, it will be funny.

Do drop me a line about your favorite funny books. 

Gaurav Parab is the author of The Sacrifice of Every Bait. He is currently looking for publishers for his second book.  You can visit Gaurav Parab Says, or Join his Facebook page.


Vaibhav Mathur said...

Oh very true. One's taste in music and literature keeps on changing, not by the years, but by mere hours. For instance, a couple of months ago, I had written a similar entry about my favorite music -> (

However, if I look at it now, I can easily replace some of the songs there. Everything depends on the mood you are currently in. For instance, I love listening to Beatles in the morning. I hate them in the evening. I now know that making a fave list is ridiculous, as 5 years from now, most of the items on that list wont feature there.

Manjusha said...

I've not ready any on this list! which is a good thing, actually - I can start now :)

I loved 'The Complete Yes Minister' it was brilliant! Based on the BBC series of the same name.

Anonymous said...

I congratulate, your idea is magnificent

sourabh gupta said...

Nice article.
Also the short stories by H.H Munro(Saki) are immortal. You can read then in the next century and it will still bring a smile to your face.