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Required Reading: 25 Great Comic Novels

It's spring! The sun is shining. The flowers are in bloom. We're in a good mood. So for our latest round of Required Reading, we lined up our 25 favorite funny novels. Whether biting, riotous, savage, or slapstick, each of these books consistently makes us laugh.

÷ ÷ ÷

The Stupidest Angel
by Christopher Moore
Christopher Moore is one of the most reliably funny writers around, but this is one of the few books I've ever reread. Moore merges some disparate threads from earlier novels (the angel Raziel from Lamb, Pine Cove from The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove) and produces a laugh-out-loud funny Christmas parody, complete with zombies. Definitely a must-read!
Tom L.
Vile Bodies
by Evelyn Waugh
The great thing about Evelyn Waugh is that the humor of his novels transcends their era. You don't have to know anything about English society of the 1920s to be entertained by Vile Bodies because Waugh's style relies on fundamentally silly characters, wry dialogue, piercing intelligence, and manic energy more than on contemporary culture, events, and figures. Witty, irreverent, and hysterical — Vile Bodies is Waugh at the height of his satirical talents.
Gary L.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
This is the book that reveals the answer to life, the universe, and everything; teaches the importance of knowing where your towel is; tells why it is vitally important to get a receipt when you visit the lavatory on the planet Bethselamin; and disproves the existence of God by proving he exists (with the help of a fish). It is filled with sentences like, "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't." It is the perfect book if you want to startle everyone around you by constantly breaking out in uncontrollable laughter.
Doug B.
Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons
No one is safe in Stella Gibbon's archly comic gem, as fashionable London fops and wild and wooly country cousins collide and are satirized in equal measure when modern, bright, and charming Flora goes to stay with her farm-dwelling relatives after the death of her parents, and determines to drag the backwards crew into the 20th century. Put Jane Austen's Emma in the guise of one of Waugh's Bright Young Things and send her traipsing blithely into the realm of the Brontës (complete with a madwoman upstairs), and you have some idea of the hijinks that ensue in this send-up of the English pastoral novel, still bracingly hilarious 80-plus years after it was first published.
Patrick D.
A Fraction of the Whole
by Steve Toltz
A Fraction of the Whole is brilliant. It's hysterically funny yet profound. Themes of philosophy and literature, life and love, madness and creativity abound. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of Toltz's debut novel. Perfectly absorbing with richly developed characters and depth.
Breakfast of Champions
by Kurt Vonnegut
According to Kurt Vonnegut, "The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable." In one hilarious, heart-wrenching, absurdist, wildly imaginative novel after another he did just that for countless readers, making life a little more bearable — not to mention a lot more fun! Breakfast of Champions may be my favorite simply because it was my introduction to Vonnegut's weird way with a story. But in his off-kilter, savagely funny approach he digs down and reveals something much deeper and more human. I come back to it every few years — and love it every time.
Lightning Rods
by Helen DeWitt
What if the answer to all of life's problems was as simple as... anonymous sex in bathrooms? DeWitt imagines a wild and satirical business world in which chronic sexual harassment, productivity, and time management issues are all solved by the dreams of a door-to-door salesman with an obsession with disembodied legs. You'll never look at spandex the same way again.
Jordan G.
A Complicated Kindness
by Miriam Toews
The wonderful thing about A Complicated Kindness is that, though it is deeply sad (and beautifully written), it is persistently hilarious. The savvy teenage narrator uses dark humor as a survival tactic, and she's full of wry insight and sardonic, deadpan descriptions that made me laugh even during the saddest scenes. In my experience, it's hard to find literature that honestly depicts suffering (and realistically flawed yet still lovable characters) without an overpowering sense of empty hopelessness. The pain in A Complicated Kindness is undercut by humor in an honest, authentic way that conveys a powerful sense of hope.
Suzanne G.
Auntie Mame
by Patrick Dennis
By the time they made the movie musical, the book had gone out of print. Which was a shame. The original novel, a true comic classic, really was the best of the lot. Not only are the comic descriptions hilarious, but when they made the many adaptations, they cut out all the best bits, which were too risqué for a '50s audience. Today, you won't have to hide it from your mother. But it's as funny as ever.
by Joseph Heller
Biting, black, bitter, and very, very funny, Catch-22 is the greatest war satire in the language and one of the greatest satires of the 20th century, period. If you haven't read it, lay in a case of bourbon and get reading.
The Color of Magic
by Terry Pratchett
The worst wizard in the world, a Tourist, and Luggage walk into a bar... The Color of Magic is the first novel in a long series by Terry Pratchett, set on a flat world that rides through space on the back of a giant turtle. Welcome to the Discworld! The wizard Rincewind is roped into playing tour guide for the Discworld's first Tourist, with some marginal success and a lot of danger. Readers will discover dysfunctional yet familiar characters, bizarre cities and cultures, and clever wordplay that will have you laughing with every page turn.
Kathleen C.
by Christopher Moore
I giggled a lot while reading Fool, Moore's take on King Lear. It's bawdy, silly, and smart. A perfect read for book nerds with a sense of humor.
Shannon B.
This Is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper
When Judd's father dies, he joins his family for a week to observe shivah. Meanwhile, in the face of his wife's affair and a divorce on his horizon, he discovers his wife is pregnant. This doesn't much sound like a funny book, but it truly is. Tropper has the amazing ability to write both poignantly and hilariously at the same time; he seems to be able to untangle, and capture, the pathos and levity in life.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
So much has been written about Twain's masterpiece, often cited as the greatest of all American novels. But never forget how bloody hilarious it is. As Huck and Jim make their way down the Mississippi, getting into mischief and mayhem, they not only paved the way for American literature but for all the tricksters that have animated the American imagination. Read it again and think of Bugs Bunny or Bart Simpson.
Wake Up, Sir!
by Jonathan Ames
This is one of the funniest novels I have ever read. The protagonist wins a lawsuit after breaking both elbows when he slipped on ice, and hires a butler named Jeeves. The novel starts with him deciding he needs to clean up and strike out on his own after living for a time with his aunt and uncle. The events that ensue are hilarious. This book does involve some sex and drugs, so if you're looking for a "clean" funny novel, this one might not be the best.
Lucky Jim
by Kingsley Amis
What is so funny about academia? Who knows! But so many great novelists have written hilarious novels that take place on a college campus, the academic satire has become its own genre. Richard Russo, Francine Prose, David Lodge, James Hynes... so many good ones! But the greatest of them all remains Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. If you haven't read it, get started. About as good a time as you can have with your nose in a book.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
Wickedly funny, Disreputable History is Frankie's tale of scandalizing her conservative boarding school by disrupting longstanding paradigms of gender, religion, and linguistics. A clever young adult novel, this book will connect with any reader who has felt "it's just the way things are" is unfair. Social change can be hard, but Frankie shows it can also be full of devilish pranks and pizazz.
Portnoy's Complaint
by Philip Roth
This book is sick in more ways than one and for all the right reasons. Roth faced a hailstorm of publicity (both good and bad) after the publication of this sexual novel that still holds up well on the cringe factor. I sometimes feel guilty laughing at this book, but not enough to stop me from multiple rereads.
Jeff J.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
by Christopher Healy
This off-the-wall story about the four Princes Charming who form the League of Heroes to save the kingdoms — with their princesses in tow — will make you laugh until you cry. Full of adventure, thrills, and surprisingly touching moments, this is the perfect story for any wannabe hero.
Erin D.
Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry
by B. S. Johnson
The experimental British novelist actually manages to make accounting and mass murder absolutely hilarious in this story of a young man who decides to apply the principles of double-entry bookkeeping to his private life. Each chapter actually ends with the reproduction of an accounting ledger notating the credits and debits of the protagonists' professional and private lives. Wild subjectivity ensues.
Jason C.
The Serpent of Venice
by Christopher Moore
William Shakespeare may have performed for royalty, but he wrote for the cheap seats. In The Serpent of Venice (the sequel to Fool), Christopher Moore once again follows in the Bard's bawdy footsteps. The Serpent of Venice finds Pocket (a lewd and vengeful fellow) caught up in someone else's plot in Othello's vengeful Venice. He loves, he lusts, and he is loquacious! He is joined by Drool, the simple giant (who is a bit much for the ladies), Jeff the monkey, and a witty stick named Jones. Like all Shakespeare, there is murder most foul and treachery balanced with a good bit of healthy shagging and sea monsters. Like all Christopher Moore, there is a good bit of cussing and sea-monster shagging.
Mama Leone
by Miljenko Jergovic
Honest, heartfelt, and an incredibly compassionate family story. Most anyone could relate to or, even better, find bits of one's own childhood hidden between the always-clever and endlessly funny lines. Mama Leone reads like a big bowl of warm, juicy cherries on a hot summer's day, with an obligatory grasshopper hiding on the bottom of that very bowl, waiting to hop on top of your nose when you least expect it. A delight.
Daniela C.
Handling Sin
by Michael Malone
Our hero, Raleigh Hayes, is a respectable insurance salesman whose fortune cookie just predicted he'll soon go completely to pieces. It might be right. His father just dodged the nurses and escaped in a Cadillac, with a teenage girl in tow. A wild road-trip adventure ensues as our hero, with an increasing carload of wacky, loveable characters, goes crashing through the South in pursuit.
Benjamin H.
William the Good
by Richmal Crompton
My father gave me the entire series to read one end-of-year vacation when I was 11. I devoured the books, often laughing so hard that my sides hurt and causing some consternation to others in the same room. William the Good is a really good entry into the series. While not easily available now, if you find a copy (especially the ones with the original artwork), read it.
Sheila N.
Pioneer, Go Home
by Richard Powell
Back when the Florida Keys Scenic Highway was being built, they piled up mounds of earth to support the roadbed. When a family of hillbillies accidentally discovers this brand-new unclaimed land, they decide to homestead. Needless to say, the Florida authorities are not happy. It's a classic, and hilarious, case of country bumpkin versus city slicker.
Kathy H.

More Required Reading:

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming...
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  2. Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Twentieth... Used Trade Paper $6.95
  3. A Fraction of the Whole
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  4. Vile Bodies Used Trade Paper $6.50
  5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    Used Mass Market $4.50
  6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  7. Lightning Rods
    Used Trade Paper $10.50
  8. Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade Used Trade Paper $6.50
  9. Catch-22
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  10. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom New Trade Paper $7.99
  11. Fool Used Trade Paper $8.00
  12. The Color of Magic: A Novel of Discworld New Mass Market $9.99
  13. This Is Where I Leave You
    Used Trade Paper $6.95
  14. The Disreputable History of Frankie...
    Used Trade Paper $4.50
  15. Portnoy's Complaint New Mass Market $14.00
  16. Pioneer, Go Home! New Trade Paper $15.95
  17. Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry
    New Trade Paper $14.95
  18. The Serpent of Venice
    New Hardcover $26.99
  19. Mama Leone Sale Trade Paper $7.98
  20. Wake Up, Sir!: A Novel Used Trade Paper $4.50
  21. Lucky Jim Sale Trade Paper $7.98
  22. Handling Sin
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  23. William the Good Used Trade Paper $5.00
  24. Breakfast of Champions
    Used Trade Paper $10.95

6 Responses to "Required Reading: 25 Great Comic Novels"

    Carlammm May 5th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Carl Hiaasen Writes laugh-out-loud Mysteries... and a new Author Michael Bunker's book "Hugh Howey Must Die" is awesome for belly laughs

    Brent May 6th, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Powell's lists are terrific but I would add a few in this case:

    Lord of the Barnyard, Tristan Egolf
    Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
    All Families are Psychotic, Douglas Coupland
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson

    BeWarne August 5th, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Really? No mention of "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome? I do not believe it has been out of print in well over 100 years.

    Hein August 20th, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Cooking With Fernet Branca, James Hamilton Patterson's 2005 novel published by Europa, changed my opinion of pleasure. It brought me back to loving literature after three years of grad school and one year of Proust.

    PGB August 21st, 2014 at 6:32 am

    No love for Jasper Fforde? The Thursday Next series is some of the best comic literature I've read. Fforde is the successor (in my mind) to Douglas Adams and PG Woodehouse.

    LaurenL October 20th, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Great list - add "The End of Vandalism" by Tom Drury to the mix. One of my favorite novels, and an extremely funny one to boot.

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