Show Me More Funny Books Please

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“But there is another issue, too: one for which you can’t blame publishers or booksellers. The thing about being funny is that it’s really hard.

“It’s a lot harder than being serious. It requires wit, grace, agility, sensitivity; it requires knowing how hard to push and when to stop on a dime.”

Another strong argument to be made for the importance of comic literature at The Times.

A lot of people who come into my store ask me for recommendations and frequently their specifics are extremely vague. All they know is they like “funny” but not “dark” or that they’re looking for “just a vacation” book, so nothing too heavy.

Mostly, they want something humorous. . . and I hesitate and perhaps for too long. They’ve already read Catch-22 — or we’re out of Jonathan Ames. Then I’m really stumped and I stand their flailing.

Yes, they’ve read David Sedaris but have never heard of Christopher Moore and honestly I haven’t read him so I can’t, in good faith recommend him.

If I can’t think of anything, I fall back on a book I read as an adolescent that I can’t say was exactly funny, but is considered a comic masterpiece nonetheless: A Confederacy Of Dunces.

But in general, I find it really difficult to think of comic literature that I have either read or that I think is that good.

Maybe it’s because I think that laughs don’t just come one right after another. Or at least intelligent laughter doesn’t follow in indefinite sequences of hilarity.  If it does, it strikes me as artificial, a put-on.  Real laughs are abutted by the tragic or occur in the midst of loss. Sometimes you laugh when you’re in agony. Other times you weep from hysterics.

In a sense, I find myself believing you can’t have strong humor without also a heavy doses of pain and death. This must mean I lean more to the darkly humorous? Not sure.

But it’s the same for me with erotica.  I don’t get many kicks out of an “erotic novel” of wall-to-wall sex when there are no other supporting dramas or emotions other than pure tantalization. When the sex isn’t rife with all of life’s other complexities, including humor and death, I find it just cookie-cutter and stale.

All that being said I’d like to read more comical books.  Maybe my tastes just veer too dark and odd? I mean, if I think Beckett is really funny, does that mean I’m a little sick?


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →