What to Read When You Just Want to Laugh
Unfortunately, both everything and nothing is funny right now.
We’re navigating a new normal and not supposed let our eyes roll back into our brains every time someone earnestly says the words “new normal.” We’re responding to emails hoping to find us “well” in these “strange and uncertain times” while acting like we haven’t been wearing the same pair of pajama pants for the past three weeks. It’s hard not to feel everything, all at once, all the time.
But sometimes you just want to laugh. Or smile quietly to yourself. Or do one of those appreciatory blow-air-out-of-your-nose-but-not-really-laugh laughs. I’m a firm believer in having dessert. You’ve probably been inundated with emotional vegetables—reading scary, sad statistics or trying not to let your blood pressure rise every time you get a New York Times alert. You deserve something sweet, some candy, something silly and stupid, or silly and smart. You deserve some delicious, much-needed levity.
Here are thirteen books that are my literary cake. (They’re best enjoyed with actual cake.)
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
If you have yet to be indoctrinated into the Church of Samantha Irby, get the fuck on your knees and start worshiping, babe. We’ve got good snacks, existential dread, and lots of thoughts on reality television. Irby’s latest collection of essays focuses on the ins and outs of her life, which include: not wanting to go out, everyday things that are as good as sex, and writing for goddamn television. Samantha Irby has the range.
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but R. Eric Thomas’s debut essay collection Here For It is as yummy as its strawberry-ice-cream pink cover design suggests. Thomas writes about crafting wry political takes with the meticulousness of someone writing political doctrine. After you devour his book, you can overindulge on his humor column for ELLE.com.
That’s Mental: Painfully Funny Things That Drive Me Crazy about Being Mentally Ill by Amanda Rosenberg
I first fell in love with Amanda Rosenberg’s writing on Twitter. This is very millennial of me and yes, you should clap. Her takes on HBO’s Succession are poetry to me and her honest book promo video should be taught in advertising school. That’s Mental is a collection of funny essays about Rosenberg’s experience with mental health, bipolar II, and all the myths and misconceptions that come along with them. Her essay “Good Will Hunting Your Therapist” is the most accurate depiction of therapy I’ve ever read. Unless you, reading this, are my therapist. In which case, you’re perfect and good, Dr. N, and I’m one hundo percent fixed!
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
I bought this book for my sister for Christmas because she is good and deserves good things. I don’t know if you’re as good as my sister, but I’m sure you deserve good things, too. Jenny Slate’s collection of Little Weirds consists of essays on everything from strange dreams about sandwiches to small boys asking their big dogs to please “sit?” on a skateboard. It is, in a word, lovely.
Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance: Pick Your Plot, Meet Your Man, and Create the Holiday Love Story of a Lifetime by Riane Konc
Before you mention it isn’t even remotely the holiday season, let me remind you that we no longer abide by the rules of “time.” Monday means nothing. “May” is both always and never. If there’s ever been a time to experience a holiday romance choose-your-own-adventure-style, it’s now. Konc takes an already-funny concept and makes it so stupidly fun you’ll momentarily forget that you are not actually the business-y businesswoman protagonist looking for love in, get this, her small hometown.
Science… for Her!: A Politically, Scientifically, and Anatomically Incorrect Textbook Beautifully Tailored for the Female Brain by Megan Amram
Finally, some science my loopy lil lady brain can understand! In addition to Amram writing for every show you’ve fallen in love with in the past several years (Parks and Rec and The Good Place, to name two), she’s written a satirical guide to all things science—from how you can lose weight by going to Venus to building a biological clock using a potato. As a taste of the tone of Amram’s writing, one section of the book begins, “Hey Ladies!” with seven exclamation points. I counted them myself! I am a woman in STEM and a living testimonial to Amram’s work.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
If you fell in love with Devi in Netflix series Never Have I Ever, co-created by Kaling, you’ll recognize the same uncomfortable yet confident voice in Kaling’s debut essay collection. Kaling is the voice narrating our internal lives… if our internal narrator was extremely funny.
Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano, illustrated by Arturo Torres
Serrano’s book answers all the pop culture questions you’ve ever asked, like “Which movies would be better with The Rock in them?” (answer: most) and “When was Diane Keaton the most charming in Something’s Gotta Give?” (answer: anytime she had bangs and a turtleneck). It’s like if your late-night, post-Netflix Google searches were made more coherent, actually answered, and turned into a book.
How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having It All—and Then Some! by Reductress editors Beth Newell, Anna Drezen, and Sarah Pappalardo
Reductress is probably responsible for every funny headline you’ve liked on your Twitter feed in the last seven years. The editors for the popular satirical women’s website take on the super-simple topic of feminism in this guidebook, teaching us the important parts of gender equality like, “How to Love Your Body Even Though Hers Is Better,” and answering tough questions like, “What is feminism and why am I that now?”
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Listening to Phoebe Robinson talk about Bono is as close to listening to U2 as I will ever get. Robinson’s essay collection covers everything from crushes to pop culture to funny criticism of our current sociopolitical culture. My personal favorite is titled “Casting Calls for People of Color That Were Not Written by People of Color.”
The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers by Loren Bouchard and the writers of Bob’s Burgers
Bob’s Burgers was the first antidepressant I ever took. It is the exact blend of silly and sincere, stupid and genius, that my dumb and gorgeous brain craves. Even if you don’t watch the show—that’s a bad choice and you’re wrong for it but I forgive you—you’ll enjoy this cookbook filled with bad puns and good burger recipes. I mean, they’ve got a “Sit and Spinach Burger” recipe. What more could you need?!
Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
I would absolutely let Ali Wong tell me how to wipe my own ass. She is above the law. Or, at the very least, she is the law. Let Dear Girls teach you how to pick which Asian restaurants to eat at, what to look for in a husband, and how to be a bomb-ass person. The book is structured as a series of letters to her daughters and, in reading it, I do consider myself to now be one of her daughters. I love you, Mom.
The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! by Mo Willems
How dare a children’s book be funnier than anything I will every write in my entire life? Are there a total of, like, fifty words in this book? Yes. Are they all perfect? Yes. It’s a board book about a pigeon who has FEELINGS and isn’t afraid to EXPRESS THEM. I could pretend that my inclusion of this book is about how the things we find funny as kids are sometimes the most pure or how childhood naivety is perhaps the only good thing left in the world. But, in truth, I included this because of the way my three-year-old niece says, “Do I get on your bus and tell you how to drive?!” Just thinking about it makes my heart go “owie” in a good way.
And to close out this wonderful list, we just had to include Mia’s debut essay collection, Weird But Normal, out now from HarperOne! – Ed.
Weird But Normal: Essays by Mia Mercado
Navigating racial identity, gender roles, workplace dynamics, and beauty standards, Mia Mercado’s hilarious essay collection explores the contradictions of being a millennial woman, which usually means being kind of a weirdo. Whether it’s spending thirty dollars on a candle that smells like an ocean that doesn’t exist, offering advice on how to ask about someone’s race (spoiler: just don’t, please?), quitting a job that makes you need shots of whiskey on your lunch break, or finding a more religious experience in the skincare aisle at Target than your hometown Catholic church, Mia brilliantly unpacks what it means to be a professional, absurdly beautiful, horny, cute, gross human.