Writing a funny book has to be one of the most difficult tasks a person can undertake. Maybe it’s just me, but when was the last time that a book made you laugh out loud? (I’m talking about a book that intended to make you laugh; I laughed while reading a few books lately that weren’t at all meant to be funny.)
There are a few writers out there that make me smile when I read them (David Sedaris comes to mind), but so few that I’m going to stop here with a list of one.
There are shelves of humor books, comedians publishing “hilarious” memoirs every month. I’ve thumbed through a few; they make me grimace.
What’s wrong with me? Am I humorless?
This time of year, I’m so desperate to be amused, I laugh at squirrel antics on the bird feeder. I want to laugh. I want to laugh until my sides hurt and my eyes are leaking and I can’t breathe. Is there no printed balm for this longing?
For my 50th, I was given a funny book about tuning 50. You can tell it was meant to be funny because it had a photo of a giant pair of pink “granny panties” on the front cover.
Hah hah hah.
Nope. Not funny.
What was funny was I took it along with me on our winter visit to see family, where we got sick and found ourselves upchucking all night long into the hotel waste baskets. Hilarious!
So after 12 hours of that, I’m lying in bed and exhausted and looking for any small thing that might brighten the day. I reach for that pink-pantsed book. The author was really trying to make me laugh, and the more she did her verbal backflips and nudge-nudge wink-winks, the more I despised her. (Yes, Monty Python makes me laugh, as does Blackadder.)
I ended up watching Grease on TV, which wasn’t particularly funny, but it did take my mind off things.
I left that book at a rest area somewhere on the New York thruway, near the vending machines. (Picturing that almost makes me laugh.) Good luck, book. I hope you make someone else cry tears of laughter.
And so I figured my days of laughing at books were over, until M set down a stack of old Lynda Barry comic books on the table next to me. Old friends. I opened the cover of one tentatively, worrying that I’d grown immune to their charms.
No way, no how.
A few pages in and I was laughing. The out loud kind of laughing. The kind of laughing where you stop just long enough to read the line out loud to someone else so they can laugh, too.
For instance, in the very first comic of The Fun House, we meet Miss Bevens, the substitute teacher who has “fake teeth that flipped around.” Okay, that’s kinda funny, but then…”Everyone got at least minus 8 on that math test.”
Yes! That’s funny. I’m laughing even as I type it. Even after rereading it about 12 times. It’s not even the picture that makes me laugh. It’s the phrasing. The image. How could you not be distracted from your math test with that spectacle going on?
Or how about poor Marcie, just a “regular girl with a regular amount of friends.” Again, it’s that perfect phrasing.
And you know those times when you have “hobo feelings”?
Lynda Barry just has that ear. She channels childhood so well I’m always surprised when I remember she’s a grownup. She blows the dust off of memories that I thought were long gone (late nights running the neighborhood, suffering bad substitute teachers, enduring film strips, feeling full of pride over a bicycle with a banana seat and streamers). Her memories aren’t identical to mine, but they’re so close in feeling that they pluck strings that make me laugh in recognition.
She’s not just funny. She’s got a great handle on childhood terror, worry, and wistful nostalgia. Some awful things happen to kids. And some very mundane things. She captures it all with pointed detail. The “ganged up” desks, the comfort of a classroom in the middle of the storm when you’re working on a project, the record player playing hat one “art period song”… Oh, art period! 50 minutes when you were forced to play with clay.
And that’s what makes the funny all that more funny. It can’t be laughs all the time. But every now and then it can be perfect. So perfect you can’t even blink.
Our books for this month:
- H ~ Spinster, by Kate Bolick
- M ~ The Great Leader, by Jim Harrison
- R ~ The Fun House, Down the Street, Come Over Come Over, It’s So Magic, My Perfect Life, and The Freddie Stories, by Lynda Barry
So… did you read something laugh-out-loud funny? Something you can recommend to this ol’ grinch? Please do tell!
The category for the coming month is:
A mystery or thriller
We’ll reveal the next category somewhere around February 13.
This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category in the middle of next month.