Contrary to popular belief (likely fueled by the amount of times I’ve said, “I just thought the ending was too happy,”) I actually can appreciate a light-hearted experience. A while back I brought to the table four books that will make you re-evaluate the breadth of your emotional scale; this time, we’re snorting in public. By no means a comprehensive list, here are four books that I distinctly remember laughing embarrassingly loud at:
I Was Told There Would Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
Six years before the apparent golden age of female essayists that we’re currently living where women like Roxane Gay and Lena Dunham dominate the creative non-fiction top-ten lists—literary publicist Sloane Crosley emerged with her 2008 book of essays, I Was Told There Would Be Cake. Crosley’s essays chronicle her mildly spoiled but well-intentioned lapsed Jewish New-Jersey-bordering-New-York existence, and while some of the pieces feel slightly unfinished or a little too insular, there are some that are insanely funny.
Her essay on working for an abusive publicist—and her own hare-brained schemes to force the woman to like her—and her second-person account of a get-together with a few old college friends (where something rather…unspeakable…happens) are particularly hysterical. Crosley is unapologetically clueless some moments, and wise beyond her years others. The end result is an honest, and truly funny piece of writing.
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
I first read High Fidelity in high-school, knowing the movie carried some cache with the vinyl-wielding boys who I was in love with (“It just like, sounds so much better, man.”) I’ve mostly grown out of a penchant for guys who spend copious amounts of time sorting through records they’ll never listen to, but haven’t yet grown out of loving High Fidelity. Though the novel’s narrator Rob is a bit of a stock character—mildly juvenile guy who’s really great at making mix-tapes but really bad at doing anything else a serious relationship might require—Hornby writes him with a lightness that makes him funny and likeable instead of irritating. Rob’s unabashedly egotistic pursuit to find himself vis-à-vis the women who have broken his heart manages to be captivating and comical.
However, some of the funniest passages are Rob’s interactions with his hilariously bizarre coworkers at the record store he works at. The juxtaposition of Dick (a sweet, but incredibly meek, nerd) and Barry (a ridiculous blowhard with a slightly misplaced pretension) makes for some laugh-out-loud material.
This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathon Tropper
The best match-up I can think of for Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You is Arrested Development meets The Family Stone. The plot is simple (dysfunctional family sits shiva when its stoic patriarch passes away) but Tropper’s writing is absolutely fantastic in its understatedness. Never trying to be something it’s not, This Is Where I Leave You feels consistently genuine. The comedy is easy, funny in spite of itself—natural. Even the darker moments are tinged with a nice sense of wry self-awareness.
The writing is sharp and the characters are well-drawn. With almost-tropes that appear in many dysfunctional family stories—the golden-child, flighty little brother, the distracted sister and her blowhard businessman husband, the mother desperate they all follow tradition—the novel could easily feel contrived. It’s not; Altman family members certainly have their bizarre, absurd quirks, but they never feel like caricatures, and that’s what gives the book comedic staying power.
Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison
This may discredit me completely as a serious and intelligent person who enjoys literature, but I don’t care. I have probably never laughed harder at a book than Louise Rennison’s irreverent YA novel, Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. The book follows awkward 14-year-old dreamer Georgia Nicolson as she navigates kissing boys with really big mouths, eyebrow maintenance, the perils of uncomfortable lingerie and a hopeless crush on an older boy who she lovingly refers to as “Robbie The Sex God.”
I reread the book semi-recently, and it’s just as hysterical now as it was when I first read it eight years ago. Georgia is relentlessly funny, with a mix of scathing sarcasm and unmistakable sincerity that renders her an incredibly endearing narrator. The book leans toward a female demographic, but is well-written enough that I don’t think it would completely alienate a male audience, since we all remember acutely what it’s like to be a teenager. Or perhaps, as Tina Fey once called out in the fantastic motion picture Baby Mama, “This one’s for the laaaaaaadieeeees!”