Literary Humor


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Literary Humor

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Giu 6, 2007, 12:23pm

Inspired by a posting in the general message board. So much of what is considered serious literary fiction is, well, really serious. And often a little depressing to boot. So what are some of your favorite high-art-MFA-approved-probably-lives-in-NYC-and-has-written-a-book-about-it authors that actually make you laugh? Or just any highly regarded author that doesn't get credit for being funny?

Personal picks: John Barth is way up on my list. David Foster Wallace is some fierce kind of hilarious. Barthelme is always good for a chuckle. And I don't know about you, but I sometimes get the feeling thatSinclair Lewis had a sly, bemused smile on his face whenever he wrote (when he wasn't foaming at the mouth with rage, that is).

Modificato: Giu 8, 2007, 12:54pm

It's tough for me to narrow this one down, since I can barely abide most authors who aren't at least a little funny. Here's a sort of skimming-my-author-cloud list of the funnier literary (including drama) types. Stars for bonus funny points:

Julian Barnes
Donald Barthelme* (my favoritest)
John Barth (Sadly, Barth is also responsible for some of The Worst Books Ever Written. These are not funny. They are cruel.)
Georg Buchner
Samuel Beckett
Ambrose Bierce*
Scott Bradfield
Richard Brautigan (probably more funny than literary)
Italo Calvino
Lewis Carroll (obviously; should this even count?)
Christopher Durang*
Gustave Flaubert (not so much with the Madame Bovary thing, though)
Stephen Fry (another with arguable literary cred, I suppose)
Nikolai Gogol
Eugene Ionesco
Franz Kafka
Stanislaw Lem*
Mark Leyner*
Vladimir Nabokov
Thomas Pynchon
Tom Stoppard*
John Kennedy Toole
Mark Twain
Kurt Vonnegut
David Foster Wallace

Giu 8, 2007, 4:55pm

I love you. I mean, nice selection, johnascott! Went on a Barthathon when I was about 18 ... him and Anthony Burgess. Both were variable in their writing; some amazing stuff and some dreck. And Aristophanes made diet pepsi come out my nose.

Lug 13, 2007, 11:51pm

Anthony Burgess's The Wanting Seed is actually a pretty funny book.

Gore Vidal's Live from Golgotha is pretty good, too.

Modificato: Lug 14, 2007, 12:18am

I'm a tough audience for humor. A smile is good; a grin is high praise. Actually laughing out loud is rare.

Many of Dave Barry's columns and books.

Mark Twain. A lot of Mark Twain. Letters from the Earth. Parts of The Innocents Abroad. The essays on Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, and many other essays. The Jumping Frog: In English, Then in French, Then Clawed Back into Civilized Language by Unrenumerated Toil.

Sellar & Yeats 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England

Some of William McGonagall's Poetic Gems.

Edited: Oops. Forgot I was supposed to be sticking to serious literary fiction. Sorry.

Nov 6, 2007, 12:19am

I'm at a loss to mention particular short stories by name, but T.C. Boyle has plenty of wonderful laughs in his collection of amazing prose.

Ago 27, 2009, 11:08pm

I have to offer Herman Melville in Moby-Dick and any Franz Kafka.

Ago 29, 2009, 12:30pm

Random additions: Peter De Vries and William Makepeace Thackeray

Ago 30, 2009, 2:18pm

Has anyone on the board attempted The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman?

I have not, but I'd like to.

Ago 30, 2009, 4:12pm

9>I bought a copy right after the movie came out...and it's still on my shelves collecting dust. Sigh. I'm about to be out of work for a spell, and I hope to use the time to catch up on some of the fatter books I own.

Right now I'm halfway through Neighbors by Thomas Berger.

Ago 30, 2009, 8:51pm

Fyodor Dostoevsky knew how to put together a comic scene. The last chapter of Part I of Demons is as finely constructed as a Mozart/Da Ponte finale.

But for sheer hilarity, you can't beat Samuel Beckett. There are at least three extended scenes in Watt that will challenge anyone's bladder control.

Modificato: Set 2, 2009, 4:18am

Voltaire and Jane Austen to state the obvious.....And since Carl Hiassen is being taught in high school English classes, now, maybe he should be included-pretty sharp satire.....

Gen 6, 2010, 11:43pm

Would you consider Piet Hein's Grooks "literary"?

Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book contains much I find humorous.

GregT, Tristam Shandy delighted me for the various plot novelties (chapters that are not, wandering plots) as found in Murasaki Shikibu's Tales of Genji and Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel -- that is there is something humorous about finding the post-modern pre. There is indeed much humor in the book which is overall very sweet, but, like Joyce, I would think most of the allusions and whatnot are beyond most modern readers.

And, hey, what about Chaucer, you guys?

Gen 13, 2010, 12:47pm

Just finished First Light by Peter Ackroyd which was quite humorous though creepy and dark. Ackroyd's a serious historian, but has written some very wry and amusing stuff; he is very adept with the subtle humor of the British.

Oh, and speaking of, what about Saki? I've heard his satire is brutal.

Gen 13, 2010, 12:55pm

Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row still make me laugh after numerous readings. So many people think he's constantly miserable (and he does do a nice line in unremitting misery, it's true) but his humour is also amazing.

Gen 14, 2010, 9:33am

Booksloth, since you start with Steinbeck, I must add his long introduction to a book I scouted and later helped get translated into Japanese, The Log of the Sea of Cortez which is basically a biography of a phenomenal character, biologist Ed Ricketts, the half-goat half-saint, man so tough it would take a train to kill him (which, of course, is what . . .).