Let’s face it: Sometimes you really need to get away. Between the economy, the war, and nightly news filled with spills of who knows what, it’s a good idea to take a break every now and then and actually laugh. That’s where these novels come in. They’re drawn from different genres, eras, and even continents, but they’re all pretty much guaranteed to give you a good laugh and help you ignore your troubles for a while, whether you’re a college student or beleaguered member of the rat race. So sit back, put your feet up, and pull one of these off the shelf. You won’t regret it.
Classics New and Old
This sampling of stories from past centuries to present day is a good way to get your feet wet with comic novels.
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller: One of the all-time classic war satires. The novel is quick-witted, rapidly paced, and strikes the perfect balance between freewheeling and madcap. Plus its title entered the cultural lexicon.
- A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole: Ignatius J. Reilly is one of the classic heroes of 20th century literary humor, and this energetic novel has become beloved by many since its 1980 publication. Tragically, the author committed suicide in 1969, depriving readers of his unique voice.
- Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon: Michael Chabon’s sophomore novel is a fantastically realized comedy about an aging literary professor struggling to complete a magnum opus getting longer by the day. Hilarious story, realistic characters.
- Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut: Kurt Vonnegut is a powerhouse of invention and satire, and this darkly comic look at 20th century America is one of his best.
- Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes: This classic comedy (or tragicomedy) is one of the forerunners of the modern novel, and its heroic, loony knight has captivated and entertained readers for centuries.
- Letters From the Earth, Mark Twain: Mark Twain’s hilarious, scathing skewering of American culture is just as true today as it was when he wrote it. The book was published posthumously in 1962 and is well worth seeking out.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Hunter S. Thompson: A novel based on the author’s own drug-fueled adventures, Fear and Loathing was a highpoint for Thompson, who changed the face of journalism and storytelling with his wild narratives.
- V., Thomas Pynchon: A hilarious, challenging book from one of the sharpest minds of the 20th century. Definitely worth checking out.
- Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis: Patrick Dennis used his childhood as inspiration for this comedic gem about a young boy growing up in the care of his eccentric aunt.
Science-fiction and Fantasy
These genre-based tales spoof the darker, denser fantasy works that came before.
- The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett: Terry Pratchett’s sprawling Discworld series started with this novel about a talentless wizard and his various misadventures.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams: One of the most enduring, endearing entries in the genre, with a sense of humor that inspired countless geeks to keep reading. Not to be missed.
- Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, Author: A wry, hilarious supernatural novel that unites Terry Pratchett with comic book author Neil Gaiman.
- Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman: A sharply observed look at what modern superheroes would be like in the real world. Think “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”
- Playing for Keeps, Mur Lafferty: Another heroes-are-real story, this one about how lower rated superheroes band together to save the day.
Fractured Love Stories
These novels offer hilarious takes on the pitfalls of modern relationships.
- Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding: A modern classic in the “chick lit” field and the inspiration for a movie series, this warm comic novel offers sharp takes on dating and love.
- High Fidelity, Nick Hornby: Nick Hornby writes about men like no one else, and his tale of a music-obsessed record store owner trying to sort out his romantic troubles is one of the author’s best.
- Was It Something I Said?, Valerie Block: Valerie Block’s debut novel is an entertaining and accurate look at what it means to be single in New York, with all the ups and downs that come with it.
- This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper: By turns outrageous and poignant, this comic novel from Jonathan Tropper explores the meaning of family in wonderful ways.
From families to sports to American history, these novels are uproarious tales rooted in our world.
- Big Trouble, Dave Barry: Dave Barry isn’t just a humor columnist, but a gifted comic novelist, as Big Trouble proves with ease. His debut novel is a frothy mix of humor and crime.
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers: Dave Eggers’ autobiographical novel deals with sad topics (death, depression) in hilarious and hopeful ways.
- Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley: The basis for the movie of the same name, Christopher Buckley’s novel about a PR man for a tobacco company is a riotous look at consumer culture.
- The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, Christopher Moore: Christopher Moore’s comedies have spanned multiple genres, but this satire of small-town life in the holiday season is truly inspired. Mixing supernatural elements with everyday people, Moore’s novel is another hilarious, fun ride.
- Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris: The first novel from Joshua Ferris is a funny, true-to-life look at post-millennium twentysomethings trying to make sense of their lives. A great read, especially for those who remember the dot-com burst of 2001.
- Changing Places, David Lodge: A witty novel for anyone who’s ever dealt with the bureaucracy and insanity of higher education.
- Putting on the Ritz, Joe Keenan: Joe Keenan was a writer and producer for “Frasier,” and his novel reflects some of that show’s sensibilities: high class, farcical, and outright hilarious.
- Missing Links, Rick Reilly: Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly expands into fiction with this humorous account of four buddies determined to get in a round at an exclusive golf course.
- Semi-Tough, Dan Jenkins: Considered one of the best sports novels ever made, Dan Jenkins’ raunchy, rollicking Semi-Tough takes the reader into the lives of some of the most colorful characters ever to play pro football.
- The Cockroach Basketball League, Charley Rosen: A spot-on satire of life in the basketball world, both on and off the court.
- The Rounders, Max Evans: Max Evans’ comedic Western novel remains one of the best there is.
- Mike Nelson’s Death Rat!, Michael J. Nelson: The former host of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” turns his love of all things shlocky into a winning comedic romp that spoofs everything from the literary world to pop music superstars.
Often dry and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, these books from across the pond deal find humor in universal topics.
- The Liar, Stephen Fry: Stephen Fry, one of the best British comics working today, crafts a winning tale with unique characters in this mash-up of spy story and love affair.
- The Gun Seller, Hugh Laurie: Another British funnyman and the frequent partner of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie is likely best known to U.S. audiences for his work on Fox’s “House.” His debut novel is a fantastic send-up of classic British spy novels.
- Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis: This satire of British life after World War II remains as sharp as ever.
- Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, Mil Millington: Another of the many debut novels to make the list, this novel follows a hapless narrator who can’t help but bicker with his girlfriend about, well, everything.
- The Old Limey, H.W. Crocker III: A retired British general finds himself swept up in a surreal world involving drug dealers and kidnapping. A great marriage of comic style with classic suspense elements.
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne: This 18th century novel is a hallmark in literary experimentation and subtle humor.
- Leave It To Psmith, P.G. Wodehouse: One of the great novels from Wodehouse, this book follows Psmith (the “P” is silent) as he quits the fishing business and hires himself out for a variety of tasks.
- Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse: Billy Liar uses his sense of fantasy to escape his ordinary family life in this riveting comic tale.
- My Uncle Oswald, Roald Dahl: One of Dahl’s few novels for adults, this ribald but lighthearted book involves a plot to seduce famous men and sell their semen to women who want to bear children by them. (Told you it wasn’t for kids.)
Coming of Age
Growing up can really suck. Fortunately, these authors know how to find the funny side of being a teen.
- Crossing California, Adam Langer: Adam Langer’s lengthy but engaging novel follows a group of teens, including some younger kids, as they come of age in Chicago in the late 1970s.
- King Dork, Frank Portman: Frank Portman’s mystery- and angst-filled novel is so accurate it will give you flashbacks to the horrors of high school. The main character attempts to learn more about his deceased father while dealing with school bullies and an increasingly confusing love life.
- Youth in Revolt, C.D. Payne: Told through a series of journal entries by its main character, this cult classic finds its young protagonist going to great lengths just to have sex.
- Feed, M.T. Anderson: M.T. Anderson’s futuristic young adult novel skewers modern culture by imagining world in which we’re all run by the chips in our heads. Funny and chilling at the same time.
- Election, Tom Perotta: This scathing, hilarious look at high school politics was later turned into a fantastic film with Reese Witherspoon.
Mystery and Adventure
These tightly woven tales still manage to find room for quick wit.
- Fletch, Gregory Mcdonald: The popular film series with Chevy Chase doesn’t bear much resemblance to Gregory Mcdonald’s books, which traffic in a darker sense of humor. Worth checking out for fans of smart thrillers.
- Lucky You, Carl Hiaasen: One of Carl Hiaasen’s best, this book follows a high-stakes plot involving lottery tickets, criminal scams, and plenty of lowlife characters.
- One for the Money, Janet Evanovich: This is the first in Evanovich’s long-running and highly successful series of comic mysteries starring Stephanie Plum. If you’re a fan of witty narratives and compelling mysteries, do yourself a favor and check this one out.
- The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde: Jasper Fforde’s playful twists on literary classics kicks off with The Eyre Affair, a humorous tale set in a world where books are living things and their characters as real as you and me.
- Sunset and Sawdust, Joe R. Lansdale: Lansdale’s novel mixes noir elements, country flair, and high comedy for a one-of-a-kind read.
- What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, Donald E. Westlake: Bearing almost no resemblance to the awful movie it inspired, Donald Westlake’s novel follows the battle of wits between a master criminal and the millionaire who pushed him too far.