BY Simcha Fisher
| Posted 5/18/12 at 6:00 AM
Gosh, I'm ready for some light reading. The books stacked up on the baby bed (why not? The baby doesn't sleep there. The baby doesn't sleep at all!) are all great, but they are not exactly a laugh riot. I finished Kristin Lavransdatter, and then Love in the Ruins, and am still muscling my way through The Brothers Karamazov (and I'll be darned if Ivan hasn't grown on me tremendously since last time!). Okay, Love in the Ruins was breathtakingly funny, but in a way that makes you want to go live in a cave in Tennessee. Oh, I also read some dumb thing I picked up at the library. Everybody died, the women were all tragically misunderstood and abused, and all the men realized what brutes they had been, or else they were such brutes, they didn't even realize it, the end. Sheesh.
I was thinking back over books that I read with sheer delight from start to finish -- specifically, books that made me actually laugh out loud (or try to stifle giggles while my husband was trying to sleep). Here's are my recommendations if you just want to enjoy yourself and have a good laugh while you read:
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis' first novel. I haven't read it for several years, but I do recall the way my head almost fell off, I was laughing so hard. There is this scene where the poor guy has been roped into some recreational madrigal singing at a party with his drippy and pretentious woman he's accidentally started dating, and he realizes in horror that he has a solo for a few bars -- which reveals to the whole crowd that he doesn't actually know how to read music, and has just been sort of energetically flapping his lips in what he hopes is a convincingly musical way. Comeuppances are suffered, there is lots of dry British humor, plus a killer scene where he has to give a speech about something he doesn't know anything about, and realizes too late that he's incredibly drunk, and can't stop doing insulting impressions of people who can and will ruin his life. I don't recall that the themes of the book were especially edifying, but it sure was entertaining.
Scoop. Looka here -- an Evelyn Waugh novel with a happy ending! More or less. It's a satire of modern journalism -- written in 1938, come fully true in 2012. The journalists make up news about war to keep their editors happy, the parties in question read the newspapers, and fighting obligingly breaks out, as described. A young, naive nature writer is accidentally sent to cover the civil war in the fictional country of Ishmaelia, where he accidentally does very well for himself, for a time. This is where Tina Brown, by the way, got the name The Daily Beast. It's a newspaper headed by Lord Copper, a figure so terrifying that no one can bring himself to contradict him. If he says something true, they say, "Definitely, Lord Copper!" If he says something ridiculously false, they respond, "Up to a point, Lord Copper" This is the same tactic we use with our three-year-old daughter.
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald. One of my favorite memoirs. A lovestruck newlywed follows her husband to the largely unspoiled wilderness of Washington State, where they carve out a homestead and raise chickens, with backbreaking labor from dawn till dusk and beyond. You end up wanting to clobber her husband, but the story is completely engrossing. I guess I have a soft spot for someone who spends so much time just complaining about things -- but oh man, what great stories, what crazy characters. (NB: She portrays native Americans in a way that many readers today will not be able to tolerate.)
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. This may be the weirdest book I've ever read. I think it's a satire of literary styles that hardly anyone reads anymore, but that just adds to its bizarre charm. The movie was okay, but didn't come close to capturing the heroic levels of insanity that the author so drily describes. I feel like I've met all the characters before: the smoldering, rakish Seth, his tortured, brooding mother Judith, the waifish Elfine who has to learn to stop darting around the woodlands reading second-rate poetry, and the infuriating Mr. Mybug, a prototype for today's pseudo-intellectual hipster. And there are these cows called Aimless, Feckless, and Graceless, who occasionally lose a horn or a foot. Things aren't going well at Cold Comfort Farm, until practical Flora comes and straightens out everybody's lives -- even that of Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed. Pure entertainment.
The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy, illustrated by William Steig. This book is so good, I was sure it would be out of print, but no! Will Cuppy tells history the way most of us remember it: full of weirdos and facts that don't add up. Apparently his research was actually painfully intense, but he distills history (from Cleopatra to Attila the Hun to Henry VIII) into perfect little gems of comedy, with his characteristic undertone of baffled melancholy. The illustrations are a riot.
Sad to say, I don't have copies of any of these books today. What can you recommend to make me laugh?
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