The best comic essay collections

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a champion of the essay form for some time, starting with my popular anthology Art of the Personal Essay and extending to my more recent trio of anthologies of the American essay. At the same time I have written four personal essay collections of my own, and I know I am really cooking when I can still laugh or at least smile at my jokes after the fifth or tenth reading of a piece I wrote. I have to admit that I can only appreciate writing (by myself or others) that is amusing or at least ironic, never solemn: to me the truth of existence is comic, like it or not.


I wrote...

Book cover of To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

What is my book about?

In this book, all the secrets of a lifetime of teaching nonfiction, especially the personal essay and the memoir, are shamelessly revealed. How do you turn yourself into a character, how do you end an essay, what is the role of imagination in a factual account, how do you write about childhood while maintaining an adult perspective, and so on. It’s a good place to start if you are contemplating any kind of autobiographical account and are temporarily overwhelmed by the sheer backlog of context and memory.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm

Phillip Lopate Why did I love this book?

I love Max, he always makes me laugh because he is so naughty and mischievous. He is utterly unafraid of going against the grain of social propriety, or admitting to his own selfish motives, jealousies, and contrariety. He has a wonderfully conversational style that engages the reader without pandering. (I should also admit that I wrote the introduction to this collection).

By Max Beerbohm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Prince of Minor Writers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

AN NYRB CLASSICS ORIGINAL
 
Virginia Woolf called Max Beerbohm “the prince” of essayists, F. W. Dupee praised his “whim of iron” and “cleverness amounting to genius,” while Beerbohm himself noted that “only the insane take themselves quite seriously.” From his precocious debut as a dandy in 1890s Oxford until he put his pen aside in the aftermath of World War II, Beerbohm was recognized as an incomparable observer of modern life and an essayist whose voice was always and only his own. Here Phillip Lopate, one of the finest essayists of our day, has selected the finest of Beerbohm’s essays.…


Book cover of The Most of Nora Ephron

Phillip Lopate Why did I love this book?

No one who reads Nora on her breasts or her neck will ever forget her hilarious takes on her own insecurities. Her style seems effortlessly casual, but the closer you look, the more you see how cunningly put together these essays are. A superb combination of vignette and rumination, these pieces rescue the detritus of everyday life and show how absurd our American reality is.

By Nora Ephron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Most of Nora Ephron as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE ULTIMATE NORA EPHRON COLLECTION, PACKED WITH WIT, WISDOM AND COMFORT, WITH A FOREWORD FROM INDIA KNIGHT

'It's got a little bit of everything, from witty essays on feminism, beauty, and ageing to profiles of empowering female figures' ELLE

'The perfect introduction to the iconic writer' STYLIST

INCLUDING:

* Nora's much-loved essays on everything from friendship to feminism to journalism

* Extracts from her bestselling novel Heartburn

* Scenes from her hilarious screenplay for When Harry Met Sally

* Her favourite recipes

* The complete text of her play, Lucky Guy

PRAISE FOR NORA EPHRON

'So bold and so vulnerable…


Book cover of Essays of Elia

Phillip Lopate Why did I love this book?

This classic of nineteenth-century English literature never dates, because Lamb is so refreshingly human and humane, and makes fun of himself so irreverently. Whether he is writing about his lack of musical gifts in “A Chapter on Ears” or spoofing the scholars in “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” or lamenting his own bachelorhood in “Dream Children,” he has set the standard for comic poignancy, for that paradox of laughter through tears. 

By Charles Lamb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Essays of Elia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Charles Lamb was considered the most delightful of English essayists in the middle of the 19th century. Essays of Elia is a collection of his finest work. Many of the earliest books, particularly those dating back to the 1900s and before, are now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive. Pomona Press are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork.


Book cover of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

Phillip Lopate Why did I love this book?

This author always cracks me up, with her outrageously candid, sometimes bawdy confessions of awkward slips and romantic misalliances. She is so smart and insightful, yet so down to earth, that you just have to love her. I’m also a big fan of her collection Meaty.

By Samantha Irby,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Irby might be our great bard of quarantine.' New York Times

In this painfully funny collection, Samantha Irby captures powerful emotional truths while chronicling the rubbish bin she calls her life. From an ill-fated pilgrimage to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes to awkward sexual encounters to the world's first completely honest job application, and more, sometimes you just have to laugh, even when your life is permanently pear-shaped.

'I cannot remember the last time I was so moved by a book. As close to perfect as an essay collection can get.' Roxane Gay
'Hilarious. I love it.' Candice…


Book cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Phillip Lopate Why did I love this book?

Any one of David Sedaris’s brilliantly funny collections could just as easily have made it on this list, as he is a true master of the comic essay, but I chose this one because it has some of my favorites. When he writes about his family I have to rub my eyes in wonderment that he can see them so objectively while still loving them.  

By David Sedaris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked When You Are Engulfed in Flames as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Sedaris's remarkable ability to uncover the hilarious absurdity teeming just below the surface of everyday life is elevated to wilder and more entertaining heights than ever in this new book of stories. Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life - the etiquette of having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger or how to soundproof your windows with LP covers against neurotic songbirds - to the most deeply resonant human truths. Taking in the parasitic worm that once lived in his mother-in-law's leg, an encounter with a dingo and the purchase of…


You might also like...

A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

Book cover of A Particular Man

Lesley Glaister Author Of A Particular Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

About myself: As a novelist I’m crazy for detail. I believe it’s the odd and unexpected aspects of life that bring both characters and story worlds to life. This means that I try to be an observer at all times, keeping alert and using all five – and maybe six – senses. My perfect writing morning begins with a dog walk in the woods or on a beach, say, while keeping my senses sharp to the world around me and listening out for the first whisper of what the day’s writing will bring.

Lesley's book list on relationships and sexuality in post-World War II Britain

What is my book about?

This book is a literary historical novel. It is set in Britain immediately after World War II, when people – gay, straight, young, and old - are struggling to get back on track with their lives, including their love lives. Because of the turmoil of the times, the number of losses, and the dangerous and peculiar circumstances people find themselves in, sexual mores have become shaken and stirred.

But what happened after the war, in the time of healing and settling down? This novel examines the emotional, romantic, and sexual lives of three characters searching for a way to proceed.

A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

What is this book about?

Love never dies in this novel by “a writer of addictive emotional thrillers” (The Independent).

Told from three perspectives A Particular Man is about love, truth and the unpredictable consequences of loss.

When Edgar dies in a Far East prisoner-of-war camp it breaks the heart of fellow prisoner Starling. In Edgar’s final moments, Starling makes him a promise. When, after the war, he visits Edgar’s family, to fulfil this promise, Edgar's mother Clementine mistakes him for another man.

Her mistake allows him access to Edgar’s home and to those who loved him, stirring powerful and disorientating emotions, and embroiling him…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in life satisfaction, self-actualization, and friendships?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about life satisfaction, self-actualization, and friendships.

Life Satisfaction Explore 216 books about life satisfaction
Self-Actualization Explore 215 books about self-actualization
Friendships Explore 1,425 books about friendships