The best books featuring absurdist humor

Who am I?

I craved attention as a child, and often used humor to get it. I also loved to read. As I aged, I was increasingly struck by the absurdity of the human condition and was drawn to stories that dealt with the ridiculous, nonsensical, and incongruous sides of life. Prone to depression and fascinated by Freud, I became a clinical psychologist, only to discover that my colleagues were as emotionally disturbed as I was! I even wrote a book about it, titled A Curious Calling: Unconscious Motivations for Practicing Psychotherapy. So, when I turned to writing fiction—Otto Grows Down, Duckworth: The Difficult Child, and Incognolio—I reveled in the absurd.


I wrote...

Incognolio

By Michael Sussman,

Book cover of Incognolio

What is my book about?

When a strange title for a novel hijacks his mind, Muldoon traverses identities, planes of reality, and the dark recesses of his psyche in an effort to grasp the enigmatic Incognolio. Is he writing a story in which his stillborn twin sister has come to life, or is he the one who died at birth and it's his sister who's writing the novel? Guided only by the whims and dictates of his subconscious mind, Muldoon must finally face his demons and write his way to freedom or succumb to madness.

I call Incognolio a psychological thriller, however it also contains elements of mystery, fantasy, and speculative fiction. More importantly, it’s a page-turner!

The books I picked & why

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The New York Trilogy

By Paul Auster,

Book cover of The New York Trilogy

Why this book?

Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy—previously published as City of GlassGhosts, and The Locked Room—is an astonishingly original take on detective and mystery novels. Although I love reading these genres, in real life puzzles rarely get solved in such a neat and tidy fashion, which is why I find this trilogy so intriguing. Auster’s stories are paradoxical and perplexing, replete with ambiguities, enclosing the reader in a hall of mirrors. The three novels expose the absurdity of fiction, which by definition is make-believe, yet repeatedly fools us into regarding the contrived imaginings of the author as real.

The New York Trilogy

By Paul Auster,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The New York Trilogy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paul Auster's signature work, "The New York Trilogy," consists of three interlocking novels: "City of Glass," "Ghosts," and "The Locked Room" - haunting and mysterious tales that move at the breathless pace of a thriller."City of Glass" - As a result of a strange phone call in the middle of the night, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, becomes enmeshed in a case more puzzling than any he might hace written"Ghosts"Blue, a student of Brown, has been hired to spy on Black. From a window of a rented house on Orange street, Blue stalks his subject, who is staring out…


Cosmicomics

By Italo Calvino, William Weaver (translator),

Book cover of Cosmicomics

Why this book?

Calvino’s Cosmicomics is perhaps the funniest and most outlandish collections of short stories I’ve ever come across. Think Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time meets Alice in Wonderland. Starting with the Big Bang and charting the entire evolution of the universe and of life on Earth, Calvino’s narrator shape-shifts from a man, to a dinosaur, to a mollusk, a single-cell organism, a subatomic particle, and even a disembodied being. In this linked collection of modern fairy tales, the author displays wild flights of imagination, combining scientific rigor with an uproarious repudiation of logic. Oh, and the narrator’s name is Qfwfq.

Cosmicomics

By Italo Calvino, William Weaver (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Cosmicomics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Introducing Little Clothbound Classics: irresistible, mini editions of short stories, novellas and essays from the world's greatest writers, designed by the award-winning Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Celebrating the range and diversity of Penguin Classics, they take us from snowy Japan to springtime Vienna, from haunted New England to a sun-drenched Mediterranean island, and from a game of chess on the ocean to a love story on the moon. Beautifully designed and printed, these collectible editions are bound in colourful, tactile cloth and stamped with foil.

Twelve enchanting and fantastical stories about the evolution of the universe from the giant of Italian literature,…


Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn,

Book cover of Geek Love

Why this book?

Geek Love is one of the strangest, most fascinating, and thoroughly unsettling novels I’ve ever read. It tells the story of a carny family whose mother and father breed their own exhibit of human oddities with the help of a variety of illicit drugs, insecticides, and radioisotopes. I’ve certainly felt freakish at times, but compared to the Binewski spawn—a boy with flippers, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, resplendent piano-playing Siamese twins, and Fortunato, the normal-looking baby who has telekinetic powers—I feel downright ordinary! The story is beautiful, shocking, repulsive, exhilarating, and deeply moving all at once, and might challenge your conceptions of what you consider weird, deformed, beautiful, ugly, normal, or socially acceptable. Surprisingly, the novel was a bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award in 1989. 

Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Geek Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A National Book Award Finalist: This 'wonderfully descriptive' novel from an author with a 'tremendous imagination' tells the unforgettable story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias have bred their own exhibit of human oddities. (The New York Times Book Review)

The Binewskis arex a circus-geek family whose matriarch and patriarch have bred their own exhibit of human oddities (with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes). Their offspring include Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan, Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins, albino hunchback Oly, and…


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll, John Tenniel (illustrator),

Book cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Why this book?

Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece is probably my favorite book in the whole world, and served as the model for my novel. The story takes you on an absurdist roller-coaster ride that is utterly unpredictable, a series of preposterous vignettes that are both silly and profound, meandering in a seemingly random fashion, yet managing to form a complete and satisfying whole. Alice forever changed the course of children’s literature. But the book is not just for kids. As The Annotated Alice makes clear, beneath all the nonsense and whimsy, we find mathematical concepts, clever wordplay, political satire, and a lesson on how to stay sane in a mad world.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll, John Tenniel (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pook Press presents Lewis Carroll's world-famous novel "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" with original illustrations by John Tenniel. This classic story, first published in 1865, relays the tale of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. As the adventure unfolds, Alice explores many magical places and meets the most curious characters. The book was a huge commercial success on its initial publication and continues to delight readers today. Alice's journey is illustrated with gorgeous black and white drawings from John Tenniel. His Alice illustrations are instantly recognisable and are the most famous of this…


Horton Hatches the Egg

By Dr. Seuss,

Book cover of Horton Hatches the Egg

Why this book?

As a child, I adored the picture books written and illustrated by Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Although it’s tough to beat The Cat in the Hat, I think my favorite story was Horton Hatches the Egg, which combines classic absurdist humor with a heartfelt message. Horton may look ridiculous, perched on a bird’s nest in a tree, mocked by friends, and carted off to be humiliated at a zoo, but the faithful elephant is rewarded with a baby elephant-bird. As Lewis Carroll demonstrated, the best stories convey life lessons without browbeating readers with didactic, moralistic harangues. Along with its zany humor and hilarious illustrations, Horton makes the case for the paramount importance of loyalty and commitment, keeping one’s promises, and the transformative power of love.

Horton Hatches the Egg

By Dr. Seuss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Horton Hatches the Egg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Horton the elephant babysits an egg in this classic tale of kindness from Dr. Seuss.

Everyone laughs when Horton the Elephant offers to sit on Mayzie bird's egg while she goes on holiday. Horton's kindness and faithfulness are sorely tested when he, and the egg, are kidnapped and sold to a circus - but his reward for being faithful is more wonderful than he could ever have dreamed!

With his unique combination of hilarious stories, zany pictures and riotous rhymes, Dr. Seuss has been delighting young children and helping them learn to read for over fifty years. Creator of the…


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