The best funny books about serious subjects

Who am I?

For me, the most affecting stories are those that are leavened with a sardonic sensibility. Italo Calvino, one of my favorite writers, notes “th[e] particular connection between melancholy and humor,” speaking of how great writing “foregrounds [with] tiny, luminous traces that counterpoint the dark catastrophe.” I’ve always veered toward the great literary comic writers—from Cervantes to Laurence Sterne to Pynchon, with a particular reverence for Nabokov. For me, there is no greater exposition of the underbelly of love and madness than Lolita; of artistic obsession than Pale Fire.  Nabokov believed that the best writing places the reader under a spell, enchanting them with the magic of words — and I concur!


I wrote...

Someday Everything Will All Make Sense

By Carol LaHines,

Book cover of Someday Everything Will All Make Sense

What is my book about?

Someday Everything Will All Make Sense follows Luther van der Loon, an eccentric professor of medieval music at a New York University, as he navigates the stages of grief after his 62-year-old mother chokes on a wonton from a Chinese take-out. Luther invokes the American justice system against the restaurant whose “sloppy methods” he blames for his mother's death. He faults himself for failing to perform the Heimlich, a maneuver so simple that a child of six or seven could execute it. Luther finds redemption in music as he plans the annual symposium for his oddball group of early music colleagues. Slowly, and with the help of his girlfriend, Cecilia, Luther gropes toward resolution. Fans of Confederacy of Dunces will appreciate the maladroitness of the protagonist and the dark humor woven into the narrative.

The books I picked & why

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A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole,

Book cover of A Confederacy of Dunces

Why this book?

The hyperintelligent and dysfunctional 30-year-old protagonist of this novel lives with his mother in New Orleans and is obsessed with all things medieval.  He has picaresque adventures in the French Quarter.  The novel is laugh-out-loud funny and yet poignant—something I strive for as a writer of tragicomedy.  My novel is similarly steeped in a place—those grieving engage in a process of cementing associations to the lost loved one, and those referents are often tied to the shared spaces they inhabited together.  

A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked A Confederacy of Dunces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF THE BBC'S 100 NOVELS THAT SHAPED OUR WORLD

'This is probably my favourite book of all time' Billy Connolly

A pithy, laugh-out-loud story following John Kennedy Toole's larger-than-life Ignatius J. Reilly, floundering his way through 1960s New Orleans, beautifully resigned with cover art by Gary Taxali
_____________

'This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians . . . don't make the mistake of bothering me.'

Ignatius J. Reilly: fat, flatulent, eloquent and almost unemployable. By the standards of ordinary folk he is pretty much…


The Magic Kingdom

By Stanley Elkin,

Book cover of The Magic Kingdom

Why this book?

Eddy Bale becomes a crusader for children after the death of his own young son and decides to take a group of terminally ill children to Disneyland for a holiday. The antic hyperbolic tone of the narration is utterly at odds with the grave subject matter and the novel is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.  

The Magic Kingdom

By Stanley Elkin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Abandoned by his wife and devastated by the death of his twelve-year old son, Eddy Bale becomes obsessed with the plight of terminally ill children and develops a plan to provide a last hurrah dream vacation for seven children who will never grow-up. Eddy and his four dysfunctional chaperones journey to the entertainment capital of America--Disney World. Once they arrive, a series of absurdities characteristic of an Elkin novel--including a freak snowstorm and a run-in with a vengeful Mickey Mouse--transform Eddy's idealistic wish into a fantastic nightmare.


Slaughterhouse-Five

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Slaughterhouse-Five

Why this book?

In this iconic semiautobiographical war novel, the narrator struggles with how to recount his experiences during the bombing of Dresden, adopting the guise of the time-traveling Billy Pilgrim to tell his story.  Decades on, the novel is as timely and poignant as ever; a forerunner of the trauma narrative; a book that, better than any other I can think of, conveys what it is like to suffer from PTSD—events so horrifying that one can only “cope” (if that is the right word) by means of psychic feints and dissociative logic. The novel is supremely funny; the author has a gift for underscoring horror with pellucid description.    

Slaughterhouse-Five

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Slaughterhouse-Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A special fiftieth anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, “a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the twentieth century” (Time), featuring a new introduction by Kevin Powers, author of the National Book Award finalist The Yellow Birds
 
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time
 
Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous World War II firebombing of Dresden, the novel is the result of what Kurt Vonnegut described as a twenty-three-year struggle to write a book about what he had…


Oblivion: Stories

By David Foster Wallace,

Book cover of Oblivion: Stories

Why this book?

DFW’s hyperbolic virtuosity is on display in this collection of stories about fakery, imposterdom, trauma, and the nature of consciousness, of which Good Old Neon, the monologue of a salesman who traffics in fakeries, is the showstopper.  DFW knew depression well as he did psychopharmacology and rehab and our mental health apparatus—his work is imbued with the details of these worlds and he conveys possibly better than any other what it is like to be trapped in a depressed, quizzical mind.  The collection is a moving and hilarious tour-de-force.

Oblivion: Stories

By David Foster Wallace,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the stories that make up Oblivion, David Foster Wallace joins the rawest, most naked humanity with the infinite involutions of self-consciousness -- a combination that is dazzlingly, uniquely his.

These are worlds undreamt of by any other mind. Only David Foster Wallace could convey a father's desperate loneliness by way of his son's daydreaming through a teacher's homicidal breakdown ("The Soul Is Not a Smithy"). Or could explore the deepest and most hilarious aspects of creativity by delineating the office politics surrounding a magazine profile of an artist who produces miniature sculptures in an anatomically inconceivable way ("The Suffering…


Mostly Dead Things

By Kristen Arnett,

Book cover of Mostly Dead Things

Why this book?

This book is a more recent addition to the oeuvre of grief tragicomedy. In the novel, a third-generation taxidermist deals with the aftermath of her father’s suicide. The details are hilarious—lots of minutia about the family business—but the book is also heartbreaking, as Jessa tries to hold herself and her family together in the wake of her father’s sudden demise.  The novel, both morbid and irreverent, tackles themes of death, preservation, and how we honor those who have passed.   

Mostly Dead Things

By Kristen Arnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mostly Dead Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Messed-up families, scandalous love affairs, art, life, death and the great state of Florida in one delicious, darkly funny package. Kristen Arnett is a wickedly talented and a wholly original voice' Jami Attenberg

What does it take to come back to life?

In the wake of her father's suicide, Jessa-Lynn Morton has stepped up to manage his failing taxidermy business while the rest of the Morton family falls apart. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make alarming art with stuffed animals; and while her brother Milo withdraws, his wife, Brynn - the only person Jessa's ever been in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in childhood, World War 2, and Germany?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about childhood, World War 2, and Germany.

Childhood Explore 140 books about childhood
World War 2 Explore 1125 books about World War 2
Germany Explore 338 books about Germany

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Contact, And No Birds Sang, and Crime and Punishment if you like this list.