The best literary novels for inducing laughter and tears on the same page

Why am I passionate about this?

Nothing gives me more joy than painting stories in the colors of every human emotion in our spectrum.  And combining laughter and tears on the same page elicits a delicious thrill that keeps me sitting in the chair. It doesn’t happen to me on every page, (I’d be lying to say it did.) When it does, I don’t want to let it go. A former theater major (probably “a bad actor”) I started my novel-writing journey when I sent a resignation email to a few thousand employees I was managing at the time. “Hey girl, you made me laugh and cry in that email. Maybe you might think about writing.”


I wrote...

Synchronicities on the Avenue of the Saints

By Deborah Gaal,

Book cover of Synchronicities on the Avenue of the Saints

What is my book about?

Physicist Noah Friedman is bipolar and racing against time before the experimental drug he takes steals his mind. His psychiatrist aims to clear millions on the drug’s sale and has become Noah’s enemy. As Noah struggles to free himself from the meds and his deranged doc, he finds himself with a coterie of odd compatriots: Noah’s burnt-out CEO mom; an African shaman who steers Noah on his path; and a Russian Revolution-era ghost who demands Noah right an old wrong or else. Together they work to stop the launch of the drug while fending off a pharmaceutical kingpin trying to raid mom’s business.  

Can Noah do it all in time and also prove that love creates a synchronicity with what and who is loved?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Deborah Gaal Why did I love this book?

I love the quirkiness of Haddon’s protagonist, Christopher, and how Haddon enables the reader to experience what Christopher is feeling and thinking. Christopher is “different,” and he is endearing because of that: one who is sensitive, heartbreakingly sweet, wiser than the average bear, and an example of how we can work through our problems by embracing our uniqueness. But there is nothing heavy-handed or didactic in this novel. Christopher’s story is treated with humor and optimism, not only for Christopher’s future, but for all of us. Who among us isn’t different?  

By Mark Haddon,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year

'Outstanding...a stunningly good read' Observer

'Mark Haddon's portrayal of an emotionally dissociated mind is a superb achievement... Wise and bleakly funny' Ian McEwan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the…


Book cover of Beautiful Ruins

Deborah Gaal Why did I love this book?

I have gone back to this story multiple times to laugh and cry on the same page. It’s an expansive novel, which toggles between Hollywood, Rome, and the Cinque Terre with equal ease and sensory description. (I vaguely remember that Ireland and the Northwest are in there as well. Yep, you are swept up and around the globe.) Some of the international cast of characters are hilarious, including an over-the-top star turn by Richard Burton. But, it’s not all fun and games. There is a mystery of identity, unfinished business, and unresolved love, with all its joy and heartbreak. Jess Walter is a genius writer. I’m in awe of his craft. But equally important, I’m a sucker for a good cry after so much laughter.   

By Jess Walter,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Beautiful Ruins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller—Jess Walter’s “absolute masterpiece” (Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author): the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces fifty years later in contemporary Hollywood.

The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet. Hailed by critics and loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962...and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later. 


Book cover of The Immortalists

Deborah Gaal Why did I love this book?

I love the magical realism aspect of this novel, which Benjamin handles with such a deft hand you don’t question whether or not the impossible is possible. A fortune teller’s prediction and old-world superstition create a heavy weight that exquisitely-drawn characters must navigate. The power of belief and its effect on destiny is a complex topic. Is it good or bad to know our future? Should we act on what we’ve been told? Should we ignore it? If we believe something does that make it happen? If we disbelieve does it not happen? Every character is a gem, including Klara: an extraordinary magician who convinced me we must embrace the mysteries of the world even if we can’t comprehend them.   

By Chloe Benjamin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Immortalists as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Boundlessly moving' Observer

'Immersive and impressive' The Sunday Times

'Benjamin writes with verve and charm' Guardian

The NEW YORK TIMES Top Ten Bestseller

It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they're about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat…


Book cover of Everything Is Illuminated

Deborah Gaal Why did I love this book?

I was deeply affected by Foer’s descriptions of the shtetl in Poland, the cruelty that affected its villagers, and the inescapable effect of this tragedy on future generations. Foer’s ancestry mirrored what I knew of my own family history, and the desire we have to document those stories before they disappear. But Foer alternates the “old world’s” dramatic scenes with hilarity. The Polish blind driver who guides Foer on his search to discover his family’s past employs a “seeing eye bitch” (a dog) to help him navigate the countryside. And his narrator’s constant quirky misuse of English makes for a unique voice that I still—twenty years after reading the book—can’t get out of my head. The novel is at times heartbreaking, at times uproarious, and always oh-so-satisfying.  

By Jonathan Safran Foer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everything Is Illuminated as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a young man who visits the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. In turns hilarious and harrowing, lit with a manic energy, it is narrated in part by a Ukranian translator, who has a murderous approach to the English language, and in part by the young man, who reanimates the lives of his grandfather and ancestors. Eventually the past meets the present, as fiction collides with reality in an unforgettable climax. With breathtaking inventiveness and narrative control, Jonathan Safran Foer has written a book about searching - for people…


Book cover of Beloved

Deborah Gaal Why did I love this book?

This classic is the perfect example of why Morrison is considered one of the all-time greatest American writers. Her storytelling is visceral, and made me experience what it might feel like to be enslaved and bring that suffering forward to future generations. Morrison’s characters’ trauma is our country’s trauma, and for that reason, this novel should be required reading for us all. Her use of magical realism is grounded in both history and indigenous belief. And yes, there are light moments here and there, as Morrison is a master who knows you can’t have a great novel if you don’t laugh occasionally. If you haven’t put this novel on your list, do not pass go or collect $200. Read it, laugh, cry, and learn from the experience.  

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Toni Morrison was a giant of her times and ours... Beloved is a heart-breaking testimony to the ongoing ravages of slavery, and should be read by all' Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Discover this beautiful gift edition of Toni Morrison's prize-winning contemporary classic Beloved

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her…


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I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

Book cover of I Meant to Tell You

Fran Hawthorne Author Of I Meant to Tell You

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Museum guide Foreign language student Runner Community activist Former health-care journalist

Fran's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not a criminal, she stumbles into other secrets that will challenge what she thought she knew about her own family, her friend, Russ—and herself.

I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

What is this book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not…


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