The best books to make you laugh out loud while squirming with new self-awareness

Betsy Robinson Author Of The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg
By Betsy Robinson

Who am I?

I write to learn what I don’t know about myself and our purpose as flawed beings in this Alice-in-Wonderland world. In the documentary about singer/poet Leonard Cohen, creator of the much-covered “Hallelujah” (title of the documentary), to explain the song, he says that life is so impenetrable that the only options are to shake your fist or exclaim “Hallelujah.” I think there is a third option: to laugh. And I prefer to do all three because that is what comes through me: confusion, pain, and hilarity. And hopefully a better understanding of the whole mess once I’ve written about it. And that is what I hope to share with readers.

I wrote...

The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg

By Betsy Robinson,

Book cover of The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg

What is my book about?

The Hilarious Story of a One-Woman Train Wreck--Winner of Black Lawrence Press's Big Moose Prize

Meet Zelda McFigg. She is 4-feet 11-inches tall, 237 pounds, and convinced that she could be somebody, if only someone would recognize her inner beauty and star quality. Cousin to Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces) and Homer Simpson, Zelda runs away from home at age 14, and at age 49 ¼ writes this furiously funny memoir to "set the record straight" about her lifetime of indiscretions. Behind Zelda's rollicking tale of destruction lies a story of exile. Exile from oneself. Readers will see much more about Zelda than she knows about herself.

The books I picked & why

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Here Goes Nothing

By Steve Toltz,

Book cover of Here Goes Nothing

Why this book?

Not only did I laugh all the way through this rollicking novel, but I felt as if author Steve Toltz is a brother writer from a cousin muse to my own.

Angus Mooney, the protagonist, is a thief, a romantic, and a philosopher who is dedicated to the easier path of not learning or understanding anything. And, not a spoiler, he dies.

If you console yourself that a better life awaits you in heaven, or if you're resigned to life being painful, but after all, it's only temporary, and once it's over, it'll be over, think again.

In this shockingly inventive, wildly funny epic about one man's life, death, and beyond, you may have some epiphanies about existence in general and how you want to spend or squander your time.

Hell of a Book

By Jason Mott,

Book cover of Hell of a Book

Why this book?

This National Book Award-winning novel is the story of an unnamed writer negotiating life in a Black skin that pre-empts most people from seeing him as an individual human being. And it has one of the funniest (pee-in-your-pants) first chapters I’ve ever read.

I not only laughed, but I so identified with the writer (and I think most readers will, no matter what your race—that is the genius of this writing), that I lived every moment of this crazy quest to be seen in a world that absolutely refuses to drop its projections.

But ultimately, the person who needs to see this man as a human being, accepting all of his history, hurt, and uniqueness, is the unnamed writer himself. This is a combination of crazy humor and pain.

Donna Has Left the Building

By Susan Jane Gilman,

Book cover of Donna Has Left the Building

Why this book?

How I love to laugh at the same time that I’m feeling all the raw pain of being a human—in this case a human woman who runs away from home. The beginning of this book—about a housewife, cooking ware saleswoman's trip to hell and back, is belly-laugh-inducing, causing one to cough and gasp in joy. But there’s more: Gilman writes real, complicated characters, complete with pain and delusions. And the reason they are so deeply funny is that Gilman is self-aware enough to know and show their flaws better than they know them. 

Titular protagonist Donna Koczynski may inhabit a particular era (one when trendiness reigns), but she is rooted in her own psychology, which includes equal parts compassion, open-minded curiosity, lunatic-level denial, and crazed she-wolf rage.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier

By Percival L. Everett,

Book cover of I Am Not Sidney Poitier

Why this book?

I’ve read this book twice and probably will read it a few more times before I die. It’s that good.

The story of a young Black man (named Not Sidney Poitier) traversing the U.S.A. is a picaresque, hilarious, heart-breaking tale about trying to find yourself.

Eighteen-year-old Not Sidney is surrounded by people who only see his race or his wealth, or conversely by geniuses who have succeeded despite themselves and, although they see Not Sidney without the cultural labels, are of little help in his quest to find his mission in life. 

The first time I read this book, I was spitting coffee laughing. The second time, my heart broke. I am curious what my next read will evoke.

I Am Sovereign

By Nicola Barker,

Book cover of I Am Sovereign

Why this book?

Hint: You have to read a hard copy of this book because the comedy is designed into the fonts and layout, which could never be translated into an ebook.

This is a free-for-all bumper car ride between people and their ids, filled with abrupt and perfect transitions that are so logical in their illogic that they are funny. 

But not only is it unique and funny, but it is founded on a profound understanding of silence—its essential healing and our inability to find it. 

This book is so inventive I’m kind of amazed (1) that it got published and (2) that author Nicola Barker and this book appear to be wildly popular in the U.K.

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