The best seriously funny novels (to me)

Who am I?

I’m the author of The Dirty Parts of the Bible, which has been a #1 Kindle bestseller in Humorous Literary Fiction on several occasions. In school, I hated the sorts of novels we were assigned. Unable to connect with them, I read Cliff’s Notes instead. Then we were given The Catcher in the Rye. It was a revelation—literature can be relatable, engaging, and funny?! The next novel to grab me this way was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Like Catcher, it was gritty and often dark, addressing serious concerns—but it did so with humor. These books were my gateway into enjoying fiction—and, ultimately, to writing my own story in the same category of serious-yet-funny.

I wrote...

The Dirty Parts of the Bible

By Sam Torode,

Book cover of The Dirty Parts of the Bible

What is my book about?

The Dirty Parts of the Bible has been called “a riotous tale of Americana in the vein of O Brother, Where Art Thou? ” (Bookbub) and “a rich and soulful novel steeped in wanderlust and whimsy” (Publishers Weekly).

It's 1936, and Tobias Henry is stuck in the frozen hinterlands of Michigan. Tobias is obsessed with two things: God and girls. Mostly girls, of course. But being a Baptist preacher's son, he can't escape God. When his father is blinded in a bizarre accident (involving hard cider and bird droppings), Tobias must ride the rails to Texas to recover a long-hidden stash of money. 

The books I picked & why

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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

By G.K. Chesterton,

Book cover of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

Why this book?

In college, my friend David Michelson introduced me to many new authors, including G. K. Chesterton (best known for his Father Brown mysteries), who mixed philosophy and humor in his fiction. 

My favorite of his works is The Man Who Was Thursday, first published in 1908—a madcap, surreal romp through London, where undercover police are battling bomb-throwing anarchists and nothing is as it seems. 

On a long car trip, I recently listened to the audiobook of Thursday as performed by Nigel Peever, and laughed and thrilled all over again. 

Heaven's My Destination

By Thornton Wilder,

Book cover of Heaven's My Destination

Why this book?

This is a little-known gem by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thornton Wilder (best known for his play Our Town). Published in the 1935, it’s a contemporaneous account of Depression-era America, following the misadventures of traveling salesman and religious zealot, George Brush. 

Coming off as preachy and self-righteous, George sparks ire and outrage wherever he goes. Yet, he’s a sincere and decent person. At the end of his misadventures, George is humbled and begins to broaden his views, making him a complex, sympathetic character.

Though renowned during his lifetime, Wilder has been largely forgotten in favor of flashier contemporaries. All of his works are worth rediscovering, but Heaven’s My Destination is closest to my heart as it was a major inspiration for my own book.  

A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole,

Book cover of A Confederacy of Dunces

Why this book?

I’m glad I didn’t read A Confederacy of Dunces till after I finished writing my book, or I might have tried to match it—and given up in despair. To my mind, this is the greatest comic novel ever written. 

The story’s climax—involving a burlesque show, a parrot, and a copy of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy—is sheer genius.  

It’s hard to fathom that Dunces was actually written during the 1960s, decades ahead of its time. And the saga of how it came to be published in 1980, after years of rejection and John Kennedy Toole’s tragic death, is nearly as stunning as the book itself. 

Love in the Ruins

By Walker Percy,

Book cover of Love in the Ruins

Why this book?

A Confederacy of Dunces might have never seen the light of day if Toole’s mother hadn’t mailed the only existing typescript to Walker Percy, the one person in the world best suited to appreciate it, because Percy (like Toole) was a brilliant comic novelist from Louisiana.  

No author frustrates me more than Percy. Of his six novels, there are three I love, and three I hate—and I have issues even with the ones I love. But I keep coming back to Percy because he writes like no one else (in large part, I think, due to his background as a physician and psychiatrist).  

Love in the Ruins is my favorite of his novels—and it’s the funniest. Written during the turmoil of the late ’60s / early ’70s, it’s set in a futuristic America torn apart by political polarization and racial tensions—in other words, America today. It’s full of weirdness and wisdom. 

Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. Wodehouse,

Book cover of Right Ho, Jeeves

Why this book?

"The only real and abiding pleasure in life,” P. G. Wodehouse once said, “is to give pleasure to other people.” If that’s the case—and I believe it is—Wodehouse must have been supremely satisfied.  

In my early 30s, at the lowest point in my life thus far, I discovered the joy of Jeeves—indomitable butler to layabout gentleman Bertie Wooster—and all the other delightful inhabitants of Wodehouse’s world. Amidst life’s worries and stresses, Wodehouse offers balm for the weary. 

Unlike the other books on this list, Right Ho, Jeeves doesn’t address any serious issues (except for the romantic troubles of Gussie Fink-Nottle, which are quite serious). Nonetheless, Wodehouse’s mastery of language and plot elevate his work to the highest levels of literature. 

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