The best novels to mix humor with serious topics [with a quirky character]

Why am I passionate about this?

My life carries absurd contradictions. A country kid and athlete, I fell in love with theater and literature. I hated school but became a teacher. An outdoorsman and environmentalist, I became a successful advertising executive and an entrepreneur. My novel Getting Huge has similar surprises: a 6’11” minister who hated basketball. He resented Concord, MA as a boy, but he returns to toil in his father’s church for 12 years. He’s never planted a thing, but discovers a passion for giant pumpkins and starts to be an entrepreneur who dreams way too big. I hope readers see how John Crackstone is (like many of us) humanized by comic contradictions.

I wrote...

Getting Huge

By John Young,

Book cover of Getting Huge

What is my book about?

This romp of a novel is for all who’ve worked with the wrong people in the wrong place.

Beaten down by his affluent deacons, Reverend John Crackstone finally cracks. He becomes obsessed with growing the world’s largest pumpkin, and entrepreneurial dreams spin up a pumpkin empire to create everything from snacks to toilet paper. While often comic, even laugh-out-loud funny, Getting Huge also shows how the pursuit of ill-defined success can override judgment until we are jolted into clarity and seek a sense of belonging where we are appreciated.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The World According to Garp

John Young Why did I love this book?

What I love about The World According to Garp is how it blends the humorous and serious.

Its quirky, engaging characters and how they react to the pressures of life made me laugh out loud. But I also admire the humanity of it with its serious messages about love and relationships.

As someone who also wanted to be a writer, I identified with the protagonist’s struggles and dreams.

I also identified as a man who loves and is surrounded by strong women and how they can often surprise you and help you see the world in new ways. 

By John Irving,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The World According to Garp as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A masterpiece from one of the great contemporary American writers.

'A wonderful novel, full of energy and art, at once funny and heartbreaking...terrific' WASHINGTON POST

Anniversary edition with a new afterword from the author.

A worldwide bestseller since its publication, Irving's classic is filled with stories inside stories about the life and times of T. S. Garp, struggling writer and illegitimate son of Jenny Fields - an unlikely feminist heroine ahead of her time.

Beautifully written, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP is a powerfully compelling and compassionate coming-of-age novel that established John Irving as one of the most imaginative writers…

Book cover of Nothing to See Here

John Young Why did I love this book?

What I liked about Kevin Wilson’s novel Nothing to See Here is how it offers us a misfit outcast in Lillian who gets hired to nanny twins who are far-more dramatic outcasts.

They literally catch fire when upset. Yes, it’s absurd and funny.

On one level, the book is bizarre and entertaining, but on another level we see the challenges outcasts in our world, and Lillian gains perspective on the problems and weaknesses of the wealthy and popular around her.

Lillian also comes to care about these kids, and in the process she opens up emotionally in unexpected ways.

By Kevin Wilson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Nothing to See Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller  •  A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, People, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, TIME, The A.V. Club, Buzzfeed, and PopSugar

“I can’t believe how good this book is.... It’s wholly original. It’s also perfect.... Wilson writes with such a light touch.... The brilliance of the novel [is] that it distracts you with these weirdo characters and mesmerizing and funny sentences and then hits you in a way you didn’t see coming. You’re laughing so hard you…

Book cover of Writers & Lovers

John Young Why did I love this book?

In Writers and Lovers, set in Cambridge and Boston, Casey Peabody works a kind of lowly job while holding high aspirations—with dreams of becoming a writer.

But her waitress job leaves her exhausted and uninspired to finish her novel. She is grieving the recent loss of her mother, which contributes to sleepless nights and questionable decisions.

She also dreams of recapturing the passion she felt with a lover at a writer’s colony which steers her toward an older, famous writer as a lover. But his success and her brush with the author dream at the writer’s residency only serve to further leave her feeling hollow and self-disappointed.

When she becomes a teacher, she still holds the dream of writing, and, feeling her age, asks herself how long she can keep it up. Suddenly, while at the school, interest in the once-questioned manuscript arrives via phone.

In the end, this is a kind of coming-of-age tale. Despite grief, loss, doubt, shame from bad choices—perseverance wins.

By Lily King,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Writers & Lovers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick as Featured on Today
Emma Roberts Belletrist Book Club Pick
A New York Times Book Review’s Group Text Selection

"I loved this book not just from the first chapter or the first page but from the first paragraph... The voice is just so honest and riveting and insightful about creativity and life." —Curtis Sittenfeld 

An extraordinary new novel of art, love, and ambition from Lily King, the New York Times bestselling author of Euphoria

Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with another instant New York Times bestseller:…

Book cover of The Dutch House

John Young Why did I love this book?

What drew me in to The Dutch House is how Ann Patchett has compassion and empathy for her characters.

Even those who made terrible or damaging decisions have a human side, and those we root for also stumble and do things we wish they hadn’t.

Maeve and Danny’s mother abandons them to serve the poor in India, and their father, Cyril, falls for a younger woman who brings two young daughters to the house and holds no love for Maeve and Danny.

We see this world through Danny’s eyes, and we feel the pain of these two kids as adults looking back.

While some might see it as sentimental, I found it warm and engaging as these two ultimately can look back and take stock in their lives.

By Ann Patchett,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Dutch House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lose yourself in the story of a lifetime - the unforgettable Sunday Times bestseller 'Patchett leads us to a truth that feels like life rather than literature' Guardian Nominated for the Women's Prize 2020 A STORY OF TWO SIBLINGS, THEIR CHILDHOOD HOME, AND A PAST THAT THEY CAN'T LET GO. Like swallows, like salmon, we were the helpless captives of our migratory patterns. We pretended that what we had lost was the house, not our mother, not our father. We pretended that what we had lost had been taken from us by the person who still lived inside. In the…

Book cover of Anxious People

John Young Why did I love this book?

The novel Anxious People is a mostly-comic novel that helped me, as a writer, think through how comedy is delivered.

Frederik Backman has a background as a standup comic and you can see it in the writing of the novel—and sometimes Backman’s clever quips get in the way of the story.

The situation is of a robbery gone wrong with a range of weird and wacky characters, but they are developed in a way that helps us care about them as their stories are revealed and common touchpoints emerge.

The father-son police team, the robber’s pains, the fractured relationships. In the end, I found myself caring about these people.

By Fredrik Backman,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Anxious People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The funny, touching and unpredictable No. 1 New York Times bestseller, now a major Netflix TV series

'A brilliant and comforting read' MATT HAIG
'Funny, compassionate and wise. An absolute joy' A.J. PEARCE
'A surefooted insight into the absurdity, beauty and ache of life' GUARDIAN
'I laughed, I sobbed, I recommended it to literally everyone I know' BUZZFEED
'Captures the messy essence of being human' WASHINGTON POST

From the 18 million copy internationally bestselling author of A Man Called Ove

It's New Year's Eve and House Tricks estate agents are hosting an open viewing in an up-market apartment when…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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