61 books directly related to dark comedy 📚

All 61 dark comedy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Jernigan

By David Gates,

Book cover of Jernigan

Why this book?

Being lured into another world by a strong first-person voice turns a book into a wide-open door, and I love going through strange doors. This one opens onto a richly detailed middle-class mess who’s also an exceptional host, recently widowed alcoholic single-parent Peter Jernigan. He takes us on a ride through suburban New Jersey as passengers in his mind, narrating his life’s unravelling with brutal whimsy and humour. This was one of the most helpless relationships I’ve had with a character in a book. A privilege and a reminder of the balancing act we all face.


Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

By S.G. Browne,

Book cover of Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

Why this book?

Imagine coming back from the dead only to realize the world doesn't want you: You move in with parents who are disgusted by you, random strangers on the street throw food or pull mean jokes on you and your friends, and being caught out past your curfew sends you to the dog pound. That's the life that Andy Warner reanimates into after a fatal accident. It's not all bad, though. At least he's got some friends at the Undead Anonymous support group, including the dead-sexy Rita, and Ray, a guy whose “venison” seems to come with some miraculous healing abilities. This is a darkly comedic book filled with a colorful cast, and you can't help but delight in the tragic spiral of the characters as they become increasingly inhuman. After all, can you blame them? 


The Big Book of Hell

By Matt Groening,

Book cover of The Big Book of Hell

Why this book?

The Big Book of Hell is the holy grail of dark humor, packaged perfectly in a comic format. Growing up as a sarcastic kid from Brooklyn, this was the first humor book I read that I felt was aimed directly at my sensibilities. It has a very unique “substance-over-style” aesthetic that is striking and somehow managed to become widely identifiable. It dances around subjects, poking fun at the absurdities of the world it was written in. It really showed me that you don’t need to be a conventionally great artist to publish comics and that there is a market for dark humor comics. The book, which reads almost like a variety show, opened my eyes to ways to play with structure of an individual comic and a whole book.


The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead

By William S. Burroughs,

Book cover of The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead

Why this book?

The Wild Boys is at once dystopian and utopian, featuring a band of boys who’ve gone rogue and have perfected strange and poetically beautiful sex rites which allow them to ritually and meditatively conjure or reproduce more wild boy offspring. At once science fiction and fantastical in its imaginative scope, it is also, like all Burroughs’s work, a profound exploration of social control, the excesses and assumptions inherent in state and religious terror, and the sexual and erotic oppression and misunderstanding that is the real enemy of freedom. Fearless and experimental, Burroughs inspires me to be bold, blunt, and not afraid to disturb or offend in exploring the poetic and erotic relationships between all manner of ideas.


The Free Brontosaurus

By David Berkeley,

Book cover of The Free Brontosaurus

Why this book?

David Berkeley, a singer/songwriter, wrote this book of short stories, each one connected because the minor characters in one story are the major characters in another. David wrote a song for each story from the character’s point of view. The music album is called Cardboard Boat and you can find it on his homepage.

The Free Brontosaurus made this list because Berkeley's creative genius knows no bounds. He has been prolific in words and music for decades while raising a family and traveling the world. This particular work, with its interconnected set of characters, explores beauty and gratitude in unlikely circumstances.

Welcome to the Monkey House

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Welcome to the Monkey House

Why this book?

This compilation of short stories influenced my writing as I read this while a teenager. Outlandish and funny, Kurt Vonnegut created a universe and characters that brought science fiction comedy to the mainstream. He literally knocked the socks off of establishment literature. In addition, he has been more than prophetic of today’s global foray into absurdity in one particular story, "Harrison Bergeron," which I would put on par with George Orwell’s 1984.


Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death

By D.B.C. Pierre,

Book cover of Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death

Why this book?

 Pierre’s adolescent high schooler makes JD Salinger’s protagonist in Catcher in the Rye look like a valedictorian. Just as (finally) he is about to score with a teenage crush, who has hitherto rejected him, he ejaculates prematurely. 

"My world dissolves under my belly with a jet like stung snakes squirting out through their own eye holes. Then quiet. Just a slow ocean moving slowly, and spit-curry after-poon drying cold on my face."

What’s worse, at that precise moment, cops burst into the room, catching him with his pants down, and arresting him for a mass killing he didn’t commit.

You couldn’t make this stuff up unless you’re a comic genius like DBC Pierre


The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

By Tim Burton,

Book cover of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

Why this book?

I was a fan of Tim Burton's movies long before I discovered this little treasure. I’m not normally a fan of poetry, but letting your inner voice read these tales in Christopher Lee's voice (Willy Wonka's father in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is pure magic. These short tales and corresponding drawings are as funny as they are dark (a little disturbing and definitely not for small children).


Vamped

By David Sosnowski,

Book cover of Vamped

Why this book?

Ten years before What We Do in the Shadows comically imagined what everyday life might be like for vampires, David Sosnowski published Vamped. Set in a world where vampires outnumber humans, the story stars a bloodsucking bachelor bored with his existence and all of the modern vampire conveniences, and inconveniences. Like missing coffee. And chocolate. And sunlight. And not having any more fresh humans to hunt. But when our hero stumbles across a human child, his existence gets complicated. A sharp, smart, charming, and occasionally heart-warming black comedy with an anti-hero who you end up rooting for.


Nice

By Jen Sacks,

Book cover of Nice

Why this book?

Now these two main characters, both “villains,” are refreshingly human. When the evil archeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark tells Indy that it would only take a small push to move him out of the light, this is the kind of thing he meant. For the woman in the story, being bad is an almost understandable way to cope with the particular situation she faces (that we’ve all faced). For the man, he’s been in the dark for a long time, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t need love. A serial killer/black comedy/love story about a hired killer and an inspired killer. Is it a match made in Heaven, or Hell?


The Loved One

By Evelyn Waugh,

Book cover of The Loved One

Why this book?

Let’s end on a delightfully weird and silly note, with this pure dark humor confection by Evelyn Waugh. Set in the absurd world of the luxury funeral industry, this book will have you alternating between hilarity and deep, existential horror. A little whiplash-inducing, but Waugh’s command over the smallest subtleties of language and tone is truly a delight to witness. It holds a special place in my heart because I was reading it on one of the first trips I took with my husband—so a pro tip, to really enjoy this text to the fullest, try having someone bring you a strawberry milkshake as you read it in a motel bathtub, although I’m sure it’s equally delightful enjoyed soberly with a cup of tea. 


How to Survive Everything

By Ewan Morrison,

Book cover of How to Survive Everything

Why this book?

I’m full of admiration for this book. Morrison is a fifty-something bloke, but this narrative is told in the first person by a teenage girl, Haley, and the voice is totally perfect: opinionated, funny, sulky, naïve. The novel’s full of dark humour, and a real page-turner. Haley is kidnapped by her father to join a group of apocalyptic pandemic survivalists. Are they barking mad or the only people clear-sighted enough to see the danger the world is in from Virus X? You’ll veer from one viewpoint to the other throughout. You’ll also learn how to use a crossbow and what to put in your survival pack. (Warning: I could only read the bit about amputation through my fingers.) 


The Spider

By Maria Savva,

Book cover of The Spider

Why this book?

I like all of Maria Savva’s books because she has great insight into how people think and why they act as they do. She creates worlds that are ‘normal’ and yet pitches her characters into unusual situations, which make the worlds strange and eerie; especially in The Spider stories.


Good Behaviour

By Molly Keane,

Book cover of Good Behaviour

Why this book?

Set among the dilapidated Anglo-Irish gentry in rural Ireland as they sink slowly into decline, what makes this book strange and unique among country house novels is the way it deals with its narrator. The daughter of a landowner in a big run-down house, in a social world dominated by horses and hunting, she sees what’s going on around her but fails to understand it, hemmed in by rules of behaviour that make many things simply impossible to name. We see that her brother is gay, for instance, but she never spots it, even when she walks in on her brother and his boyfriend in a state of undress, and she never finds her own way out of this strange doomed world. 

This book is darkly funny, tinged with gothic, and completely merciless.  No less a writer than Hilary Mantel has said she wishes she’d written this novel.


Gnomon

By Nick Harkaway,

Book cover of Gnomon

Why this book?

Harkaway has serious literary pedigree but is determined to put exactly what he damn well likes in his books. Gnomon is labyrinthine, its characters sizzle with personality and it is set in researched, vibrant worlds that reek of authenticity, from antiquity to modern-day Greece. It’s also, partly, set in a dystopian, ultra-surveillance future (an arch glance at the political developments of recent years) and shamelessly combines mysticism, time-bending, and no shortage of sharks. Its rejection of convention but adherence to good, thoughtful writing is one hell of a ride.


Reincarnation Blues

By Michael Poore,

Book cover of Reincarnation Blues

Why this book?

Not only is this novel about death and dying (10,000 times, to be exact), but it also features Death as a main character. So it gets bonus points for hitting both of those marks when it comes to my love of dark comedies about death. But it’s also a story about finding a reason for living, that reason being the aforementioned Death, who just so happens to be the main character’s love interest. It’s complicated. At turns both thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. Reincarnation stories have always intrigued me and this one does it in a fashion unlike any other.


The Library at Mount Char

By Scott Hawkins,

Book cover of The Library at Mount Char

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite dark fantasy books. This book is filled with acolytes that are imbued with the power of great deities doing the bidding of a cruel godlike being. It takes some time to unravel the truth in this book simply because the kids we follow don’t understand it themselves. I am still in awe of this beautiful, complex storyline. This is a book that isn’t talked about enough. Once you get to the talking lions, you start to understand how it all fits together like a thousand-piece puzzle. Once you finish it, you’ll be begging for a sequel just like me.


Billy, Me & You: A Memoir of Grief and Recovery

By Nicola Streeten,

Book cover of Billy, Me & You: A Memoir of Grief and Recovery

Why this book?

When I was halfway through Billy, Me, and You, I got off the tube I was riding, cancelled my plans, and took the book to a pub to give it my full attention. That was the power it had. So submerged in its world I was unable to put it down. It's so beautifully written and big and painful, it held my hand in my own grief and somehow radiated such warmth and hope like a magic thing.


The Story of Harold

By Terry Andrews, Edward Gorey (illustrator),

Book cover of The Story of Harold

Why this book?

Are you prepared to read a novel that might challenge your perspective on sexual practices generally considered perverse and perilous? The narrator of this touching fictional autobiography is Terry Andrews, a compassionate, witty, and wildly promiscuous children’s book author and resident of pre-AIDS Greenwich Village. Unfortunately for him, he discovers that he is most drawn to what he cannot have – a family and kids. His attraction to down-and-out misfits and sadomasochism seems to rule that out until he falls in love with a married father of six. When that relationship comes undone, however, Terry slides into suicidal depression. Even so, his narration remains charged with magical exuberance and black humor. Is it a scandalous work? Definitely! Dangerous? Probably. Worth reading? You decide…  


Willem De Kooning's Paintbrush

By Kerry Lee Powell,

Book cover of Willem De Kooning's Paintbrush

Why this book?

Kerry Lee Powell writes some of the best sentences I’ve ever read. A lot of her opening lines (“Today's the day Mitchell Burnhope gets the royal shit kicked out of him” ... “I took my kung fu instructor off speed-dial today” ... “A dozen of us were dressed up as low-budget ghosts outside Earl’s Court tube station”) are arresting, instantly grabbing my attention, while hinting at something more, posing a question and inviting me to read on. 

What was happening was usually much deeper than first expected. She's economic with her words, but in a few pages I came to care about the characters and I miss them now, feel like they're still out there somewhere wheeling and dealing to keep their head above water.


Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms

By John Polo,

Book cover of Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms

Why this book?

Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms is a great read for widows and widowers, but really anyone that had a loss or knows of someone that has. It's excellently written, easy to read, and thoroughly engaging but mostly will make your heart smile. A beautifully told, heartbreaking love story, but mostly it will leave you with optimism and lingering warmth. It gives one hope that brighter days are ahead and love survives, even in death.


Dweller

By Jeff Strand,

Book cover of Dweller

Why this book?

I’m a big fan of Horror Comedy, and one name I kept seeing over and over in that category was Jeff Strand. I saw that he had a Bigfoot book and I grabbed it. It wasn’t at all what I expected! Strand’s books are often filled with zany humor, but this story was something quite different.

Dweller follows the friendship between a boy… and a monster. There are plenty of thrills and chills, but if you don’t come away from this novel with a tear in your eye, you’re made of sturdier stuff than I. Poignant and powerful, this book has a lot of heart.


Girls with Bright Futures

By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman,

Book cover of Girls with Bright Futures

Why this book?

This novel is a chilling depiction of the cut-throat world of elite college admissions for families attending an ultra-competitive private school. It’s another great example of taking concepts I’ve seen in nonfiction parenting books (helicopter parenting and over-pressuring kids) and playing them out in a fictional way. The details on the parents’ backstories, and how they affected their thought processes, allowed clear comparisons and contrasts to their situations, values, and beliefs and helped me see why I may want to handle certain situations differently.


Tourist Season

By Carl Hiaasen,

Book cover of Tourist Season

Why this book?

Everybody has a South Florida story they’ll tell about the wilds of Miami. Carl Hiaasen outdoes most of them. Body parts are washing up on the shores of Dade County Is it a hungry crocodile? Maybe not. Some of the body parts are in a suitcase and a lot of the players may not be playing it straight.


The Man in the Window

By Jon Cohen,

Book cover of The Man in the Window

Why this book?

Perhaps this was an inspiration for my own novel. It is about Louis, who has not left his house in sixteen years, due to his disfigured face. I won’t ruin the book, but I must say that it is written with great tenderness and understanding, and the characters are luminous. 

This book has stayed with me for years. Cohen weaves a bit of magic into his writing, and though the topic is sad on the surface, its two main characters will fill the reader with deep love and great satisfaction.


My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite,

Book cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

Why this book?

Of all family relationships, I am particularly intrigued by the bond between sisters—think: Little Women, Sense and Sensibility, The Vanishing Half. In Braithwaite’s debut novel, older and more practical sister Korede is hopelessly devoted to younger and more impetuous sister Ayoola. This familiar family dynamic is given a fresh and fabulous take when it turns out Ayoola’s boyfriends keep ending up dead, leaving Korede to clean up the mess. Sister melodrama and serial murder—what could be more fun, right?


Skating To Antarctica

By Jenny Diski,

Book cover of Skating To Antarctica

Why this book?

This isn’t a traditional travel book and not a traditional memoir about depression, but a combination of both. Her journey to Antarctica becomes a metaphor for her mental health struggles throughout her life, starting from childhood. 

What I love about this book, and her writing in general, is the dark humour, her acerbic observations and true understanding of how paralysing and perilous depression can be. She understands how painful depression is, the depths it can take you to and seeing your own darkness reflected by someone else is both comforting and validating.


The House of God

By Samuel Shem,

Book cover of The House of God

Why this book?

Though technically a work of loose fiction based on his experiences as an intern, I do not feel it is right to have a list of medical memoirs without The House of God holding down the anchor. Several decades old now, it remains the standard for the delicate space between self-disclosure in medicine and irreverence. Physician writers know it can be hard to thread that particular needle, but Shem does it so well that there is seldom a medical student who comes through training who has not picked up a copy at one point or another. 


Holmes on the Range: A Mystery

By Steve Hockensmith,

Book cover of Holmes on the Range: A Mystery

Why this book?

Steve Hockensmith is a hoot. I love this book. It features Sherlock Holmes wannabe Old Red and boyish galoot Big Red as the Huck Finn version of Watson. Steve’s books are raucously funny while offering a brand new perspective on the last decade of the 19th century.


The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Jonathan Rieder,

Book cover of The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why this book?

Rieder’s work is perhaps the single most interesting interpretation of King’s ability to thrive in very different rhetorical audiences, and explains his ability to communicate to so many different audiences at the same time. From King’s street talk in private to his SCLC colleagues, to his magnificent sermons to black church crowds, to his soaring oratory to more general public audiences, King code-shifted with ease and skill. No one captures this quality better than Rieder in this book.


Switch Bitch

By Roald Dahl,

Book cover of Switch Bitch

Why this book?

The book may not have much swearing in it, but it has one of the best titles ever. It sounds like an insult drawn from an obscure meme. Dahl is a master of the short story, and here you get four of them, including his fabulous character Oswald Hendryks Cornelius.


A Little Hatred

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of A Little Hatred

Why this book?

Joe Abercrombie is the king of writing casual comic conversations in dire situations. His seventh book in this world, A Little Hatred is the first in a new trilogy, the freshest from a seven-year gap in the series, and one of the best for the sheer quality of standout characters. Savine dan Glokta is my favourite – “What an honour to see you, my lady.” “Isn’t it though!” – followed closely by Teufel, the brass-knuckled spy; Gunnar Broad, the man or bull (if he wears his spectacles); and Bremer dan Gorst, the deadliest man in the union who can only speak in a high-pitched squeak.

Not only is this a book you can read without prior knowledge of the previous six, this book will also convince you to go back and read all those other books, then re-read this again for it to take on an entirely different light, become an entirely different book, and one you’ll love in a thousand different ways.


The Vagrant (the Vagrant Trilogy)

By Peter Newman,

Book cover of The Vagrant (the Vagrant Trilogy)

Why this book?

A Newman on the scene and, atrocious pun aside, Peter Newman redefines what it is for an author to have a fresh voice, especially since his lead character in The Vagrant speaks all of one word. And that’s one word per book if you go on to read the trilogy, which you will, because this novel is amazing. 

What more can you ask for when it comes to dark humour and light entertainment than a man traversing a poisoned world – filled with tainted humans, half-breed demons, and twisted infernals – and his companions on this journey are none other than a belligerent goat and a new-born baby. None of them speak, yet all three pull you into their hearts and them into yours.

An eye opens. A book is read. A reader becomes a Newman fan.


Lullaby

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Book cover of Lullaby

Why this book?

It’s not often you read the opening chapter of a novel (in this case the Prologue) and go back to read it again before continuing with the rest of the novel because you’ve never read anything like it before. And the book just gets better from there. Combine an African culling song with a tortured journalist investigating crib deaths and a heroine real estate agent who sells haunted houses, then put that all in the hands of Chuck Palahniuk, and you have a supernatural horror dark comedy/satire unlike anything you’ll ever read. Except maybe another Chuck Palahniuk novel. After reading this, I was inspired to write Breathers.


A Dirty Job

By Christopher Moore,

Book cover of A Dirty Job

Why this book?

Christopher Moore is one of those rare authors who can actually make you laugh out loud, and there are plenty of those moments to be found here. Secondhand store owner and beta-male Charlie Asher becomes a death merchant, retrieving soul vessels before those souls end up in the hands of the forces of darkness. Set in San Francisco, A Dirty Job features a colorful collection of characters that includes Goth teens, Buddhist monks, and the Emperor of San Francisco. This was the first of Moore’s books that I read and it remains one of my favorites.


Upright Beasts

By Lincoln Michel,

Book cover of Upright Beasts

Why this book?

When it comes to short story collections I definitely have a type, as Upright Beasts is a blend of fantasy, horror, dark humor, and the surreal. And if we’re talking about genre-bending, no one does it quite like Lincoln Michel. His stories are strange and familiar, funny and sad, whimsical and disturbing, twisted and delightful. Sometimes all at the same time. Much like the other authors and collections I’ve listed here, these stories inspired my own writing and made me want to be a better writer. That’s what I want in the fiction I read: to not only be entertained but challenged.


The Last Hour of Gann

By R. Lee Smith,

Book cover of The Last Hour of Gann

Why this book?

All of R. Lee Smith’s novels are dark, explicit, and fascinating, but my favorite (and it was a Sophie’s Choice, for sure!) is The Last Hour of Gann. The heroine, Amber, and her spaceship full of fellow pioneers crash land on a dystopian alien world inhabited by lizard people. The humans are woefully unprepared to survive in the wild and all too willing to turn on one another. When a passing lizard/warrior/judge, Meoraq, stumbles upon their camp, Amber jumps at the opportunity to beg for his aid, a near-impossible task without knowing his language. Together, they learn to communicate, and as Meoraq embarks on the futile task of keeping “his humans” safe, so begins the delicious, inexplicable, slow-burn romance between woman and lizard that I never knew I needed.


A House for Mr. Biswas

By V.S. Naipaul,

Book cover of A House for Mr. Biswas

Why this book?

This is the book I open whenever I need inspiration. The evocation of a landscape and a community, the author’s precise attention to detail, the mix of comedy and tragedy, the range of characters, are all unforgettable. The story follows a man who dreams of owning a house but it’s also about the search for identity and the fear of oblivion. Throughout the novel, Biswas seeks to understand his purpose and disentangle himself from the binds of tradition and community. He realizes that in a colonial society, ownership of property signals his right to exist. Everything about this novel is remarkable.


Tropical Punch (Bubbles in Space)

By S.C. Jensen,

Book cover of Tropical Punch (Bubbles in Space)

Why this book?

Bubbles in Space couldn’t be more different than the two books above. It features a humoristic approach to the genre and doesn’t take itself too seriously. We follow Bubbles, a pink-haired detective on her adventures in Holo City. Like me, S.C. Jensen is one of the very few female authors in the cyberpunk genre. I recommend checking her books out if you’re looking for something not as grim and dramatic as most cyberpunk books.


Trainspotting

By Irvine Welsh,

Book cover of Trainspotting

Why this book?

Self-abandonment. Haud oan a second. Ah wanted tae see Jean-Claude smash up this arrogant fucker.

You don't understand a word? Don't worry; you'll get the hang of it. Scotland is far from the rest of the world, as you can tell by the language. But in a way, this book is about what's happening in the world. It's about how to get lost and not find yourself again in the world. Just like Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo a decade earlier. It is a series of short stories that show the lives of people who follow no career path, who have no specific plot in mind for themselves, and end up with only random snippets of life, decay, and death—glimpses into the sad lives of people who get a fix when everything no longer makes sense. The stories are sometimes hard to take, but Welsh's writing style makes them worthwhile. 


Jane Steele

By Lyndsay Faye,

Book cover of Jane Steele

Why this book?

"Reader, I murdered him." Yes, those are among the opening lines of this reimagining of Jane Eyre’s story. I was immediately hooked! Jane Steele is a sensitive orphan who suffers at the hands of a spiteful aunt. I have a weakness for orphans and misfits, and at first Jane put me in mind of Cinderella. But the story quickly turns dark. After fleeing her grim life and making her way by penning criminals’ last confessions, she learns her aunt has died and she may be the heir to the home left behind. But there’s a complication—her childhood home has a new master, Mr. Thornfield, who happens to be seeking a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield. Thus begins a dangerous dance between her and her master. I loved this book!


Clowns Vs. Spiders

By Jeff Strand,

Book cover of Clowns Vs. Spiders

Why this book?

If you enjoy horror colored with off-color laughs, but you’re not in the mood for a long series, then you can truly do no better than Jeff Strand. He is without question the master of standalone horror/comedy stories, and this 100% shows in Clowns Vs. Spiders. It’s a novel designed to play upon many people’s worst fears, while somehow keeping their eyes glued to the story. You’ll hate yourself a little bit more with every page you read, but damn, Jeff makes self-loathing more fun than it has any right to be.


Love Medicine

By Louise Erdrich,

Book cover of Love Medicine

Why this book?

My parents were anthropologists who took me as a pre-teen to visit the pueblos of the southwest. There we attended ritual dances, and I was deeply impressed by their devotion, beauty, and power. I incorporated those impressions into the modern dance I was studying and would continue to practice as my first career. Now as a writer I continue my interest in indigenous cultures, and I admire the way the Plains Ojibwe, as portrayed by Erdrich, expand the meaning of “medicine” beyond scientific facts. “Medicine” comes to mean love, the healing force that overcomes envy and anger in communities from the plains to the pueblos to families around the world, including my own.


Henry's Sisters

By Cathy Lamb,

Book cover of Henry's Sisters

Why this book?

Can I please give this book an extra star? I cried, I laughed, and wow, did I smile while reading Henry’s Sisters.

Henry is a special needs person, glue of the family, and the youngest child. The sisters are a famous photographer and professional one-night stander, Isabelle, her angry, food addicted, kindergarten teaching twin, Cecilia, and Janie, an OCD best-selling crime novelist who invents twisted ways to kill her characters. The cast is rounded out by stripper mom, and Amelia Earhart (grandma has dementia).

Rife for disaster with sharp wit and heartache, the family is busy navigating their tortuous past when Henry is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The dialogue shifts leaving the reader begging for Henry to live and applauding his choice to die. This book is how cancer affects a family.


Anomaly Flats

By Clayton Smith,

Book cover of Anomaly Flats

Why this book?

Tired of spaceships and A.I.? Then how about a humorous take on sci-fi horror? If Twin Peaks were a comedy…and also a book…it would’ve been Anomaly Flats. Weird, disturbing events abound in this quaint Midwestern town where an ancient evil lurks behind the canned goods at the local Walmart, and–since they weren’t trying to kill me personally–many of them were hilarious. Or at least the way the characters reacted to them were hilarious. And in the end, isn’t that close enough?


Mother Night

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Mother Night

Why this book?

I discovered Vonnegut in my early 20s and the first of his books I read was Slaughterhouse Five, which I quite enjoyed and still love to this day. But it was his fictional tale of American spy Howard W. Campbell that really captured my imagination. I consider myself a “thematically based writer” and I’m much more interested in exploring layers of challenging themes than I am actual plot. Mother Night had many themes, including the struggle with one’s conscience, freedom, and obsession but it was his central theme of We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be that really grabbed me! Vonnegut expertly shows how theme infuses a story and solidified my obsession with exploring the story beneath the story.


The Universal Baseball Association

By Robert Coover,

Book cover of The Universal Baseball Association

Why this book?

Coover’s prescient novel pre-dates the explosion of sports fantasy leagues by at least a decade, but places an imaginary league at the center of his story. Anyone who has ever played in fantasy leagues knows their power. The fantasy can take over your life, which is precisely what happens to J. Henry Waugh. The protagonist is a mild-mannered accountant by day, but the owner-operated-madman-in-charge of his self-created league at night. Eventually, it overwhelms his real life. This is a novel about the dangers of living inside your own head.


Player Piano

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Player Piano

Why this book?

Like many people, I went through a Vonnegut reading fest in my late teens or early twenties. The ending of Player Piano stuck with me. I’m sure it wasn’t my first exposure to the cycle of people creating their own messes, but it was blunt and solid and memorable. Tempered optimism is key to a good dystopian novel.

Also, science fiction stories of past eras are an opportunity for a glimpse into the psyche of their times. I like that sort of thing.


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

By Mary Roach,

Book cover of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Why this book?

In Roach’s macabre yet delightful book, we learn about the usefulness of the human meat sack after its typical expiration date. It’s heartening to think that we can keep contributing to society even postmortem and to learn about the many strides science has taken due to body donation. This read is certified gross, funny, enlightening, and weird. 


Chasing Graves

By Ben Galley,

Book cover of Chasing Graves

Why this book?

If you’re in the mood for a darker story to fill the moonlit hours between dusk and dawn, Chasing Graves is what you’ve been searching for. Galley’s writing is nothing short of magnificent, his creativity almost alien in its imagination. Not a second went by while reading this book that I wasn’t utterly lost between its pages, living in the world of the author’s creation, immersed in a story with one of the best twists I’ve ever read. When you begin this book, you might as well forget about sleep altogether, it’s that good. 


Severance

By Ling Ma,

Book cover of Severance

Why this book?

Sometimes second chances come with a steep price, which, in Candace Chen’s case, means the apocalyptic annihilation of the world’s population. I wouldn’t call this book a pick-me-up, though it is funny, but it is an incredibly moving story about what it means to move on. Ling Ma moves her characters between time, writing about Candace’s parent's decision to leave behind China and her own decision to stay in New York as the deadly fever takes hold. Some of the most beautiful writing is about New York City, a place I dearly love. “New York is possibly the only place in which most people have already lived, in some sense, in the public imagination, before they ever arrive.” 


One Good Turn

By Kate Atkinson,

Book cover of One Good Turn

Why this book?

Atkinson is a Scottish author who blends the murder mystery genre with superb writing. The result is startling, and not quite like anything we’ve seen before. As a murder mystery, this novel has it all. Set in Edinburgh, it’s rich with suspense, wild plot twists, a cast of truly memorable and unruly characters who are all, mostly unbeknownst to them, in an elaborate dance with one another. Atkinson tantalizes us with wicked secrets until the very last page. Darkly comic humor permeates throughout, and as we aficionados of dark humor know, it is the flip side of deep empathy for poor struggling, suffering humanity. Her rendering of a man dying from a blow to the head, told from the point of view of the victim in the last seconds of his life, could not have been written better by James Joyce himself.


Skulduggery Pleasant

By Derek Landy,

Book cover of Skulduggery Pleasant

Why this book?

I loved this book, and all the ones that came after. Author Derek Landy knows how to write complicated characters. No one wants the protagonist to be perfect. Where’s the fun in that? This series is full of dark humor and twisty plots that keep the adrenaline pumping. I love odd and different characters. My job as a fantasy writer is to create characters that are real and unforgettable. Derek Landy has done this to perfection. If you like fantasy, adventure, and intrigue this book cannot be missed.


A Tale Dark & Grimm

By Adam Gidwitz, Hugh D'Andrade (illustrator),

Book cover of A Tale Dark & Grimm

Why this book?

I love humor in stories (I even perform improv at a comedy theater in San Diego!), and this book is the funniest, quirkiest fairy tale retelling I’ve ever read. It is filled with dark humor and nods to the sometimes-gruesome source material, including cannibalism and children getting their heads chopped off (did you know you could get away with head-chopping in a children’s book and make it funny?!) and lots of warnings to the “little kids” that they better stop reading. Somehow, the book is able to remain lighthearted as Hansel and Gretel flee their own story and journey into eight other fairy tales.


Twisted Tales 2

By Deborah A Stansil,

Book cover of Twisted Tales 2

Why this book?

Twisted Tales has an entertaining, witty introduction. The stories fly by, making it easy to read even during short time periods. Great for readers who are short on time. It's a good horror book in that the “monsters” and horrific situations are realistic. I recommend it to readers who enjoy horrors and thrillers. 


Ethel & Ernest

By Raymond Briggs,

Book cover of Ethel & Ernest

Why this book?

I really admire Raymond Briggs’ work; he’s a wonderful storyteller and a fantastic artist with a great eye for colour. Ethel & Ernest is a beautiful book. The strip-cartoon format works well and makes for an intense reading experience. Whilst this book has lots of humour and light, it also features some dark topics such as the Second World War, mental illness, and bereavement. It is generally considered unsuitable for children under the age of twelve. It’s a charming love story and a vivid social record. I find it heartbreaking at times. It becomes even more touching when you remember that it is based on Briggs’ own family.


Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

By Caitlin Doughty,

Book cover of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Why this book?

A classic recommendation throughout the death world, but Caitlin’s memoir about working in a crematorium is shot through with activism, challenging society’s fear of death and the corpse, and makes a brilliant argument for it being the root of a lot of avoidable problems.


Extremities

By Kathe Koja,

Book cover of Extremities

Why this book?

Kathe Koja changed everything with the release of The Cipher in 1991, emerging as the most exhilarating new voice in American dark fiction since the arrival of Stephen King nearly two decades prior. Her work is characterized by hyper-sensory immersion into complex subjectivities, achieved by an inimitable, modernism-tinged voice. Koja is a master novelist, and it’s a rush to read her style within the more condensed form of short fiction; once you’re finished with Extremities, be sure to pick up her genre-expanding 2020 collection, Velo/Cities.


The Fairy's Tale: A Novel For People Who Don't Trust Fairy Tales

By F.D. Lee,

Book cover of The Fairy's Tale: A Novel For People Who Don't Trust Fairy Tales

Why this book?

I love, love, love this book, for so many reasons. My top two are: 1) It sits squarely in that odd ‘fantasy in a technological world’ niche (Imagine 1984’s world filled with fairies!) 2) It has an odd, dark humour feel to a book that I like (think Gaiman or Pratchett) And oh! The characters? Funny, clever, nuanced. Bum that was three wasn’t it? I’ll come in again.


The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives

By Cecilia Ruiz,

Book cover of The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives

Why this book?

Death by tortoise shell, a lifeless head, excess of dance, or playing a concert? Based on true stories, in this impossible to catalogue book, you can find out the tragic, sometimes funny, but always incredible deaths of famous, and ordinary, people alike. 

What I love about this book is Cecilia’s sensitivity and witty sense of humor to deal with the illustrations. While some of the deaths depicted are brutal in nature, the images are never violent or morbid, but they are rather whimsical, poetic, and rather intriguing.


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.