A blog of endless curiosity
Lots of people have been coming into the store lately asking for humorous or funny books to distract them from their earthly woes. Here is a list of a few I’ve read and loved.
Jonathan Safran Foer – ‘Everything is Illuminated’
This is a gloriously humane novel whose humour comes from mis-translations by Alex, the Ukranian narrator, and the culture clashes between him and Safran Foer – the man he is supposed to be translating for. Safran Foer is a New York Jew who has come to the Ukraine to try and find a woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazi’s and possibly had a relationship with him. He has come to find his past, and ends up with the unlikely helpers of Alex, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s flatulent ‘Seeing Eye Bitch’, Sammy Davis Jr Jr.
Alex is a wonderful character whose upbeat descriptions of himself as a pimp who attends many excellent nightclubs are utter exaggerations. Though his true life is a tragedy, Jonathan Safran Foer writes with such wonderful control that the tragedy never overwhelms the humour.
If you like Agatha Christie’s sense of humour and style of crime, you’ll love ‘Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ and Bradley’s latest, ‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’. 11 year old Flavia de Luce lives in a small English town in the heyday of loose parenting. Her father is an introverted man, who allows her to carry on her uncle’s chemistry work in a laboratory in one wing of their crumbling manor house. She is an inquisitive child, who is ridiculously intelligent, and knows very handy things like how to put poisoned ivy juice into her sister’s lipstick without her noticing a difference (until it is applied!). When bodies start turning up, it is Flavia who is always on the scene, noticing details the police do not. Her observations on life and adult behaviour are cheeky and fun, and the fact that the village Constabulary is always flummoxed by how she arrives at the correct conclusion never fails to amuse. It has all those madcap English characters you always see in comedies of manners, but somehow through the eyes of a child they appear more original!
Jasper Fforde – ‘Shades of Grey’
Jasper Fforde invents parallel universes in order to parody this one. In his latest, ‘Shades of Grey’, he invents a world whose economy and class system runs on colour and in which the man cause of death is The Mildew and swan attacks. The Reds are genetically only disposed to see red. The snobbish Greens, can see only green and so on. The Greys can see only in greyscale, and are on the bottom of the rung – the Untouchables as it were. When a young Red, Eddie Russett is sent away from his privileged life in the city for disobeying Munsell’s Rules by creating a new system for queuing, he finds out that terrible things are afoot in his world, and that perhaps the system that his world is based on is not so benevolent after all. He falls in love with a trouble-making Grey who has found out far too much about crime and punishment, and will soon be disappearing for good, if the government has anything to say about it. Russett is a bumbling character who is constantly being biffed in the nose, writing awful poetry to his soon-to-be-fiance, getting eaten by giant venus fly traps, and generally getting himself into trouble. This is a snort-out-loud satire on the stupidity of bureaucracies!
Bill Bryson – ‘At Home’
This isn’t exactly humour, more a light skip from topic to topic with comic Bryson observations in between. Ranging from diatribes on mice who refuse to be trapped, to the invention of electricity, toilets, telephones, this is an exploration of all the little things at home we take for granted. Bryson’s charm lies in his wonderfully warm explanations, as well as his cheeky good humour (you feel if you were a mouse in Bryson’s home you’d roll over and play dead in the traps just to please him).
Financial meltdown. Haha. Funny. No really! Ben Elton can make anything funny. He started his career writing scripts for Blackadder and The Young Ones and hilariously witty cop drama with Rowan Atkinson, Thin Blue Line. He has parodied the Big Brother epidemic (Dead Famous), the ‘search for the next star’ epidemic (Chart Throb) and the blogging epidemic, “only the perverted do things in private (Blind Faith). Meltdown is a farcical look at banking, parenting, and yuppies and what happens when Wall Street crashes on them. Elton is great if you find someone shouting punchlines at you in a smartypants kind of way hilarious. Which, admit it, sometimes we all need.
Nick Hornby – ‘Juliet, Naked’
Nick Hornby does gentle satire of the male condition. In his latest, ‘Juliet, Naked’, Hornby’s protagonist Duncan is a middle aged man with an all-consuming obsession for a musician which probably ought to have been left behind in his youth. Especially as the musician, Tucker Crowe, hasn’t had any new work for 20 years. His partner Anne is far more objective about the musician, especially when she hears the new album ‘Juliet, Naked’ which he’s just released; “Juliet, without any of the good bits,” she says. She begins to wonder if she has wasted 15 years of her time with Duncan, whose unimaginative hero-worship has begun to come between them. When she posts a scathing review of the album on a website, there is a surprise reply from the elusive pop star, which starts a relationship between them.
Hornby does humour about human relationships and how farcical they can often become in this day and age.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani ‘I Do Not Come to You By Chance’
This is an account of Nigerian scams from one of the scammers. Kingsley Ibey is a young man who thinks he knows the direction of his life. He is the eldest son, so he gets the biggest piece of meat from the family pot, he gets to go to university with the family’s money, and he gets to hopelessly pursue a girlfriend who is becoming more and more materialistic with no view to how it will affect his studies or family relationships. That is, until his father dies. Then he is thrust into the world of having to provide for his grieving mother and many siblings and cousins. It’s a tough ask of a young man who is still, mentally, a boy. He gets a job, finally, with his uncle, Cash Daddy, whose shady operations and political financing have made him one of the richest men in Nigeria. Kingsley starts on the bottom rung: sending scam emails, and eventually gets so good that he starts to reel in some big customers.
This has all the gentle, teasing humour of African writing, it holds the awkwardness of youth and arrogance, and some very clever writing. Enjoyable from start to finish!
Some other amusing titles:
Steve Toltz ‘Fraction of the Whole’
Charlotte Mendelson ‘When we were Bad’
What’s your favourite humorous book?