Friday, April 4, 2014

Laugh Your Ass Off (Intelligently)

A while back, I resolved to post no more lists on this blog. Because resolutions are made to be broken, here's a list of seriously funny books from the Greek beginnings of Western literature to its present globalization. It is also an attempt at a genealogy of Western literary comedy from the ancient Greeks to today, implicitly arguing that the main line of development of the European novel is comedic and that the 'high seriousness' of the Victorian novelists was a 19th-century aberration resulting from the cultural insecurity of a rising bourgeoisie...yeah, yeah, yeah, but really it's just a list of intelligent, original, laugh-out-loud funny books. Read them all (in no particular order), enjoy them, and do what the title of this list suggests.

  • The Complete Plays by Aristophanes. 
  • The Satyricon by Petronius.
  • Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches by Lucian
  • The Golden Ass by Apuleius. 
  • The Decameron by Boccaccio.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. 
  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. 
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.
  • Jacques the Fatalist by Denis Diderot.
  • Candide by Voltaire.
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
  • Don Juan by Lord Byron (or as I like to call him, Gorgeous George)
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain.
  • Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.
  • Complete Works by Oscar Wilde.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce.
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.
  • The Dalkey Archive by Flann O'Brien.
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
  • All About H. Haterr by G. V. Desani.
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.
  • The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.
  • Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
  • The Complete Enderby by Anthony Burgess.
  • Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth.
  • Our Gang by Philip Roth.
  • Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth.
  • Fear of Flying by Erica Jong.
  • How To Save Your Own Life by Erica Jong.
  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
  • Money by Martin Amis.
  • Time's Arrow by Martin Amis.
  • Live From Golgotha by Gore Vidal.
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
  • Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.
  • The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self.
  • Grey Area by Will Self.
  • pretty much anything by Tom Robbins

To end with a comic non sequitur, here are two of my favorite literary typos:

In an essay by Edmund White about novelist James Jones, one of Jones' novels is listed as Go To The Windowmaker. (As that great Homer of our time would say, "D'oh!")

In an article on William Carlos Williams, one of his best-known lines is quoted as "No ideas but in thongs," a perfect sentiment for spring break.


George Djuric said...

How could you leave out The Man Without Qualities and Berlin Alexanderplatz, beats me with a churro.

BRIAN OARD said...


Yes, yes, on both books. Add them to the list. and why not put the Good Soldier Svejk up there too? The terrible 20th century might be looked back upon as a golden age of darkly comic fiction. The dowdy, dour 19th century was the only period for which I couldn't think of more than enough titles. Nineteenth century literature bellylaughs about as often as J. M. Coetzee. (One of Coetzee's friends claims to have seen him laugh once. Once.)