They say it’s harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. Maybe this is why finding a book that makes you laugh—and we’re talking full-on guffaw here—is so difficult. We’ve done the hard work for you, so sit back and get ready to chuckle.
Usually when a poet pens a memoir, I buckle up for lyrical vignettes, a loose, dreamy structure and descriptions of open fields. But Patricia Lockwood isn’t your average poet, and Priestdaddy isn’t your average memoir. It’s as dense with bizarre observations about her father’s underwear as it is with beautiful turns of phrase about her father’s underwear. When Lockwood’s husband needed unexpected eye surgery, the pair returned to the Midwest to live with Lockwood’s parents in their rectory. Her father, you see, is a Catholic priest, despite his wife and five children. The rest of the book zigzags between this weird family reunion and Lockwood’s even weirder Catholic upbringing, filtered through the mind of someone who is herself breathtakingly weird. The resulting memoir is at once brilliant, irreverent, extraordinarily observed and precisely rendered.
—Christy, Associate Editor
The Wednesday Wars
I’ve never laughed harder at a book than I did at The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt’s 2008 Newbery Honor-winning tale of seventh grader Holling Hoodhood, set in the late 1960s. In one chapter, Holling’s teacher, Mrs. Baker, assigns The Tempest. Holling is so impressed by Caliban’s “cuss words” that he decides to memorize them. He employs them in situations ranging from the cafeteria, where he deems his bologna sandwich “strange stuff,” to chorus, where he retorts, “Blind mole, a wicked dew from unwholesome fen drop you” after getting teased for singing soprano, to an encounter with his older sister. “A southwest blow on ye and blister you all o’er,” he tells her. Holling doesn’t mind that he doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying: “It’s all in the delivery anyway.”
—Stephanie, Associate Editor
There’s dark humor, and then there’s black hole-dark humor, and from that deep, crushing vacuum comes the biggest joke of all, a “post-racial” America. Paul Beatty’s Booker Prize winner is perhaps the greatest satirical novel of our lifetime, if not the greatest ever. The absurdity is beyond anything you’ve ever read; the wordplay is the cleverest, and Beatty’s irreverence the farthest star from political correctness. After the death of his father, our farmer hero, whose name is Me, finds himself as a crisis interventionist for the Black residents of Dickens, a town on the outskirts of Los Angeles that has been erased from the map. Despite Me’s protestations, an old Dickens resident (and former “Little Rascals” star) begs to be Me’s slave, punishments and all, and all he wants for his birthday is resegregation. Laugh to keep from crying, or cry to keep from laughing.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
China Rich Girlfriend
Kevin Kwan’s frothy novels of Asia’s ultrarich would just be compendiums of designer labels and other assorted decadences if not for his willingness to lovingly mock the society he invites the reader into. This is perfectly encapsulated by Colette Bing, a bundle of nervous energy swaddled in haute couture who darts through the second book of Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series, China Rich Girlfriend. Colette is on a relentless quest to perfect every aspect of her existence. She named her dogs after Kate and Pippa Middleton and has the uniquely chaotic attitude of a person who has never encountered a problem she couldn’t buy her way out of. Kwan revels in her precisely orchestrated decadence and lampoons her absurdity in equal measure, creating a character you’ll love as much as laugh at.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
When in French
Think David Sedaris meets Jhumpa Lahiri, and you’ve got the gist of this smart, hilarious and tender memoir from New Yorker writer Lauren Collins. How did a woman from Wilmington, North Carolina, end up married to a Frenchman “who used Chanel deodorant and believed it to be a consensus view that Napoleon had lost at Waterloo because of the rain”? The story of their romance and Collins’ journey to fluency in French sits companionably alongside a thoughtful inquiry into the history of language. Pairing these two elements gives Collins’ experience universal resonance and intellectual weight, but there’s also a laugh on nearly every page as she recounts various linguistic misadventures, like informing her mother-in-law that she has given birth to a Nespresso machine. Lovers of language, romance and fish-out-of-water comedies shouldn’t miss it.