One of the few perks of being stuck inside all day, more-or-less, is the chance to catch up with your reading list, or return to old friends that have been gathering dust on your bookshelf. I’ve found myself craving humour, the type that will have you pausing for minutes at a time to get your breath back after laughing, that will have you slapping your thigh with delight and guffawing out loud every second page. The selection below came to me right off the top of my head, with vivid memories of joy associated with them, and for that reason I’ve returned to many on the list multiple times. These are books that will leave you warm with mirth, a feeling that will endure for days on end.
I first read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend when I was about the same age. His utter lack of self-awareness combined with his earnest and strangely endearing superiority gave me an insight into the mind of a boy my age that I lacked (coming from an all-girls school), albeit through the comic genius of writer Sue Townsend. She took him through puberty to adulthood in eight books, but the first is where the magic sparked. The observation of family dynamics and friendships, crushes and the loathing of Alsatians named Sabre are so astute as to be squirm inducing, but it’s ultimately a very funny book, even funnier, perhaps, when read with the benefit of advanced years.
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding is on another part of the spectrum, but is equally as hilarious. The film adaptations have their place, and Renee Zellweger was really perfectly cast as our Brij, but it’s the books, particularly the first of the trilogy, that really shine. Bridget is a virtuosic creation, one-part ditsy neurotic, another flirty and feminine, another intelligent and ambitious, and her various family, friends and love interests are incredibly well imagined. I remember snorting and snickering by the swimming pool reading this on summer holidays one year, and my sister insisting she be next on the list to read it.
Memoirs and Essays
I first read Calypso by David Sedaris trapped in a wood hut in a Malaysian rain forest while the most severe lightning storm I’ve ever experienced raged around me. The dry wit and knack for turning what could be a pedestrian story into an epic tale of many parts, rounded off with often devastating punchlines, completely took my mind off impending doom, and I hardly noticed when the storm had died down to mere heavy rainfall. David Sedaris has a number of highly readable and hilarious essay collections, but this one will always be my favourite.
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay is a more recent collection, of diary entries written by the author while he was working as a junior doctor on a maternity ward in London. Kay has since become a comic writer for the screen, and with good reason; despite the often grim and sometimes very sad subject matter, this is one of the funniest pieces of writing I have ever read. His way with words is very quick and sure and if one minute you’re pondering the miracle of life and death the next you’ll be shaking your head with disbelief over the antics of people, chortling as you do.
You may or may not be familiar with The Worst Film Ever Made, or The Room, to give it its actual title. There is so much to unpick from the movie, that is so, so bad, bizarre and meme-worthy it gained a gleefully ironic following that organised viewings designed to savage it completely. The Disaster Artist is written by Tom Bissell and Greg Sestero, who was one of the actors in the movie who had a close, dysfunctional relationship with the film’s writer, director and producer, one Tommy Wiseau. The book had tears running down my face from the very first page; it’s definitely best read with the movie in mind but while that might not be possible right now it could be equally as fun to read it, then watch when you next get the chance.
- First published in The Tuam Herald on 15.04.20