There’s a slight snobbishness, in some circles, that says you’re not supposed to laugh at books. Films? Sure. Comedians? Of course. The faces people make before they sneeze? Undoubtedly. But books? Books are a sacred and solemn matter.

If that rings true to you, then the problem is simple: you’re not reading the right books. Because a genuinely funny book will unfurrow your brow, soften your stiff upper lip and make you laugh loud and proud whether you want to or not. 

To prove our point, here is a selection of some of the funniest titles ever written to make you cackle, snort, giggle or titter, whether you’re on a train, in a library, or just at home with your cat.
 

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)

There’s a side-story in Scoop where a journalist is dispatched by train to cover a revolution in the Balkan states. He falls asleep and wakes in the wrong country and, oblivious to his mistake, heads straight for a hotel where he ‘[cables] off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter.’ Despite it being totally made up, his story spurs a Fleet Street feeding frenzy for his phantom revolution, sparking a real one in its place. ‘There,’ Waugh concludes, ‘is the power of the Press for you.'

You won’t read a more astute satire of Her Majesty’s Press than Scoop, in which a newspaper mistakenly dispatches its mild-mannered nature columnist to cover a war (because he shares a surname with the paper’s star-reporter) and accidentally lands the scoop of the year. Full of technicolour characters and pinpoint persiflage, it lampoons the absurdity of 20th-century journalism of what is widely acknowledged as the unrivalled masterpiece of Fleet Street takedowns.
 

Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse (1925)

No writer better conjures a specific period in history than P. G. Wodehouse. His name alone is synonymous with a vanished time of upper-class Edwardian England, when wars were won on cups of tea, cricket ruled the waves, and lunch was always soup and fish. And yet, his stories – and humour – are timeless.

Of them, none are funnier than those of bumbling Bertie Wooster and his bacon-saving butler Jeeves. Carry On, Jeeves starts the journey of Bertie, the what-hoing toff who, time and again, falls into the soup, only for Jeeves to fish him out. The Jeeves-Wooster relationship has a comic energy like none you’ll read again.

But it is his one-liners, more than his characters, that have stood the test of time. Such as this, the best-ever description of the crepuscular charm of the end of a warm day: 'It was one of those still evenings you get in the summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away.'
 

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)

Nora Ephron doesn’t like her neck, and that’s the premise to the opener of this delectably dry collection of essays by the brains behind When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. It’s really an ode to getting older, gracefully or not.

With searing self-mockery, she delivers her hard-earned truths on all angles of womanhood, from why she hates her purse (‘You start small … but within seconds, your purse has accumulated the debris of a lifetime’), to the joys of having children (‘When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you’).

She covers cookery, inner-city living, ageing, and reversing it, not to mention was it like as an intern in JFK’s White House (‘I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at’).

It is an unstoppably frank, jaw-achingly funny and moving masterclass on how to laugh at yourself. By the time it’s over, you’ll definitely want to have what she’s having.
 

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (1954)

If you want to read the funniest description of a hangover ever put to paper, read Lucky Jim. It’s too long to reproduce here wholesale, but includes the immortal (if not gut-churning) words: ‘His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum.’

Kinsley Amis had a wicked sense of humour, and Lucky Jim is his greatest gag. It’s a campus novel about a misanthropic history lecturer who’s accidentally landed a job at a red-brick university. He doesn’t fit. He hates the world he’s fallen into, and would far rather flirt and drink than suffer the intolerable pomposity of academic life. So he is forced to do both.

Lucky Jim is a lethal satire of cloistered academic life and the idiocies, pedantries, stupid rules and unpleasant personal habits with which humanity is cursed, and for which Amis had no time. But more than that, it is a declaration of war on the dark forces of boredom. And for Amis, humour is his deadliest weapon.
 

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend (1982)

Not for nothing was this one of the biggest-selling books of the 1980s. From the confines of his parents' Leicester semi, Adrian Mole - the Pepys of modern Leicestershire - records his melancholy musings, lonely obsessions, the slow growth of his 'thing' and the 'funny feelings' he gets when he thinks about the wobbling chest of his life's great love, Pandora Braithwaite.

But Townsend’s genius lay not only in her sly social observations and weirdly-accurate insight into the mind of a teenage boy, but her genius for one-liners like: ‘My skin is dead good. I think it must be a combination of being in love and Lucozade.’ Or: ‘I have realised I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.’

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

There’s nothing funny about the way Toole’s grand comic masterpiece was published: almost 20 years after he wrote it and more than 11 years after he killed himself, aged just 31. But the book’s backstory adds all the more poignancy to a work whose author would never know quite how much it would come to mean to the world (it won him the rare honour of a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1981).

Do not eat or chew gum while reading A Confederacy of Dunces for it may well make you choke on your laughter. It follows the travails of a fat, flatulent, hot-dog guzzling history scholar named Ignatius J. Reilly as he bumbles, blunders and insults his way through a modern world that keeps spitting him back out.

Both admirable and pitiful, stupid and smart, this tragi-comic anti-hero will bulldoze himself into your mind from the very first line: ‘A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.’
 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith (1999)

This is one of the most written about books in modern British literature, White Teeth is Zadie Smith's widely ambitious saga about two boys rebelling against their families as they try to figure out who they are in a world riven by racial and cultural differences.

Bouncing back and forth between the Second World War and the 1990s, it covers a phantasmagoria of subjects, from war to friendship, family to love, racial identity to belonging (and much more in between). In short, White Teeth is a rollercoaster of a book. But unlike what can happen in novels with interweaving storylines spanning a long period of time, all are equally spellbinding – and equally hilarious, too.

White Teeth ultimately squares up to the two questions which nibble away at the very roots of modern life: Who are we? Why are we here? And why on Earth can’t we all just be friends? The answer is never simple, but here’s a stab: hope is everything, laughter helps, and anything is possible. 
 

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Stern (1759)

Poor Tristram Shandy. If it weren't for his mother asking his father if he'd remember to wind the clock during the key stage of his conception, he might not have had such a bum deal in life. Or perhaps it was the foolish 'man-midwife' who crushed his nose with the forceps at birth. Or the chambermaid who inadvertently circumcised him with a sash window.

Provocative, profane and utterly preposterous, 'Tristram Shandy' is a novel about a man trying to make sense of his life, foraging through his family history to understand his own fate. Trouble is, he has a crippling weakness for digression (at one point he discovers with mock-horror that, 200 pages into his novel, he has got 'no farther than to my first day's life').

Two and a half centuries after Stern published Tristram Shandy, it has lost none of its verve - one of the most inimitable, inventive, witty and delightfully conversational novels ever written.
 

The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang (2016)

Charles Wang was a wealthy Chinese-American make-up tycoon until the 2008 financial crisis blew up in his face. Now he’s broke and in a funk. So he takes his wife and three very-different teenage kids on a road trip across America to reconnect with each other. But what starts as a road trip turns into a roots trip. They end up in China.

Chang’s richly comic first novel is a wild ride: funny, endearing, wide-eyed and endlessly clever. It is a comedy about racial identity and belonging and what it is to call a place home.

But it is also a sweet and sprawling family adventure that unflinchingly skewers all the lazy cliches and stereotypes that pigeonhole Asian Americans with a lightness of touch that proves struggling with identity doesn’t have to be heavy. It can be funny and weird, especially when a family struggles through it together. 
 

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

Simply, the most famous comedy science-fiction book ever written (not a great deal of competition in that genre, granted). In many ways, A Hitchhiker's Guide... is a literary genre unto itself: piercingly mischievous, squintingly ironic, keenly observant and beautifully idealistic… and all set in space.

In an electron shell, it’s about a man called Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect who wander the galaxy after the Earth is blown up to make way for a hyperspace bypass. They meet various characters along the way, including a manically depressed robot who saves their lives by striking up a casual conversation with the enemy spaceship’s computer and thereby unintentionally talking it into depression and then suicide.

Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC radio 4 in 1978 (available as an audiobook, left), it is a work of prescient genius from one of the most extraordinary imaginations ever to put pen to paper. It is also a weapons-grade satire, riddled with metaphors, mainly for humanity’s many failings and hypocrisies.
 

Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli (1973)

The first of Bonfiglioli’s hugely-popular Mortdecai novels, Don't Point That Thing at Me introduces the self-described ‘portly, dissolute, immoral and middle-aged art dealer’ – unwilling assassin, insatiable epicurean and unapologetic dandy with a lumbering ex-con babysitter named Jock.

His archenemy is Martland, a policeman of questionable ethics, whose imaginative use of jump leads as interrogation tools will leave you wincing long into the night (not for no reason did author Julian Barnes call the book ‘a rare mixture of wit and imaginative unpleasantness’).

And while it is a riotous blend of comedy, crime and suspense, Bonfiglioli’s real weapon of choice is his imperious ability to turn a phrase. Take the moment he watches enchanted as Mrs Spon turns on a character and ‘Told Him Off’: ‘I had heard of her talents in that direction but had never before been privileged to hear her unlock the word bag. It was a literary and emotional feast.'
 

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson (1995)

It has been 25 years since Bill Bryson proved – joyfully and definitively – that it takes an outsider to see the truth about where you live. In our case, that a Johnny Foreigner could laugh at us, and so make us laugh at ourselves, came as something of a surprise. We are, after all, rather taken with our little floating nation, aren’t we?

Notes From A Small Island was – still is – as endearing a portrait of Britain’s downright weirdness as you could hope to find. Bryson had lived here for 20 years when he wrote it. But before he returned to America, he decided to take one last turn of the place. What resulted was an open love letter to the country that produced Marmite, where judges wear ‘little mops on their heads’ and where people call complete strangers ‘mate’ or ‘love’ (‘I hadn't been here twelve hours and already they loved me’).

It inveigled itself into our hearts, and stayed there, as the nation’s most-loved book ever written about Britain. Why? Because it’s bleeding hilarious, is why!
 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (2011)

When Salman Rushdie tweeted Mindy Kaling to congratulate her on the wild success of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, she replied: ‘It goes without saying, I loved your cameo in the Bridget Jones movie.’

This is the irreverence that has won her an audience of millions on the social media platform, not to mention heavy plaudits from every actor, comedian and newspaper reviewer who has bothered to read her book, which is exactly the same vein.

Described by The New York Times as Tina Fey’s ‘cool little sister. Or perhaps… the next Nora Ephron’, this collection of stories is one part memoir, two parts brain dump, and all parts hilarity. Kaling's tongue never leaves her cheek as she tackles topics like weight, race, consumer culture and Hollywood’s obsession with conventional beauty with a breezy frankness few such memoirs come as close to mastering.
 

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K Jerome (1889)

It wasn’t meant to be funny. The author said that himself. It was meant to be a serious travel guide of England’s busiest river. But in the end, it just was: a foghorn of a comedy about, well, not much more than what the title says.

Three men, all city clerks, set off down the Thames river with a dog called Montmorency. What follows are a series of mishaps and mistakes to do with tow ropes, the weather or bagpipes, all tempered by a rollicking feast of anecdotes and observations about life, not all of which are strictly relevant to the central story. This includes for our money one of the greatest comic scenes ever written down, involving grievous violence against a tin of pineapple, some blood, and a vision of the Devil.

Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen (2019)

Before Crystal was Crystal she was Tom, born in a tough town full of tough men and even tougher women. Quite how, many years later, they found themselves indulging in the pleasures of the night with a 79-year-old builder before knocking over his sister's ashes while trying to feed him a Viagra is truly a story to behold.

Then there’s the time they ... actually, it’s better you read her other stories for yourself. Bohemian, yes, but Rasmussen's stories are anything but a drag – they're funny, heartfelt and so lurid they should come with a free defibrillator. But more than that, they are shatteringly honest. Because their life hasn’t all been big-heels and butterfly eyelashes. There have been dark times, too. 

Poetic, idiosyncratic, and neck-achingly funny, this is the story of how Rasmussen set their 'glam and gorj' inner diva free.
 

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