Reading list

5 serious but not straight-faced reads

Let’s be honest – there aren’t many funny books. ROLF is not short for ‘reading on the floor laughing’. That's why we bring you five rib-ticklers guaranteed to make you laugh on the bus, train, or carpet

The Idiot

Elif Batuman

Selin is an intellectually gifted and somewhat naive nineteen-year-old, constantly labouring under the fact of her inexperience. Shouldn’t she know how email works by now? Shouldn’t university be enlightening? Shouldn’t finding a boyfriend be less open-ended than this? As a fluent English speaker, shouldn’t teaching English be easy?

Seeking solace from her rootlessness, Selin befriends Svetlana, a neurotic spark plug incapable of sitting still, and begins a confusing courtship (of sorts) with Ivan, a Hungarian mathematician who may or may not already have a girlfriend. In this warm-hearted but never cute novel, Elif Batuman gives us a character whose missteps and mistakes feel all too familiar.

If you’ve ever wondered how to take the next step in your life, this witty debut will give you a lot to laugh about.

Hark! A Vagrant

Kate Beaton

You’ve spent months combing the shelves for a history- and literature-themed graphic novel, and can’t imagine when you’ll find it – Hark! A Vagrant is the collection you’ve been searching for. Kate Beaton’s hilariously historical and Eisner Award-winning cartoons have appeared in the New Yorker, the LA Times, Harper’s and more. Time called this collectionthe wittiest book of the year’, and we guarantee no other graphic novel will make you laugh and then rush to double-check your knowledge of Simón Bolívar’s expeditions.

 

Bridget Jones's Baby

Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones is having a baby, but there’s just one snag: there are two candidates for the enviable position of father. Possibly it’s Mark Darcy: upstanding, kind, thoughtful. Or possibly it’s Daniel Cleaver: handsome, feckless, and ‘glowing like a successful politician who’s just had a facial’. At the same time her friends are demanding details about her increasingly chaotic romantic and professional lives (while simultaneously proving themselves incapable of being responsible adults), and her mother won’t stop calling with updates on Angelina Jolie’s latest adoption.

This lively, kind-spirited novel won the 2017 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction. In honour a pig was named Bridget Jones’s Baby.

Catch-22

Joseph Heller

He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.

This is Captain Yossarian’s vow – one that is horrendously precarious given his very active duty as a bombardier in World War II. Not helping is the eagerness of his superiors to send him and his fellow soldiers on an ever-increasing number of frontline missions with a high risk of death.

Since only a fool would want to keep flying missions, he hatches a plan: to get himself declared ‘mentally unfit’ for service. But there’s a catch – anyone requesting an evaluation to prove their unsuitability for combat is clearly sane and therefore fit for service. This is the first (but not the last) time Yossarian runs up against an unconquerable force: Catch-22.

Few books speak so passionately on wanting to live, and perhaps no other book does with so much gusto and humour. Catch-22 will have you raising an eyebrow at orders from above, and looking at civilian life with new–found appreciation.

Metroland  

Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes’s novel, The Sense of an Ending, won the 2011 Man Booker Prize and was recently turned into a film, but you’d be hard-pressed to call it ‘funny’. Prior to his win he was shortlisted for the award three times. With such a distinguished career, it’s worth looking at his first published entry in the world of fiction. Metroland begins with two friends and takes in the young life of Christopher, a listless adolescent Francophile, as he moves from the suburbs of London to Paris and back again.

Admired by Dodie Smith, who wrote to Barnes, telling him ‘you treat the loss of virginity admirably’, Metroland beautifully captures coming of age in the English suburbs. The scenes in which Christopher’s hypochondriac Uncle Arthur invents a series of pointless tasks for the unfortunate narrator will turn you into that person on your commuter train.

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