Holidays on Ice
David Sedaris
The story called The Santaland Diaries reduces me to helpless tears.

Name the funniest books? Tough call. But worthy. They say laughter is the best medicine. I don't know about that, but it's certainly cheaper, and it feels fantastic. Few things are as satisfying and fulfilling as a good belly laugh, with the eyes squeezed shut, clutching one's side and wheezing away. Love it. Unfortunately, while I find many books  amusing, funny, entertaining, and grin-worthy, there are a very select few that can elicit actual laughter in me – the prized laughing out loud ('LOL', I believe the kids call it) is a rare and precious gem.

It seems to be more about a turn of phrase, and the quickness of the writer's skill that can turn a smile into a guffaw, for me, than it is about the particular situation. A description of an absurd situation can be funny, but it takes a particular style and sharpness of word choice to get me. I assume everyone is different. For instance, I have had innumerable people recommend P.G. Wodehouse to me as a writer that made them laugh until they cried. Ditto Kurt Vonnegut. And while I enjoyed both authors very much (and perhaps didn't choose the best book of each), neither made me emit so much as a titter.

One of the books that cracked me up to the point of helplessness at numerous points throughout its reading was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I wish these two had collaborated on a regular basis, because while I like Gaiman fine on his own (I was a big fan of the Sandman comic series), and Pratchett is good too (though I've only explored a couple of the Discworld novel), I really think they brought out the best in each other collaboratively. I must have laughed out loud every two pages in that novel, from the very beginning, in the Dramatis Personae, when a character is described as an angel who "did not fall so much as saunter vaguely downwards".

Sometimes it's as simple as a keen sense of observation and the uncanny ability to call people on their foibles. A great example of that is the book Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander, the self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek guide to the trends and fascinations of white people, from French immersion to hybrid cars to the HBO series The Wire and more.

Another writer who sometimes hits my funny bone in just the right way is David Sedaris. Sometimes I find him too caustic, too neurotic or too bitter to get me going, but some of his pieces have been perfection. A friend gave me a copy of Sedaris' Holidays on Ice for Christmas one year, and I phoned him and read a passage from the story Santaland Diaries to him, snorting and choking and cackling my way through the whole bit. The premise of Santaland Diaries is Sedaris' stint as a Christmas elf at Macy's Department Store, while trying to get on his feet in New York (a problem I sense he does not possess today).

"Often the single adults are foreigners who just happened to be shopping at Macy's and got bullied into the Maze by the Entrance Elf, whose job it is to hustle people in. One moment the foreigner is looking at china, and the next thing he knows he is standing at the Magic Tree, where an elf holding a palm-sized counter is asking how many in his party are here to see Santa.

"How many in your party?"

The foreigner answers, "Yes."

"How many in your party is not a yes or no question."

"Yes."

Then a Santa Elf leads the way to a house where the confused and exhausted visitor addresses a bearded man in a red suit, and says, "Yes, OK. Today I am good."He shakes Santa's hand and runs, shaken, for the back door.


What is it about that passage that makes me laugh? I can't rightly say. I know I'm tickled by the use of the word "shaken"– perhaps because it's a word generally reserved for serious, traumatic situations, and this is light and strange and funny? Maybe we don't need to dissect it this much, opting instead to simply enjoy.

All I know is what works for me, and the below selection is a pretty good chunk of what has made me annoy my husband by squeaking like a delighted hamster and shaking the bed with laughter while he tries to sleep.

What about you? What books have made you laugh out loud, from a chuckle to a bark, a giggle to a guffaw? Leave us a comment below (via Facebook) or send us an email - you may see your suggestion in a future feature.

 

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Books That Made me Laugh Out Loud

Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander
Stuff White People Like
by Christian Lander

The entry about white men and Asian women, & every Toyota Prius mention, as well as countless other bits. Very funny stuff.
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
The Innocents Abroad
by Mark Twain

Here's a lovely Naive Narrator quote: "In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language."
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
by Bill Bryson

Two men muddle their way through the woods, risking bears, snakes, and all kinds of certain death. But it's really, really funny.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

For all of his off-putting repugnance, Ignatius J. Reilly is among the funniest characters literature has ever produced. As hilarious as he is loathsome.
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
Still Life with Woodpecker
by Tom Robbins

The lascivious and unquenchable redhead Bernard Mickey Wrangle – the "Woodpecker"– is so well-written that he's sure to elicit laughter. "Wait for Baby, you sons of b*tches!"
Frank Skinner by Frank Skinner
Frank Skinner
by Frank Skinner

The opening chapter is very rude and introduces Skinner's devotion to a particular sexual act with no shame at all.
The World According to Garp by John Irving
The World According to Garp
by John Irving

A car crash has disastrous results in this bittersweet (but often hysterically funny) novel.
Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs
by Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman skewers the drooling, opiated denizens of pop culture, convenience and reality television with a wit so sharp it manages to be even more hilarious than depressing.
A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
A Prayer For Owen Meany
by John Irving

The nativity scene is impossible not to laugh at.
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee by Sarah Silverman
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee
by Sarah Silverman

Silverman's recollection of naked shenanigans with her friend and fellow comedian Louis CK had me snorting.
All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland
All Families Are Psychotic
by Douglas Coupland

For a book involving HIV infection, suicide attempts, depression, bickering, alcoholism, death and bitterness, the novel is not only moving and sweet, but also surprisingly hilarious in parts.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

The dialogue between Vizzini and the man in black during the battle of the wits is a masterpiece.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby

After reading High Fidelity the first time, I communicated almost exclusively in top five and top 10 lists for a good few weeks.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons

Words can't describe the bizarre humor of this weird little book. You need to read it. See something nasty in the woodshed.
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones's Diary
by Helen Fielding

For all her neuroses and shameful bits, Bridget Jones is just so damn relatable on many levels. It's impossible not to laugh at how human she is.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Good Omens
by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The story of a boy and his dog. Also, the final battle for good and evil, manipulated by two decidedly imperfect representatives of heaven and hell.
Lamb by Christopher Moore
Lamb
by Christopher Moore

Those folks comfortable walking a little bit on the irreverent side of life will doubtless find themselves choking with laughter at "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal"
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
by Sue Townsend

The best part is his hideously terribly lovesick poetry to Pandora. Good God, it's painful.The line I remember most making me laugh? "This morning at breakfast my father announced he was having a vasectomy. I pushed my sausages away untouched."
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Me Talk Pretty One Day
by David Sedaris

Nobody paints a picture with words quite so well as Sedaris. "Bonnie was a dour, spindly woman whose thick girlish braids fell like leashes over the innocent puppies pictured on her sweatshirt."
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson

The exasperation of the narrator and her bid to stay compassionate in the face of a family of six hellion children made this book a favorite when I was a kid – I remember giggling out loud all the way through.
Starter for Ten by David Nicholls
Starter for Ten
by David Nicholls

The story is predictable, but it doesn't matter. What makes this book wonderfully funny is the dialogue, and the main character's cringe-inducing awkwardness.

Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things by Berkely Breathed
Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things
by Berkely Breathed

Really any of the Bloom County books. The antics and expressions on the faces of Opus the Penguin, Bill the Cat, Cutter John, Portnoy, Milo and the rest cracked me up explosively every time I read one.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

You know this one. If you don't, for Zaphod's sake get it and read it. Snort. Chuckle. Wheeze. Repeat.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Bossypants
by Tina Fey

Fey on giving birth: " In September, my daughter was born. (For the record: epidural, vaginal delivery, did not poop on the table.)"
If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries - What Am I Doing in the Pits? by Erma Bombeck
If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries - What Am I Doing in the Pits?
by Erma Bombeck

From the bizarre generic world of living in the suburbs, to the trials and tribulations of raising kids, Erma Bombeck phrased things in a way as to make the banal laugh-out-loud funny.

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