21st Century Literature discussion

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Question of the Week > Which 21st Century Books or Writers Use Humor Effectively? (9/2/18)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2872 comments Mod
Humor is one of those areas that seems distinctly subjective. Many of the most contentious books are those heavily using satire or humor--if you don't find the writing funny, it's hard to like such a book. So, tell us which 21st Century writers or books excel at humor for you and why you think so.


message 2: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Most of my favourite comic writers are dead. JG Farrell was my favourite literary one. Conversely there are very few good books which are totally devoid of humour. The funniest serious book I have read recently is the Booker longlisted Milkman by Anna Burns.


message 3: by Neil (last edited Sep 03, 2018 09:06AM) (new)

Neil | 309 comments There’s Ali Smith and Ali Smith and I like Patrick de Witt’s dark humour. And there is Ali Smith. With Smith (did I mention I find her funny?), it's her ability to play with words (see also Eley Williams in Attrib. and Other Stories) and invent delightful situations.


message 4: by David (new)

David | 242 comments It's a good question. Most books I read where humour is a main objective tend not to be literary fiction. Books by Nick Hornby and the recent fake memoir by Norm Macdonald stick out as examples. Of a slightly more literary variety, I quite enjoyed Walter Mosley's Little Scarlet, which uses a lot of humour in telling a fairly serious story of rape and murder set against the Watts riots of the 1965.

But if forced to pick one 21st century writer based on humour I would go with Jonas Karlsson. I have read both The Room and The Invoice and both are great. He has been rightly compared to Kafka, but with a bit of a lighter touch. Both books are novellas - less than 35,000 words each - so you can easily read one in a single sitting. But I stretched reading them out to a few days each. They're weird, fun, smart, and satire of a very absurdist sort.


message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert | 460 comments My sense of humor is so strange that I have barely laughed at a book - let alone a 21st century author. It's better if I list them down:

The running gag in Ali Smith's Autumn when the main protagonist has problems with her passport picture.

The bit in Murakami's Kafka on the Shore when one character starts talking about Mickey Mouse being a pimp.

Edward St. Aubyn's Mother's Milk made me laugh continuously the first time I read it.

There's a short story in David Sedaris' Naked where a character pretends to act in front of his employer as a naive fool and as soon as her back is turned, he starts describing explicit sex acts to his colleague.

other than that everything else is 20th century: Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, The first two Adrian Mole Books and that's it really.


message 6: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 44 comments The first thing that came to mind was actually Reservoir 13, which is not a funny book but has subtle touches of humor.


message 7: by Doug (new)

Doug Since this is limited to 21st C authors, I'd have to say St. Aubyn is the first to spring to mind, although of recent works, I found both Nathan Hill's 'The Nix' and John Boyne's 'The Hearst's Invisible Furies' to be LOL funny ... but those are single examples, although I understand Boyne's latest is also very funny.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Funny you should ask, (groan), because I just this minute finished a book that is one of the most humorous I've ever read, Less. Absolutely deserving of the Pulitzer in my humble opinion.


message 9: by H Anthony (new)

H Anthony | 13 comments I think there are a lot of writers out there for whom humour is a strength, and I'd agree that a really good book for me should have some kind of humorous element to it. Here's an incomplete list of active authors based on my recent reading:

Chris Bachelder
Sam Lipsyte
Helen deWitt
Patrick deWitt
Mark Leyner
Ryan O’Neill
Curtis White
Eley Williams
Alissa Nutting
Shalom Auslander
George Saunders
David Gordon
Simon Crump
Jack Pendarvis
Aaron Thier


message 10: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Kurt Vonnegut!
And man when will Tom Robbins put out a new book?


message 11: by David (new)

David | 242 comments Bretnie wrote: "Kurt Vonnegut!"

His books are great and very funny, but his last one was published in the 1990s.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments H Anthony wrote: "I think there are a lot of writers out there for whom humour is a strength, and I'd agree that a really good book for me should have some kind of humorous element to it. Here's an incomplete list o..."

I'll add Paul Murray to that list - Skippy Dies is one of my all time favorites, The Mark and the Void was good, but I think I bailed on An Evening of Long Goodbyes early in.


message 13: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments David wrote: "Bretnie wrote: "Kurt Vonnegut!"

His books are great and very funny, but his last one was published in the 1990s."


Way to make me feel old! :)

Ok, Gary Shteyngart then!


message 14: by Lark (new)

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 246 comments Terry Pratchett died in 2015 and no one has taken his place yet imo in the category of "humorous fantasy"....I'm not sure why there aren't more people writing in this genre because authors writing it all seem to become beloved of their fans.

I was reading Updike last night and I remembered how much I miss the way he made me laugh out loud over small truths and observations that suddenly seemed hilarious. Updike loved Andrew Sean Greer btw...Nadine, I'll have to give Less a try!


message 15: by Kay (new)

Kay | 73 comments I struggle with humorous books because most are supposed to be satire and that is just not for me but a few that have been mentioned already have made me laugh out loud multiple times- Terry Pratchett, Ali Smith (especially that passport scene in Autumn that Robert mentioned), David Sedaris, Bill Bryson...


message 16: by Marcus (new)

Marcus Hobson | 80 comments Here are a few humorous books that I have loved in the past:

Travels With My Aunt An oldie but a goodie by Graham Greene. Love the subtle humour of the conversations.

Something more recent is Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers This is the funniest book I have read in years, partly because it is so clever inventing a whole load of ficticious fiction writers, but also because many of them are linked together, some spend their lives researching the lives of others for example, but also the addition of real people and events makes this very clever and very funny.

For some European flavour try The First Thing You See or The List of My Desires both by Gregoire Delacourt. Very funny - one about lotto winners and the other about a woman who is the double of Scarlet Johansson and turns up on someones' doorstep. Who wouldn't at least ask her in? Clever and intelligent books.

And finally, because I have a long British ancestory behind me, the writer Jasper Fforde His books are clever, anarchic and silly in equal measure. The latest is Early Riser which takes as its premise that humans hibernate for the winter and are watched over by a small elite group called the Winter Consuls who fight off all manner of hazards while the world sleeps. So clever and such fun.
Fforde also brought us the Nursery Rhyme squad, an elite police force made up of people who were once characters from nursey rhymes, run by Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary. Laugh out loud material, not to be read on the bus if you are self-conscious.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Marcus wrote: "Something more recent is Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers.."

This sounds hilarious! Not widely held in the US, I may have to spring for the Kindle edition.

Another playful book is The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature: The Collected Writings of Neal Pollack by, of course, Neal Pollack. Best read in little bits, while waiting for water to boil, etc. One tidbit I remember.... his 1983 commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College (a prestigious womens' college), titled "I Have Slept with 500 Women". He also recounts that Henry Louis Gates said he learned so much about being a black man by reading Pollack's essay, "I Am Friends With a Working Class Black Woman".


message 18: by Hugh (last edited Sep 04, 2018 01:30AM) (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Yes, Ali Smith is a good choice. I was toying with the idea of mentioning Jonathan Coe, but he is very much at the popular end of literary fiction (What a Carve Up! and The Rotters' Club are funny). Wizard of the Crow is very funny in places. You can also make a case for Salman Rushdie, though not everyone gets his sense of humour.


message 19: by Robert (new)

Robert | 460 comments Hugh wrote: "Yes, Ali Smith is a good choice. I was toying with the idea of mentioning Jonathan Coe, but he is very much at the popular end of literary fiction (What a Carve Up and The Rotters Club are funny). ..."

Oh that reminds me V.S. Naipaul's there's one section of A House for Mr. Biswas (sorry 20th century) which made me laugh out loud, it consists of Biswas throwing a plate of inedible curry off a roof and it lands on his father inlaw.


message 20: by Elaine (new)

Elaine | 103 comments Besides Ali Smith, I find Jeanette Winterson quite amusing. Just think of a witty title like Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?


message 21: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Elaine wrote: "Besides Ali Smith, I find Jeanette Winterson quite amusing. Just think of a witty title like Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?"
Yes, Jeanette Winterton can be funny, but I thought that title was a direct quote from her fearsome mother, serious but used for comic impact!


message 22: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Lee (mootfowl2) | 1 comments Certainly Updike knew how to write humor. In A Prayer For Owen Meany, the use of caps in all Owen's dialogue was outrageously funny (to me). Exceptional with dialogue anyway, the characterization of Owen through Johnny's narrative is brilliant--at least in the beginning of the novel. The scene(s) in the attic early on are absolutely hilarious.


message 23: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Patrick wrote: "Certainly Updike knew how to write humor. In A Prayer For Owen Meany, the use of caps in all Owen's dialogue was outrageously funny (to me). Exceptional with dialogue anyway, the characterization o..."

Did you mean John Irving?


message 24: by Whitney (last edited Sep 04, 2018 11:45AM) (new)

Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Hugh wrote: "Did you mean John Irving?"

All those New Yorker Johns look alike.


message 25: by Lia (new)

Lia I’m kind of surprised nobody mentioned The Sellout. It’s really funny, he can’t stop cracking jokes every few lines. And I couldn’t stand it.

So ... not sure if that’s “effective.” (It effectively made me laugh, but so excessively it ruined the book for me.)


message 26: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments David Sedaris is by far my favorite. Bill Bryson used to be, before I read Sedaris. So I couldn't agree more with those two. I'm taking note of the other suggestions though, and I'm really looking forward to reading Less.


message 27: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments I went to a library talk last night with Patrick DeWitt and Maria Semple which was a lot of fun.

One of the questions they discussed was the idea of being a "humor" writer. This impression in the "serious literature world" that if books are humorous, they can't be taken seriously. And how they both resisted the idea of being a humor writer until they eventually embraced it.

Patrick DeWitt talked about how all of his favorite books are humorous, or have some aspect of humor to them, which I love.

There's something to be said for a book that makes you feel strong feelings, but those feelings don't always have to be sadness!


message 28: by Laurie (last edited Sep 07, 2018 07:44PM) (new)

Laurie Bretnie wrote: "I went to a library talk last night with Patrick DeWitt and Maria Semple which was a lot of fun.

One of the questions they discussed was the idea of being a "humor" writer. This impression in the..."


I just read this article in the LA Times about Patrick deWitt and humor in his new novel French Exit and his novels in general.

http://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc...


message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Of contemporary authors, I'm a fan of the humor of Julie Schumacher, Richard Russo and Christopher Fowler.


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