So here we have it: The recommendations of subscribers to the Fast Forward e-mail newsletter for funny or uplifting books to read this winter as an antidote to a pretty miserable 2020.
I stopped at 200 books because I’d like to have a life, so my apologies if your suggested title didn’t make it, even if you submitted by the deadline.
The books are listed in alphabetical order by the last name of the author.
You continue to amaze me with the depth and breadth of your reading experience. The variety here is truly astounding, proving yet again that Fast Forward has the best readers around. Many thanks! I hope you can find something on this list to launch you into a better 2021. Happy New Year!
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“The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto”
Ginny Brady of Cambridge, Mass.: This is about the impact of music on life. Music is the narrator of the story. I really enjoyed reading this uplifting book. I recommend it, especially if you enjoy music and want a really good story to read.
Nancy Nitikman of Brookline, Mass.: Hapless young teacher at a mediocre university in England trying to make his way with as little work as possible, to find a girlfriend (and get rid of one), and overcome great boredom with his life. Very funny, beautifully written book from 1954 in which you somehow root for the “hero” despite his striking out at others in childish ways.
Claudia Cyrus of Hampton, N.H.: A would-be bank robber is foiled and, seeking refuge, finds some apartment hunters who have their own failures to contend with on New Year’s Eve. That may not sound humorous, but this book is one of the few I’ve ever read that made me -- actually -- laugh out loud at the same time as I was genuinely moved by the humanity of the characters.
Nancy Fjeldheim of South Dartmouth, Mass.: Unlikely cast of characters (great character development) with lots of intertwined themes, histories, and coincidences. Takes place in Sweden -- can’t tell you more or it will spoil it. Well-written and with enough substance to keep me interested. It made me laugh (more than once!).
Caryn Kauffman of Jamaica Plain, Mass.: Out of desperation, someone tries unsuccessfully to rob a bank, then flees to an apartment across the street and winds up among a group of potential buyers in a real estate open house who become hostages. But all is not lost, and so much is gained, that we’re left with a sense of joy.
Because I’ve read many of his books, I trusted the author to bring out the good in people, but many of the characters and their relationships seemed so fraught or downright unpleasant that the way everything unfolded left me completely charmed. The audiobook performance was terrific.
Valerie Ventura of Hampton, N.H.: Who knew that a book about a hostage situation could not only be funny, but touching? Not only did I root for the bank robber, but all the characters are wonderfully humanly flawed, likable, and easy to relate to. I had no expectations for this book and was delighted and moved as well as moved to laughter. I loved these characters … poignant and humorous. Wonderful quotes from other pieces of literature. I highly recommend this book.
”A Man Called Ove”
Michael Achow of Tenterden, Kent, United Kingdom: At first sight, this is the standard tale of a grumpy old Swedish bloke who is hopelessly at odds with his neighbours, joggers, Saab drivers, and the modern world in general, but undergoes a Damascene conversion and becomes everyone’s favourite granddad. This does happen, of course, and there are plenty of laughs along the way; for example, a visit to the Apple Store will never be the same again. But there is a leavening of sadness that offsets the saccharine and ensures that Ove and his humanity stays in your mind.
P.S. There is a Swedish film version, and the word is that Tom Hanks is considering a remake. Tom, you’re great, but this isn’t for you.
Susan Gold of Saco, Maine: This is a tender and often humorous tale of the unlikely friendship that develops between a cantankerous and despondent old man and the immigrant woman who moves into his neighborhood. The driving lesson scene is laugh-out-loud funny.
”My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry”
Deborah Hill of Bloomington, Ind: The 6-year-old granddaughter is asked to deliver these apologies to other people living in her apartment building after her grandmother’s death (no particular tragedy there). Her grandmother was a medical doctor of international repute, and had led quite a life. The girl learns a lot by interacting with all the other residents and gets some surprises at the end.
There were passages that I found so funny that “I laughed so hard the tears ran down my legs”!!! Lots of human wisdom in it, too. I’ve liked all of his books that I’ve read, but this one is probably my favorite.
“The Uncommon Reader”
Sheila Albin of Bethesda, Md.: Published in 2007, this short novella, 120 pages, is about Queen Elizabeth II by a wonderful British satirist. Elizabeth, while walking her corgis on the grounds at Windsor, discovers the joy of reading after stumbling across a mobile library parked outside. It is witty, lots of literary references, sometimes touching, and has some laugh-out-loud funny, some even bawdy, moments. It lovingly pokes fun at the royal ways -- and of those around them -- of speaking and thinking. An obnoxious villain in service to the queen, along with others, attempts to foil the queen’s new passion for reading.
Chris Garrett of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Fans of the Netflix series “The Crown” might enjoy this short novel, telling how Queen Elizabeth becomes hooked on reading after she strays into a bookmobile in the courtyard of the staff quarters of Buckingham Palace. Her literary forays are guided by Norman, a junior kitchen employee, to the consternation of pompous senior advisers. Norman’s recommendations are interesting in their own right, as are Her Majesty’s pithy comments on famous authors. She even learns how to keep reading as she waves to adoring crowds from her limousine.
I loved the book for its penetrating, but gentle, social commentary as well as for the accounts of the Queen’s literary adventures.
Marina Shalmon of Winchester, Mass.: The Queen of England meets, by accident, a mobile library on the Palace grounds. She feels obliged to borrow a book, is pleasantly surprised by the experience, engages one of her junior attendants to get another, and then another, and step by step, to the amazement and distress of all her advisers and guests, her life is transformed.
I loved the book. It is witty, light, and heartwarming.
Kay Kimble of Dover, N.H.: A novella about Brits, Queen Elizabeth II, dogs, and BOOKS! It is a “feel-good” read, and it is only 120 pages long.
“Honey English: A True Adventure”
Bernadette Appleyard of Westport, Mass.: A wonderfully entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud story. Spirituality is unexpectedly woven throughout, with a scattering of romantic places I loved visiting. This is beautifully written, with a descriptive style that transported me there with the author, to the middle of a drama or a funny happening. You will enjoy this one.
“The Yellow House”
Kelly Townsend of Framingham, Mass.: I have read many books in the past few months. I love to read, and with COVID and my school being closed, I have had the opportunity to read a bit more. One book that has stuck out in my mind was Sarah Broom’s “The Yellow House.” I could not stop thinking about it even weeks after I finished the story.
It is a memoir based on Sarah and her family’s experience in her Yellow House in New Orleans. She takes us back in time to her grandparents and weaves a beautiful yet chilling story of her family’s life pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina and how a caste system affected many of the families at the time and still does. Sarah is the last of 12 children born to her parents and has an intimate perspective based on her family position and many hours of conversations with family members. It is a great read.
JILL CONNER BROWNE
“The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel: Stuff We Didn’t Actually Do, but Could Have, and May Yet”
Paula Mills: This book is the funniest I have ever read. It made me laugh out loud so much! Being from New England, I read this book while living here. A few years later, my husband and I moved to Georgia, and I saw firsthand some of the very funny and true examples that I read in the book. Just one big, long laugh that will make you feel a whole lot better. By the way, as much as we loved the people and living in Georgia, we are back home in New England.
“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”
Jackie of Wakefield, Mass.: For anyone born in the 1950s, this is a laugh-out-loud walk down Memory Lane. It will return you to simpler times.
Jeanne Callahan of Dundee, Oregon: A memoir about growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, during the 1950s and 1960s. The author clearly lived a fully expressed childhood and had fantastic adventures with his family and neighbors. I love this book for the sheer nostalgia of escaping to a seemingly simpler time in the US and because my husband literally laughed out loud while reading it.
George Nikolopoulos of North Andover, Mass.: Although Bryson is 10 years older than me, his descriptions bring back vivid childhood memories of things our children and grandchildren will never experience, most of which were wonderful. As in almost all his books, always nonfiction, there are laugh-out-loud moments in his narrative style. I would recommend any book by “Billy,” but I get my friends hooked on Bryson with this book. It is also one of his shortest books, leaving the reader craving for more.
”In a Sunburned Country”
Charlotte Ikels of Cambridge, Mass.: Any travel book by this author is full of humor. I especially like his take on visiting Australia. Lots of laughs!
D. Ketten of Malden, Mass.: What’s there to love about a country wracked by hurricanes, tornadoes, dust storms, cute little cuddly furry things with claws like steel traps, and 66 micro to macro venomous species that thrive on land and sea ... and in your shoes? Everything! Bryson gives you an outsider’s view of how to survive whatever Australia throws at you and gives you a rollicking good time while he does it.
One caution: if you listen to it as an audiobook while out for a walk, as I did, be prepared for strangers to stare and steer well clear of you as you periodically roar with laughter. Hey, these days, getting a wide berth might even be an extra perk!
”A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail”
Bob Bishop of Pompton Plains, N.J.: This book tells the story of the author’s hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with his friend Katz. It is essentially a travelogue filled with stories about the trail and the characters they meet along the way. Bryson’s gift is his ability to convey the humor in any situation. Made me laugh out loud on many occasions. (The book is much better than the film adaptation with Robert Redford.)
Marla Muir of Burbank, Calif.: Grand adventure story told with much humor and irony. What’s more fun -- his description of the physical hike or of his encounters with wonderful characters along the way? I can’t decide! There is nothing not to love about this book. Even his troubling times, like finding out that he hasn’t even made it out of Georgia (he hiked south to north, as is common) and is already exhausted and discouraged. But he keeps plugging along ...
John King of Milton, Mass.: The reader will chuckle at the trials and pain experienced by Bryson and his earthy, overweight hiking partner, Katz, as they first set out on the trail in Georgia, while being captivated by Bryson’s descriptions of the majestic beauty and broad history of the Appalachian Trail.
Kathleen O’Sullivan of Swampscott, Mass.: A middle-aged man decides that he is going to walk the Appalachian Trail with his college buddy that he hasn’t seen in years. Seriously laugh-out-loud funny. I read it years ago, but always recommend it and people love it.
Wallis Raemer of Brookline, Mass.: This is one of the few books that I can recall reading where I laughed out loud and actually remember a line about grizzly bears, which, Bryson learned during his research, do not attack humans, “but sometimes they do!” It is a true story about a novice’s experience walking the Appalachian Trail, and includes fascinating facts and history about the trail as well as memorable characters, all while providing a travelogue escape in the COVID era.
Barbara Spellmeyer: This is a laugh-out-loud tale of two out-of-shape suburbanites struggling with middle-aged bodies, equipment failures, and quirky encounters as they walk 800 plus miles together. The account includes quite a bit of ecology and history as well. This is perfect for COVID times, as you can sit in your chair, munch trail mix, and not even break a sweat.
”I’m a Stranger Here Myself”
Scarlett McCrae of Portsmouth, N.H.: After moving to England from Des Moines, Iowa, the journalist and author chronicles with great humor the trials and tribulations of returning to America after 20 years away. I have read it multiple times due to its very clever humor, laugh-out-loud moments, and his incredible writing style. A must-read that I always pick up when I need cheering up.
”Notes from a Small Island”
Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor of Orlando, Fla.: Bryson, an American nonfiction writer on subjects as diverse as travel, language, and science, wrote this book in the mid-’90s about his first visit to the United Kingdom. He met his British wife on this early journey, married her soon after, and has spent most of his life there.
In Notes, his descriptions of off-the-beaten-path villages and hamlets, his honest admiration of the island’s people, its ancient heritage and quirky culture, his astonishment at the language differences between his native American and the native British tongue, bring belly laughs and simple affectionate joy to the reader. On my first reading, soon after the book’s publication, Bryson’s description of his first night in Dover left me nearly breathless with laughter.
I read it again to write this summary, and it made me laugh out loud all over again. It’s the best advert for visiting my home country and goes a long way to fill the gap left by the ban on travel.
“A Salty Piece of Land”
Rachael Georges of Chicago, Ill.: It’s not highbrow, it’s not serious, it’s not gonna win any awards. It just feels light and fun and if I can’t live somewhere like the Keys, reading this makes me imagine I can live there, I can have adventures, and I can smell the salt in the air. And I’m not even a Parrothead!
Synopsis: This guy flies planes and drives boats and eats at really cool hole-in-the-wall restaurants and drinks out of fresh coconuts and meets this very spirited awesome woman and obviously, hijinks ensue! That’s about it in a coconut shell. :-) Happy reading, whatever you read!
LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD
“Ethan of Athos”
Jacki Bracewell of Mt. Pleasant, S.C.: This is a fun, feel-good book masquerading as military science fiction. There is mystery, some moderate “action” sequences, and tons of witty repartee. The plot revolves around a medical administrator investigating why a shipment of tissue samples arrived as medical waste rather than the healthy tissue ordered. Traveling off planet to find answers and replace the needed samples, the protagonist, Ethan, must brave contact with societies very different from his own.
Prepare to find yourself giggling at the total reversal of your expectations. This summary is a little vague in order to not spoil the fun. Simply accept the world created by the author you will soon find yourself recommending this book to friends and strangers alike.
I first encountered this book when my children were transitioning into adult literature. The author quickly became a favorite of mine, and I now own every book she has written. “Ethan of Athos” is a perfect introduction to Bujold’s writing, as well as being a rollicking romp.
“Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things”
Peter Conant of Appleton, Maine: You want laughs? Chuckles? Stuff like that? Cardiff has such a funny way of looking at and expressing all the angst around growing up in a society obsessed with sex. Not salacious, or smutty, but an honest look at things that affect us. This book took me away from the other angst surrounding us this past year.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
George Fish of Indianapolis, Ind.: I didn’t read this until I was 18, and am glad I waited. Alice in Wonderland is much too good for mere children! A very felicitous, funny, inspired read.
T. Laptiste of Quincy, Mass.: This book is hilarious. I have read it twice and look forward to reading it again. It is about a family made up of a mother and her three daughters who are forced to move in with a male cousin, a total miser, to stay out of the poor house. The cousin made them his servants.
One morning, the family finds him dead in his bed. One of the daughters decides to take his place so they do not have to return to the poor house. She moves the family to a property where no one knows the deceased cousin. They settled in with no issues, until the daughter was summoned to another property to assess damages. While traveling, she comes upon an accident scene that changes everything.
She falls in love with the guy she assists and now must act like a man in his presence. How does a woman change in front of a guy without him noticing the actual gender? You will have a good laugh.
“A Remarkable Mother”
Gregory Humphrey of Madison, Wisc.: I chose this book to read last summer during the political convention season as the memory of casting my first vote produced a flood of memories. One was of Lillian Carter, the fascinating woman who seemed able to charm every interviewer and create laugher in the crowds with her impressive storytelling abilities. Moms in the nation are not usually the driving force for a book devoted solely to their experiences and character. But her son penned a fast-paced, jaunty telling of her life that puts Lillian ahead of the vast majority of others in the South at a time, we regard from a historical view, as needing much pushing and shoving in the proper direction.
After reading the book and then framing her life against the backdrop of racial reckoning this summer in the nation, I yearned for another interview where she could be asked for her take on the national conversation. The book has that ability to look back but also place this woman in our times.
The reason the book connected this year is not hard to fathom, given what has happened in our nation and world. When we are stressed at every level, we return to the warm and tender moments of life and relive them again in our thoughts. The book is small, which makes its 191 pages sail quickly for a concise, homey, inspiring, touching, and real account of a most important person in the former president’s life. It is a true gem of a read about a strong woman.
“Shadows on the Rock”
Sylvia Lack of New Haven, Conn.: A lesser-known, gentle, delightful historical novel set in 1653 French Quebec, Canada. Twelve-year-old Cecile is growing up in the care of her father, the town’s apothecary. Besides the day-to-day life of the remote settlement, we learn about the early days of European immigration to this continent.
TONI McGEE CAUSEY
“Bobbie Faye’s Very (very, very, very) Bad Day”
Lynda Kamik of Northampton, Mass.: Bobbie’s day starts with waking up to her 5-year-old niece announcing that there is a swimming pool inside their trailer (wash machine gone wild). That’s the good part of the day!!! From there to her brother’s kidnapping, a robbery, car and speedboat chases, bad guys, good guys, hunky guy, a festival, and a tiara ... Pure, pure escapism. I laughed and laughed. We all need a fantasy adventure and with Bobbie, that’s what you get. FYI: Some swearing, so if that offends you, beware.
“Ready Player One”
Mary Helen Sprecher of Columbia, Md.: For pure escapist fun, it’s awesome and takes place in a futuristic society where much of the world’s population spends its time logged into a (for lack of better terminology) VR platform known as the OASIS. Good guys, bad guys, love story, friendship, and an abundance of ’80s trivia made it nerdvana for people like me.
One of my favorite lines is something the lead character, Wade, says: “Now that I was 18, I could vote, in both the OASIS elections and the elections for U.S. officials. I didn’t bother with the latter because … the only people who could be elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical evangelists.”
“The Wildwater Walking Club: Step by Step”
Barb Best of Amelia Island, Fla.: This is a freestanding novel, but also part of a series, so there are two more books to look forward to for readers who like it. Anything by Claire Cook is always a fun and inspiring read, but this book got me out moving again, too, which is no small thing during COVID. I also love that it’s about friendship and family and the characters are self-deprecating and imperfect and over 40. I learned some new things and was inspired and laughed a lot. It’s set in the fictional South Shore town of Marshbury, Massachusetts and it also has some great Cape Cod scenes. I can’t wait to go back to visit once the pandemic is over.
“Dog Dish of Doom”
Judi Pasino: I recommend pretty much anything by E.J. Copperman, but in the spirit of Bookies, I will specifically mention the first one I read, “Dog Dish of Doom.” In this series, the main character is an agent to performing animals, and gets tangled up in implausible but fun-to-read whodunits because of the animals she represents. In this one, a big, furry, lovable dog is cast in Annie, and his owner gets murdered. I love these books because they have no purpose except to be funny, allowing me to relax and not THINK!
“Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs”
Elizabeth Brooke, Provincetown, Mass.: Ok, you say, another dog book in the ocean of dog books, but this is a very special dog book and these are very special dogs. You might be familiar with Andrew Cotter’s YouTube videos chronicling the adventures of Olive & Mabel that became an internet sensation. This book is written with the same humanity, heart, and humor as told through the eyes of the dogs’ human pack member, Andrew. It is a joy to read.
Heather Cole of Cambridge: Cotter, a British broadcaster/sports writer/reporter who on his own time mountaineers with two massively Good Dogs -- Black Lab Olive, mature and sometimes wiser than her years, and Yellow Lab Mabel, still gamboling at 3 years of age. They experience 2020 together in the age-old ways of man and dog and come to know each other and to find their peace in an otherwise baffling and anxious world.
To get to the point, Cotter (@MrAndrewCotter) tweets his videos of the dogs’ life to 400,000+ followers, and he has brought many a smile to an otherwise desperate, dreary day. The book is probably not a patch on a compilation of the videos for fun and outright laughter (it answers a demand that is probably similar to that of the book “Downton Abbey”), but it is uplifting as hell.
Kathy Wilson of Santa Barbara, Calif.: This is a lighthearted account of the two Internet stars, Olive and Mabel, and how their human, sportscaster Andrew Cotter, used his time when there were no sports, to “report” on the activities of his two pups. With everything from kibble eating to the company Zoom meeting and online dating, it’s a wonderful book and provides a much-needed escape from the horrors of this time in our world.
I loved the book because I’ve been following the adventures of Olive and Mabel online for months and find them to be the essence of all that is great about dogs. It’s wonderful to have even more to enjoy via the book. For dog lovers and non-dog people (who????), it’s a winner!
“The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop”
Maxine Farkas of Lowell, Mass.: This is a collection of essays that really have little to do with law enforcement and a lot to do with a love of language and great storytelling. Tim manages the Bangor, Maine Police Department’s Facebook page; that is how I first found his writing. One example: His post from Nov. 3 is a taste of his style. Someone suggested that I check out the Facebook page and I was hooked. I love the way Tim takes the most transitory experience and makes it a delight.
“Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, And Where the Hell Are My Keys”
Marilyn Tarbox of Sanford, Maine: I am not usually a biography/autobiography fan, but I am a Billy Crystal fan, so I bought this paperback and read it this past July. Billy tells tales going back to childhood and through his career. He honestly made me laugh out loud, and that is my reason for recommending the book. After all, how often does LOL really happen these days?
Ellie Presner of Montreal, Quebec, Canada: I adored this book! It is probably one of the most literate, amazing works of fiction I’ve ever read … and I’m 75 and a voracious reader, so that’s really saying something.
The story starts in the first person with a man who is on a burn ward, wrapped head to toe in bandages, having experienced horrific pain. His mind wanders and takes you on extraordinary journeys. You’ll experience his soaring visions of combined fantasy, history, and imagination … just incredible. You won’t put this book down until the end. A true escape from your own troubles that seem to pale in comparison! Just what 2020 ordered.
“The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”
Carole Hohl of Wayland, Mass.: Although it is a “children’s book,” many adults, including me, have found it delightful. Edward is a China rabbit who learns about life and love through many adventures and many human relationships. The writing is beautiful. This book is a real pandemic antidote.
“Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy”
Scruffy Browne (sent on her behalf by Giles Browne) of Whittington, Gloucestershire, England: A cheerful narrative with sympathetic characters, a happy beginning, and a happy ending. Suitable for those who feel that fine literature should be a relief and not a challenge. Why do I like it? The main character resonates with me.
“Last Bus to Wisdom”
Robin Whitney of Princeton, Mass.: About a boy farmed out to a nasty aunt while his mother has an operation and escapes with his aunt’s partner to the West during the Depression. Lots of crazy adventures. Funny and heartwarming, but then again, I love all Ivan Doig’s books and the characters.
”The Whistling Season”
Bonnie Wren-Burgess: “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite” is the wryly intriguing way Rose replies to a widowed Montana farmer who is looking for a housekeeper for him and his boys in the early 1900s. Our wonderful book group of over 25 years introduced me to this delightful novel. Our book club is packed with intelligent, brave, and sassy women and we read a fair amount of some “seriously important” books (which often needs to be balanced by some seriously good wine). But we all agreed it was refreshing to read a novel about a family that loves, accepts, and actually likes each other, even with all their idiosyncrasies. Doig’s clever and humorous writing conveys authentic emotion in a wide variety of characters, while never making fun of them.
“One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder”
Sharon Lazerson of Great Barrington, Mass.: This is a compilation of essays Doyle wrote on different small moments in his life. His language is rambunctious, fun, and irreverent. He is very down to earth and attentive to the possibility of the miraculous in the everyday. Taken together, these essays are the profoundly joyful musings of a wonderful man who died at 60 of brain cancer, never losing his appreciation for his “best life ever.”
When I was recovering from two fractures last spring and unable to return from California to my home in Massachusetts, this book became a life raft and Doyle a friend and companion. There is no way anyone could read this book and not be uplifted.
“Two for the Road”
Nancy Butman of Portland, Maine: Short, hilarious conversations between two friends in an Irish pub reflecting on current events; a laugh-out-loud read.
Ginny Mc Namara of Ireland: I suggest the book and film. Doyle’s stuff is so so Dublin, though; maybe not everyone’s taste. I am so glad he has done so well. A good guy.
LORI B. DUFF
“If You Did What I Asked in the First Place”
Sharon Pecci of Haverhill, Mass.: The book is a collection of short essays from a middle-aged college professor (very busy), and how she handles her children, her husband, her job, and just life itself (including menopause). I loved it because I could relate to all that she was going through. I had been there. And laughing throughout the book made me realize that women are all the same; we have shared experiences, some make us cry, but some are hysterically funny. Thumbs up on this book from me!
“Love Warps the Mind a Little”
Jim McDermott of Eastham, Mass.: Lafayette Proux, head of the English Department at South High Community School in Worcester, Mass., a frustrated writer, quits his teaching job to focus on his writing. He also leaves his wife and moves across town to live with Judi Dubey, whose family is crazily dysfunctional. Proux confronts tons of rejection letters from editors, guilt arising from his marriage counseling sessions, and frustrations getting a hand on writing his first novel. In the midst of all of this mess, he finds himself falling in love with Judi. When Judi gets sick with cancer, the two of them screw up the courage to struggle to love and search for the truth that the novel suggests exists, though disorderly, in all great loves.
Dufresne, a Worcester native, has been referred to as a “highly readable Faulkner” because he creates quirky, authentic characters who are believable and vulnerable and because he writes so eloquently. I agree and find this book to be very funny and uplifting as it describes the messiness of living and loving.
“The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell”
Jacalyn E. Starr of Arlington, Mass.: This is a coming-of-age story about a boy with red eyes (ocular albinism) whose parents and friends help him navigate the challenges he experiences and persevere despite it all. As Sam evolves from childhood to adulthood, he acquires many wonderful qualities that enable him to lead a unique and meaningful life.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book not only because of its compelling story, but also because as a former special educator, I could empathize and understand Sam’s feelings of defeatism and applaud his ultimate success.
“The Immortal Irishman”
Steve Thiltgen of Dubuque, Iowa: A well-told story about an amazing individual whose accomplishments and achievements would be impressive if spread out over many individuals, but for one person to do what Thomas Meagher did is incredible and inspiring. One of my all-time favorite reads.
“What is the What”
Steve Lee: Even though through the brilliant telling, the best and worst of humanity is on display, Dave Eggers bristles with humor and bottomless compassion for his fellow man. It begins during Valentino Achak Deng’s first year in America after having traveled hundreds of miles as one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan. I wasn’t sure about the tenure or specific arc of the narrative at first, but two pages in had me laughing and decidedly content with a superb story! It’s absolutely phenomenal!
“I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman”
Beverly Johnston of Hancock, Maine: A smartly humorous, witty, and sometimes poignant look at aging, parenting, and relationships. It made me smile and laugh out loud at her relatable realizations of female adult life.
Jennifer Cehelsky of Sudbury, Mass.: In this humorous biography, Nora Ephron tells stories of her life experiences and views. I usually don’t read humor, but this was a book club choice a few years ago. Most of us were in our early 50s or getting close, so we all could relate to the title. Her sharp wit made me laugh and put in perspective life experiences and aging … for a woman.
The Stephanie Plum series
Nancy Stenberg of Easthampton, Mass.: Stephanie is a, wait for it, bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey. Her sidekick, Lula, is a retired “lady of the night.” Her boyfriend Joe Morelli is a cop. There is also another man in her life called Ranger, who runs his own security firm and gets Stephanie out of some pretty sticky situations.
These books are laugh-out-loud hilarious. I find them enjoyable because they are pure entertainment, a little bit seedy, somewhat predictable, but there is always a twist, and I am thoroughly satisfied at the conclusion of each one. There are 27 of them at last count.
Faith Delaney: The Janet Evanovich novels about Stephanie Plum, the bail bond lady who always has her cars blown up and has hunky Ranger rescuing her, always are a great escape and have me laughing. Not exactly high intellectual content, but hilarious.
“The Lying Life of Adults”
Stephen Schmidt of Gauting, Germany: This story is about coming of age in Naples, particularly about the travails of a teenage daughter. There are parts in the narrative that may make you blush, but the style of writing (particularly in Italian) is so superior to most of what is on the market these days. It is emotionally riveting and relevant to all of us, no matter what our personal story may be.
Linda Lynch of Mashpee, Mass.: I have never laughed out loud more!
“The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel”
Claire Collier of Lewiston, N.Y.: Clever and imaginative. I love the characters and the premise that books and literary characters are alive. I laughed throughout the book. And even better, there are seven more in this Thursday Next series that are just as good. Something I come back to again and again when I need a lift.
”The Big Over Easy”
Terri Reinhart of South Hadley, Mass.: Inspector Jack Spratt, along with Sgt. Mary Mary, investigate the murder of Mr. Humpty Stuyvesant Von Dumpty III. The NCD, or Nursery Crime Division, is underfunded and underappreciated. No one really wants to take it seriously.
In Jasper Fforde’s universe (or one of them), it’s not at all unusual to find anthropomorphic animals and nursery rhyme characters living side by side with regular people in Reading, England. Who better to respond to the inevitable crime but other nursery characters. Back to the story ... the plot thickens when a 28-foot long blonde hair is found in Mr. Humpty Dumpty’s office.
What I love about this book is that it’s told as a serious detective story and, as a serious detective story, it has me laughing non-stop. Yes, it’s a murder mystery, but when the victim is a large egg, it’s also rather comical.
“All at Sea: Conquering the Channel in a Piece of Plumbing”
Peter Herstein of Fountain Hills, Ariz.: This book is Fitzhigham’s recounting of his arduous but ultimately successful project to row across the English Channel in a bathtub for charity. This incredible story is very humorous, but also provides insight into both the expected and unexpected challenges of this type of effort. There’s a whole cast of colorful characters (English and French) who supported and opposed him in this effort. His descriptions of his initial failed attempt, and then his successful voyage, are well detailed.
I really liked this book that is all about taking on an absurd challenge and triumphing. People have rowed across the English Channel in proper rowboats, but it took Tim Fitzhigham to prove it could be done in a bathtub. He reveals in the book that he believes his taking on this task reveals a fundamental aspect of British character.
“A Redbird Christmas”
Janice Wright of Highwood, Ill.: If you want to read a feel-good, funny book, but with inspiration of hope, read this. It is a fictional story that takes place in a southern town of friendly and helpful people who are so precious to the visitor from Chicago. I will say no more, but it is a book of about 200 pages and very easy reading.
”Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”
Susan Petrovek of Loudon, N.H.: Set in the South, this book switches back and forth between the 30s and present time. A middle-aged woman and an elderly woman exchanging their life stories. You can leave the Northeast behind and just get into the characters that comprise each of their lives. How one person’s spirit can inadvertently inspire and blow up another’s world, all for the better in this case.
If I had dived into this during election week, I would have left Donald and the pandemic way far behind. Far enough away to taste the pie in an old Alabama diner. Where there is no sickness, no hoax, no lies, no unemployment. Just peace, pie, and a real good story.
“Meatheads Say the Realest Things”
Bruce Pratt of Swanville, Maine: This is a perfect Boston / New England book laced with humor and pathos. A stellar read and one of the best short novels I have read in years.
“The Christmas Mystery”
Enrique Lavín of Mexico: This is a beautiful story about the birth of Jesus and time travel from Denmark to Bethlehem. I have very fond memories of reading it to my daughter when she was 5 or 6 years old.
“Food: A Love Story”
Jim Martin of Fredericksburg, Va.: I heartily recommend that you help yourself to a heaping portion of Gaffigan’s hilariously self-deprecating perspective on food and eating -- mostly his own eating. Whether you read it for yourself or allow the comedian to spoon feed it to you (via the audio book), you’ll be glad you did. And I bet you’ll feel strangely lighter when it’s all over!
“Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”
Myrna Patterson of Cambridge, Mass.: Gay was the winner of 2015 Book Circle Award & 2016 Kingsley Tufts. I love his reverence for the natural world, his ability to see and honor it through the lens of garden and orchard -- loss and grief, death and rebirth, of each and all. Sensitive to each word, each line of poetry, as he is to each plant.
”The Book of Delights”
Liza Ketchum of Watertown, Mass.: Poet Ross Gay gave himself a challenge to write a short essay, every day for a year, starting on his birthday. Each essay had to be about something that delighted him or was, in his words, “a delight.” These lovely pieces vary from praise for the gentle tap-tap that a Black flight attendant gives Ross on a plane -- showing solidarity -- to the way a barrista knows he prefers his espresso in a tiny cup without the saucer. Reading one essay a night, before sleep, brings delight to the reader.
Diane in Aussie: This is a delightful story about friendship and a community that gives to strangers asking nothing in return.
RUTH BADER GINSBURG
“My Own Words”
Maxine Pincott of Westminster, Mass.: Diminutive in stature, but with a judicial voice that was larger than life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg left a constitutional legacy. Ginsburg’s biographers, Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams, take the reader on RBG’s journey from the streets of her low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY to the hallowed chamber of the Supreme Court. “My Own Words” uses commentary from Ruth’s writings and a plethora of personal interviews to give the reader a vision into her life that helped shape her as an extraordinary role model who overcame many of the prejudices that later influenced her judicial ideology.
I found this book uplifting. Especially in her later years, as a member of the Supreme Court, RBG became a beacon of light who will be remembered for her legal introspective dissents to many landmark Supreme Court constitutional law cases. Yet she was someone who could forge an extraordinary relationship with her ideological opposite and mentor a new generation of female lawyer/activists. It gives me hope that with due diligence, personal and constitutional odds can be overcome even without a colossal judicial voice.
GLEN DAVID GOLD
“Carter Beats The Devil”
Jessica Raum of Toronto, Ontario, Canada: This is a fabulous period piece (it takes place in San Fran in the early 1920s) based on real-life magician Charles Joseph Carter, who is accused of killing President Warren G. Harding during his act. How did this world-famous, brilliant prestidigitator end up in this sticky wicket? What exciting life did he lead prior to this untimely interruption of his great success? So much humor, familial and romantic love, exciting fisticuffs, -- and yes, magic! -- fill these 576 pages that you won’t want to put it down!
Its appeal crosses all generations — everyone in my family (ages 16 to 76) has read it several times. Fun fact: Tom Cruise bought the rights to the story and was lined up to play the lead, but it got stuck in development hell and remains there. Too bad!
“The Princess Bride”
Jenna Martin of Fredericksburg, Va.: “The Princess Bride” is a book within a book. It is hilarious. Fans of the movie will not be disappointed, but this version is an entirely different kind of story. The narrator, who is recalling “S. Morgenstern’s classic fairy tale,” is a selfish narcissist who comments on his personal life with cringeworthy honesty and a total lack of self awareness. But it falls on the over-the-top, silly side of mean-spirited -- not the mean side.
I loved this book because it made me laugh out loud constantly, it was fresh and new even though I knew the movie by heart, and because the book within the book is utterly delightful. Classic feel-good story!!
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN
“No Ordinary Time”
Richard J. Milne of Olean, N.Y.: I am recommending this outstanding piece of work as it is so perfect and appropriate for these traumatic times. Kearns Goodwin has written it not from the perspective of lots of war and battle activity, but rather from the issues that were challenging FDR, his administration, and most specifically the First Lady, Eleanor, in those woeful days. The author highlights the many tribulations on the home front, including racial strife, labor disagreements accompanied by strikes at a time when every available body was required for war production, political differences and struggles, and finally, much emphasis on feminist activity, all championed and fought for persistently and diligently by Eleanor.
It is a significantly important read today. Although it was written over two decades ago, about times that occurred over 75 years ago, the challenges and issues then helped put into perspective for me that they were not unlike today’s struggles. However horrendous and perilous the struggles, there were men and women who accepted their responsibilities and more than met them.
The book is not meant to be funny or humorous in any way, as there was a great deal of trauma to be coped with every day, but the author does relate many funny stories and exchanges that took place from the protagonists. Every sentence of this book makes it a valuable, interesting, and very heartening read.
“Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley”
Michael Kaczorowski of Ottawa, Canada: Timothy Findley was an award-winning novelist, playwright, and short story writer. This outstanding and beautifully written biography provides a vivid portrait of a man who believed in the power of imagination to overcome despair and to see beauty in the world. In his memoir “Inside Memory,” Timothy Findley said, “Imagination is our greatest gift.” Now, more than ever.
“The Wind in the Willows”
Guy Butterworth of Cranbury, N.J.: I was in Grade 1 or 2 and had gotten TWitW for Christmas but had not cracked the cover. Home with a reliable cold and whining about my boredom, my mother directed me to the book. It entranced me right from the first description of Mole, bored with spring cleaning and alive with a wanderlust a bit too dangerous for such a mild-mannered homebody. And so it transpired for Mole and Rat and Badger and, of course, the inimitable Toad, a wealthy man of parts not all of which worked well in the Edwardian countryside. It was just the thing for someone ready to imagine toads as wealthy landowners having crazy adventures.
I returned to it decades later and saw something else: what constitutes friendship and how far we are willing to go for friendship and for overlooking so many of the negatives because friendship is grounded in the positives. And it subtly demonstrated how we should behave to all those we meet in the greater world. I hadn’t realized that it was a kind of primer for civilized behavior.I suspect that practically all of your fandom read it in childhood. I think that it deserves at least a second reading, adding a search for its timeless values at a time when timelessness may seem to have ceased to exist.
“Sisters of the Southern Cross”
Claire Dantas: I liked this book very much. I didn’t find it a downer. I liked it well enough to read several of her books and do recommend it and them.
Mary Ackerson of West Warwick, R.I.: A young woman travels to Vermont to write a novel. She meets the local people, makes friends, falls in love, and solves a mystery. Just a fun, feel-good novel for the holidays and new year.
ANDREW SEAN GREER
Carol Spritz of Brookline, Mass.: This is a hilarious story about a beleaguered man who spends a year traveling the world in order to avoid the wedding of his former partner. The 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction, this book is wonderfully written and hysterically funny. There are parts of it that made me laugh uncontrollably. I loved the characters and just wanted to embrace poor, clueless Arthur Less, and tell him everything would be alright. This book celebrates joy. I read it twice and loved it even more the second time.
Bruce Hennes of Cleveland, Ohio: This fiction book is about a 43-year old man who dies and wakes up in 1963 in his 18-year-old body -- and with all his memories intact. After a time realizing this isn’t a dream and remembering a number of sporting events to bet on, he quickly becomes wealthy, leading a completely different life than the one before. Again reaching age 43 and on the anniversary of his “replay,” he pays a hospital to do everything possible to make sure he stays healthy and awake, but it happens again. And as before, all of his memories are intact. This happens again and again, and each time he plays out his life in a different manner.
Who amongst us hasn’t asked the question, “What if I could live life all over again, especially knowing what I know now?” “Replay” answers that question, and it does so in a very serious way. The Harold Ramis/Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day,” has a similar theme, but it’s mostly played for laughs (or, at least, with tongue-in-cheek). But “Replay” hits the question right on its head, not just once, but twice, thrice and more.
What makes this particularly profound for me was reading it first when I was 32 years old. And then reading it again and again and again, every 4 to 5 years. And every time I re-read it, it’s like I’m reading a novel I never read before. The characters in the novel have deepened just as I, too, have changed. I am now 66 years old and every so often I still ask myself, ‘What if…”. But as I move into the last third of my life, surrounded by wife, kids, and grandkids, and looking back at the business I’ve built and the other civic accomplishments of my life, if I had to do it all over again, I’m not sure I’d really want to change very much.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
Betsy Smith of Brewster, Mass.: Billed as a mystery novel, the mystery plays a very secondary role in the story. The main character, Christopher John Francis Boone, is a 15-year-old boy with an unspecified condition, maybe high-functioning autism, who is missing the filter that most of us have that keeps us from being overwhelmed by the noisy and chaotic stimuli beyond our doors. Not realizing the difficulty of the tasks he is undertaking, Christopher perseveres as we, the reader, gain some insight into how challenging and how rewarding life can be. I loved the way Haddon helped me enter a previously unknown world.
“Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm”
Kate Cloud of Somerville, Mass.: This book reminds us that resistance to injustice is necessary and that it can be accomplished in a way that is healing for all. It tells the engaging story of the author’s evolution into a nonviolent activist with a powerful message. The philosophy of healing resistance honors the legacy of Martin Luther King. I especially liked Haga’s descriptions of his work with incarcerated men.
“Sh*t My Dad Says”
Christine Gootzeit of Phoenix, Ariz.: A memoir of the author’s relationship with his physician father told with anecdotes from his childhood through young adulthood. Justin’s dad is a master of the one-liner, and the book is chock full of his pithy and irreverent words of wisdom.
I’m not really a laugh-out-loud type of person, but this book had me in stitches when I read it a few years ago. When I saw the theme for the Winter Bookies, this immediately came to mind. I’m planning to give it another read soon because like just about everyone else, I could use a good laugh right now!
Mickey MacMillan of Osterville, Mass.: I just loved the characters in this book. The setting is the North River section of NYC during the Depression. The main character is a doctor with a wide range of patients, including the Mafia. His life is turned around when he finds a toddler left at his doorstep by his daughter, who has disappeared. The book is full of love, kindness, and craziness.
David Morrison of Saint Paul, Minn.: This is the third and final satirical novel in a series about an English ex-pat, Jerry Samper, living in Tuscany. Jerry is a rather successful ghostwriter of “autobiographies” for shallow sports and pop-culture figures. His real passions, however, include extreme gastronomy (Badger Wellington, Voles-au-vent) and extemporizing arias to fake operas.
The title “Rancid Pansies” is an anagram of “Princess Diana,” the subject of Jerry’s operatic magnum opus -- which I found to be a nice counterpoint to the current mania for “The Crown.” The Princess also features in the book as a supposed posthumous miracle worker in the Tuscan hills, offering the author a nice chance to skewer the Vatican, Italian local politics, ex-pats, and much more.
The book did not merely make me laugh out loud; at least twice I had to put it down and walk around the house to recover my breath and my equanimity.
“Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea”
Tina Hamilton of Acton, Mass.: This book was the first I’d read in a genre l guess I would call “humorous memoir.” I worked at a local library at the time and saw it on the return cart and thought I’d venture out of my usual historical fiction/classic. Actually, I listened to it on tape and Chelsea is the reader, which made it even funnier. Chelsea is brilliant, naughty, and simultaneously self-deprecating. I’m sure people thought I was nuts as I was driving in my car laughing so hard I was crying.
“The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir”
Dava Silvia of Arlington, Mass.: This is a memoir of an ER doctor who learned to heal herself from the lessons she learned from her patients. I loved the book because Dr. Harper tells a tough story with grace. It’s a demonstration of true resilience and compassion, exhibiting empathy where it is so dearly needed.
“Round Ireland with a Fridge”
Sarah Houlton of Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England: A book suggestion that falls squarely in the “laugh out loud” category: A booze-fueled challenge from another Brit comedian led Hawks to embark on a journey hitchhiking around the perimeter of Ireland, accompanied at all times by a fridge. It made me laugh so hard it made my sides hurt -- just the sort of distraction we need in these challenging times.
As an aside, there are two equally hilarious boozy bet-related follow-ups, where he’s challenged to play each member of the Moldovan football (soccer!) team at tennis (most imaginatively titled “Playing the Moldovans at Tennis”), and another, “One Hit Wonderland,” where he has to make a hit record (in any country: he went obscure!).
Carole Kenney of King of Prussia, Penn.: I read this in 1970 when I was 20, sitting on trains going from one European country to another. It made me laugh out loud so much and so often, it was embarrassing, but I couldn’t stop, and had to read some of the funniest bits out loud to my traveling buddy Kathy.
All these years later I am hazy on the actual plot, but can remember this: It was a satire set during WWII about the absurdities of war (and life) and the military system designed to fight wars. I remember Yossarian, Major Major, and other characters who either questioned the absurdities, or who embodied and perpetuated them.
Notes: 1. Heller invented the term Catch-22, so you can thank him for that by reading this treasure.
2. It is the funniest book I’ve ever read.
3. Do not make the mistake of assuming that if you saw the movie, you don’t have to read the book. The book and movie are different animals. Do yourself a favor and read the book. Then thank me. :)
Jane Pioli of Woburn, Mass.: A U.S. air squad and supporting staff stationed in Italy at the end of World War II. There are so many funny, quirky, interesting and even revolting characters. Hugely more interesting and funny than the movie. This book is still probably the funniest book I have ever read, and I love to read funny books. It is clever and witty, as well as laugh out loud goofy at times.
“All Creatures Great and Small”
Carole Brooks of Exeter, N.H.: A memoir of a young veterinarian in England at the beginning of his career. Heartwarming and laugh-out-loud adventures and misadventures with his animal patients. If you enjoy this first book, there are 3 more that follow.
Cheryl Boots of Marblehead, Mass.: James Herriot’s memoir of his first years as a young veterinarian in the dales of Yorkshire, England during the 1930s transports the reader to another place and time. Enter the brothers Siegfried and Tristan Farnon, whose veterinary practice the gullible Herriot works for and you have zany fraternal disfunction combined with the oddly quaint characters of the rural community. Animal antics include spoiled dog “Tricki Woo.” Fear not, romantics, the subplot of Herriot’s inept wooing of Helen Alderson provides all you might hope for.
As an animal lover and student of human relationships who grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, this book satisfied on all levels. It made me laugh out loud before LOL was a thing. Don’t let the PBS series starting in January dissuade you from curling up with the written word.
Casey Seaman of Duxbury, Mass.: Any book by Herriot. He chronicles the life of a young veterinarian in Britain (somewhat autobiographical), his big heart, and his stories of the people and their animals are just wonderful. They let you escape to a different time and place and portray the beautiful connection that can exist between animals and humans. (Most times the animals -- especially the dogs -- are the much more lovable of the two!) These stories always warm my heart. Also more good news: One of his books, “All Creatures Great and Small,” will be on WGBH-TV -- can’t wait to see it!
SAM HEUGHAN and GRAHAM McTAVISH
“Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other”
Rosemary Verri of Sudbury, Mass.: A road trip through Scotland with these two men (stars of Outlander). An epic adventure through the heart of Scotland, exploring the history, culture and beauty. Travel in a camper, on bikes, in kayaks and enjoy the laugh-out-loud banter between these two Scots. Fun.
CATHY CARLTON HEWS
“A Bagful of Kittens Headed to the Lake: Selected Essays”
Andrew Fleischer of Belchertown, Mass.: A poignant tale of returning to a small town to deal with an aging parent and scars of the past. Cathy’s writing is genuine. Heart-wrenching, honest, and very candid. Her thoughts and feelings pour out seemingly with ease.
Nancy York of Robins, Iowa: This novel brought me out of a Trump slump when I had almost stopped reading for pleasure. It’s classic Hiaasen: A murder mystery populated with hilarious colorful Florida characters, this time including a megalomaniacal US president and his model wife, their over-the-top followers, a Burmese python, a wildlife handler, a one-handed loner obsessed with revenge on the wildlife handler, and many more.
I love Hiaasen because in the midst of telling a good story with memorable, often comic characters, he also educates about serious environmental problems particular to Florida. I laughed out loud and couldn’t stop talking about this book, even though I don’t usually read mysteries.
Jack Fruchtman of Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.: “Squeeze Me” is a rollicking, hilarious fictionalized account of the Winter White House about a president who appears awfully like Donald Trump, and the author makes it clear he can’t stand him. The title refers to a host of Burmese Pythons unleashed onto the president’s make-believe Mar-a-Lago, here called Casa Bellacosa, where the president’s code name is appropriately “Mastodon,” and the first lady’s “Mockingbird.”
Through it all is the lithe and beautiful animal trapper, Angie Armstrong, who is called into action to deal with the slithery beings and takes on the president, the first lady, his adoring admirers, the local police department, and the Secret Service. She even encounters a hermit living in the Everglades who is actually a former governor gone rogue, really rogue.
Hiaasen lovingly dedicates his book to the memory of his brother, Rob, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and editor, and one of the five editors and reporters killed in the 2018 shooting spree at the Annapolis (Md.) Capital Gazette, which is owned by the Sun. A great read and a great escape.
Fred Young of Pompano Beach, Fla.: Full disclosure here -- I haven’t finished it yet, but it is funny as hell! It portrays South Florida with all its insanity and absurdity. A Palm Beach matron goes missing at a gala, and the fun starts from there. One percenters, stupid criminals, strippers, a Burmese python with a starring role, an orange-haired buffoon, and assorted hapless victims who manage to be at the wrong place at the wrong time are guaranteed to keep you laughing. Think of “Shameless” on Palm Beach. Even a Republican can laugh at this!
Martin Wood of Wilton, N.H.: “Squeeze Me” lifted my woebegone spirits this fall. The story revolves around activities in Florida (Hiaasen’s playground) with a cast of thinly disguised characters who comport themselves as you would hope. Like most of his novels, it’s just nutty but nice. Let’s just say Casa Bellicosa is a pseudonym for the ages. Cheers to books like this that are not that far off from reality, but just enough to make you wonder.
Jack Verica of Tequesta, Fla.: A satire set on Palm Beach Island, Florida, about a python snake that has swallowed an elderly woman at a Mar-a-Lago party. The references to the owner of Mar-a-Lago and his wife and those that surround them along with the trials of Angie will entertain even those who adore the most powerful man in our world. Fun read.
Kathy Kirby: In the “flat-out funny” category.
Cathy Castillo: Is it something in the water? What is it about Florida newspaper reporters that makes them such masters at funny, irreverent mysteries? “Bad Monkey” is about a Key West police detective who has been busted down to being a restaurant inspector -- but he is one of the more stable characters in the book. There are flimflam Medicare crooks, shady land developers, restaurant owners who think a few cockroaches never hurt anyone, and a monkey who got fired from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast -- and that was before he became addicted to conch fritters. A fun book.
Karen Meyer: I think Carl Hiaasen’s books are pretty funny. One of the characters in this book, Merry Mansfield, is a female con artist whose specialty is insurance “bump” jobs. What she’s doing when approached by the “bumpee” is pretty hysterical (relative to the name of the book). Hiaasen’s humorous crime thrillers are set in Florida and feature casts of eccentric, sometimes grotesque, characters and satirize aspects of American popular culture. Many of the novels include themes related to environmentalism and political corruption in his native state.
Kate Landishaw of Lyman, S.C.: Some fool businessmen imagine they can scam their way into wealth by bypassing Florida environmental protections. Suffice it to say they encounter difficulty trying to outmaneuver a concerned citizen who loves his swamp ... I do love a creative comeuppance for bad guys, and Hiaasen is masterful about it, with non-lethal (!) punishments to discourage further malfeasance; much more imaginative than the standard “blow ‘em away” stuff. Therein much of the hilarity, although escalating idiocy, provides amusement in just contemplating what might be coming, as well!
”Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear”
Laurie Longtine of Casper, Wyo.: Short, but hysterically funny. It is presented as a sort of commencement speech. I read it, turned back to the first page, and read it again. It is the sort of wry, slightly dark humor we can all use right now.
Cathy Harraghy of Amherst, Mass.: Custody of a puppy, a messy divorce, scheming lawyers, Florida underbellies, and, through it all, the puppy plays! No one can skewer the ordinary like Hiaasen. By the third page of his many books, you’ll break into a smile or an outright guffaw. His characters may border on the edge of lunacy, but there’s just enough reality that the reader knows they aren’t entirely fictional. His books fall in the category of outright funny with a side of barbs thrown in to spice it up!
Seena Stern of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: I laughed out loud on the first page, and it just kept getting better.
“Carrying Albert Home: A Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator”
Barbara Vinocur of Traverse City, Mich.: A wonderful book that is laugh-out-loud funny, endearing, and somewhat true. Mr. Hickam Sr., who was a coal miner, and wife and son (Homer Jr.) lived in a small coal mining town in West Virginia. But before Mrs. Hickam’s marriage to Homer, she dated Buddy Ebsen (yes, the real Buddy Ebsen, of movie and dance fame). As a wedding gift when she married Homer, Buddy gave her a pet alligator named Albert. Knowing they couldn’t keep Albert, but loving him, they wanted to return him to his natural habitant: Florida.
The story is about the family’s 1,000-mile drive and the wild experiences along the way, including meeting John Steinbeck, robbers, and Ernest Hemingway. A rooster came along for the ride, too. This is a story of warmth and charm. I think it fits perfectly for the kind of book you are looking for your Winter Bookies list.
“Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches”
Maureen Powers of Newbury, Mass.: This book is a collection of short autobiographical stories that take place primarily in Brookline, Mass.; western Massachusetts; and Maine. John Hodgman tells stories from his adolescence, early adulthood, and middle age. The first time I read this I laughed out loud. I keep it in the pocket of my beach chair and whenever I pull it out to reread a story, I laugh again. The stories are sharp, funny, poignant, and involve things I love like the Coolidge Corner movie theater and the Pixies. I’ve given this book as a gift to friends who need to be cheered up and recommend to anyone looking for a good book.
Read it -- then go watch JH in “Bored to Death” on HBO. They will help get you through the dark days of winter.
“Saving CeeCee Honeycutt”
Carol Murphy of Ayer, Mass.: I read this book several years ago and still get a warm happy feeling when I remember it. It’s about a young girl who goes to live with an aunt after the death of her mother. It is wonderful! I know you said no sadness, but it is a short portion of the book.
“The Keeper of Lost Things”
Ann Brachman of Norwood, Mass.: An old man collects little things he finds on the street. A woman distributes the things. There’s a haunting by a woman as a side story. I enjoyed this book because it’s a bit of fantasy, a bit of joy and kindness. Everybody has a place in this world, and people work together to solve problems. You will never look at that single sock in the parking lot the same way again.
“Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine”
Rebecca von Barta: I absolutely loved this book! I laughed out loud at Eleanor’s complete obliviousness and quirkiness while trying to navigate through life’s basic tasks as an oddball, middle-aged woman. A complete loner and social moron in Glasgow, Scotland, Eleanor somehow manages to find a good friend and we watch, and cringe, as she finds human connection.
At the heart of the story is Eleanor coming to terms with the reality of her relationship with her mother. While the recollection of her past is painful at times, the overall mood of the book is light and funny. Eleanor’s pitiful, yet wildly entertaining, inner monologue is peppered with hilarious comments and witty comebacks, in a Scottish brogue that is to die for. This book will be a welcome distraction from 2020!
CATHERINE RYAN HYDE
“Have You Seen Luis Velez?”
Mary Ellen Nadeau of North Andover, Mass.: The story of a young man befriending a very elderly woman neighbor. I loved it because it was touching and uplifting even though there was drama in it.
“Billion Dollar Brand Club: (How Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, and Other Disruptors Are Remaking What We Buy)”
Dana McCreesh of Southport, Conn.: Absolutely fascinating take on the new brands taking on the Goliaths. It’s funny, informative, and just totally fascinating. I’d love a followup that weaves COVID trend acceleration into it. How did they come about? How did they create success? Super fun read about each individual story, but also the commonalities and the overall trends -- even a bit about Silicon Valley. Marketing, personalities, this book has it all!
“Wow, No Thank You.”
Amy B of Brooklyn, N.Y.: This book is another essay collection in the vein of Irby’s “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life,” and funnier, if such a thing is possible. Essays range from an exhaustive mixtape-of-my-youth description to a dangerously close brush with getting a dog. The chapter “A guide to simple home repairs” left me with a stomachache and tears running down my cheeks -- cathartic and hilarious. I re-read it to write this and I laughed again!
“Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race”
The Rev. Jane W. Van Zandt of Chester, N.H.: It’s a well-written personal account of one woman’s realization of her white privilege. There are questions or suggestions at the end of each chapter so the readers can go more deeply into their complicity in the inequalities we see today. I’m 78 years old, and I’m just now learning about my own white privilege. I’m thankful that I am facing it now.
MYRNA LOU JASTRA
“When Writing Morphs into a Lifetime”
Lydia V. Solis of San Dimas, Calif.: This is a novel based on an original love story, a very wholesome love story with clashing perceptions, judgments, decisions, and mistakes -- all so life-like. Lor Arce, a university student in her sophomore year in 1948 at the University of the Philippines in Manila, receives an invitation to contribute to an all-boys military academy publication from an editor, Ermin Oro, whom she’d never met. Their acquaintanceship via letter-writing and how she responded to his invitations for contributions commenced a friendship that eventually became an enduring love story.
The novel does have its charms, as shown by its simplicity and originality drawn from a quiet setting, an easy plot, and everyday characters who lead far from complicated lives. It is a very wholesome love story that encourages the reader to proceed in arriving at the conclusion. (I found it a special treat to discover certain facets of the main characters’ lives which I had always admired without any artificial descriptions but what they did present to me early on.)
“A Walk Across America”
Ellen of Corpus Christi, Texas: My suggestion is for an uplifting book about America. In the early 1970s, Peter graduates from college and is at loose ends, and discouraged about his country and himself. He winds up walking from upstate New York to the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually to the Pacific Ocean. Finds out life can be good and people are essentially nice.
JEROME K. JEROME
“Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)”
Bill O’Neill of Centerville, Mass.: When a friend who lives in the Arizona desert recommended an 1889 novel about a boat trip down the Thames, I had my doubts. Nothing much happens during the two-week voyage, but the daily wanderings down the river are hilarious.
Constance Katz of Pasadena, Calif.: This novel is over 100 years old and it can still make me laugh uproariously. I first read it in college in the student union, and I remember laughing so loudly people came up to me to ask what I was reading. It’s a short novel, exactly about what it’s titled; three men go on a hilariously funny two-week boating trip on the Thames. We need all the laughs we can get now.
Susan Vogt Brown of Waban, Mass.: This is a very funny story from 1889 that still makes me laugh out loud. Three men and a dog embark down the river and chaos ensues. It takes you to another place and makes you laugh at what is universal. This book can cheer up all during a tough time.
“The Color of Lightning”
David Gullette of Newton Corner, Mass.: We are reading our second novel by Jiles, this one set in Texas and Oklahoma in 1864. More than just “historical fiction,” it’s a lyrical, dramatic, breath-stopping adventure from one of the best writers in the US, with the deepest understanding of Native American life we’ve ever witnessed.
”News of the World”
Margaret Broderick of North Andover, Mass.: A story set in the West after the Civil War. A Civil War veteran agrees to return a child who was captured by Indians years before to relatives she doesn’t know and who don’t necessarily want her. This was a very different story evoking a time when there was no internet and not much communication throughout the country (sounds like heaven to me).
It’s a feel-good escape story. Plus it’s going to be made into a movie shortly, so read the book first just in case the movie doesn’t do it justice. I always enjoy movies based on books; good or bad, it’s nice to see the characters portrayed.
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”
JohnG, Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada: Loved this book as it told me why a nursing home is not my idea of a good time. It also reminded me that going outside in only your slippers is an invitation to getting “cold feet,” which might prevent the adventure. I am reading it again in Kindle. Laughed so hard that the tears ran down my legs!!!
Jean Lambert of West Newbury, Mass.: Our book club loved this book a couple years ago. We found it entertaining, quirky, and charming. A nursing home resident in good health turns 100 and rather than go to his 100th birthday celebration, he climbs out the window to embark on a highly amusing and quixotic adventure. It turns out that he is involved in some of the most important recent events of history as the book relates in a brilliantly comic way. You will do a lot of laughing as you read this book!
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”
David Chianese: A retired gentleman named Harold Fry lives a very mundane life in a small English village with his wife Maureen. One day he receives a letter from a woman he once knew but hasn’t heard from in 20 years. Harold writes a short note back to his friend Queenie, who is now in a hospice, and his journey to the mailbox turns into an unplanned pilgrimage to deliver the response in person. This change of plans alters his life forever, as he meets one character after another who turns his 600-mile journey into one of hope and promise.
It’s a heartwarming book, well-written by the author in such a mild manner. Every step Harold takes, every mile Harold completes, every character Harold meets brings him face-to-face with his personal obstacles: honesty, self-forgiveness, and old-fashioned human kindness. It’s a book that will stay in your heart for a very long time.
“A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana”
Joanne Robertson of Wareham, Mass.: This a memoir of Kimmel’s life in small-town Mooreland, Indiana. The family is hilarious and quirky, and the story will make you smile for sure. It is a simple story of a midwestern family in a time when family really mattered and life was simpler.
I loved it because of the characters and the fact that the author started life very sickly, but was never limited by her family. I read this many years ago, and it has always stuck with me as one of those never-forget-them reads.
Diane Sanabria of Leominster, Mass.: This is one of my all-time favorite memoirs, mainly because I couldn’t stop laughing as I was reading it. Here’s Zippy describing a friend who hates wearing girls’ clothes: “Julie in a dress was like the rest of us in quicksand.” Or, regarding Jesus, “Everyone around me was flat-out in love with him, and who wouldn’t be? He was good with animals, he loved his mother, and he wasn’t afraid of blind people.”
My husband never read it, but remembers it well because I kept waking him up while reading it in bed because I was laughing so hard -- or because I had to read parts of it aloud to him. He then retaliated later by waking me up to read some David Sedaris gems.
Carey Mount of Ashburnham, Mass.: Not quite a “laugh out loud” story as the title suggests (a ha-ha is also a landscaping term), but I did smile a lot while reading it. A Vietnam vet finds himself caring for the young son of a former girlfriend. I didn’t want this story to end. I loved all of the characters and found myself totally immersed in their lives. This is one book that is always at the top of my list to recommend.
T E KINSEY
“Death Beside the Seaside”
Susan Schrager of Cohasset, Mass.: This is a cozy mystery in which Lady Dalrymple and her lady’s maid, Flo Anderson, retired spies, finally take a vacation by the seashore in a resort town. There are many international guests at the small hotel where they are staying which keep their interest throughout. It’s a delightful book because the main characters are such fun and there are laugh-out-loud moments. I’m so glad this is a series. I’ve enjoyed each book and look forward to the seventh.
“A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future”
Martha Gershun of Fairway, Kansas: In this highly engaging book, Perri Klass details the heroic and brilliant efforts of scientists, doctors, nurses, and public health officials that have nearly eliminated the diseases that killed children throughout history. This is a magnificent book, with a scope and depth only possible from Klass, a pediatrician, journalist, novelist, and children’s literacy advocate. It offers hope during this current pandemic that humanity has prevailed against great life-threatening challenges before -- and will again.
“I Really Needed This Today: Words to Live By”
Karen Shepard of Arlington, Mass.: My inspirational book is by the Today show co-host and New York Times bestselling author. It includes inspirational quotes for every day of the year. It is so nice to read such an optimistic book. You can either read this entire book once through or one hopeful quote each day. One of my favorite quotes is: “Your wings already exist. All you have to do is fly.”
“The Bear Went Over the Mountain”
Bruce McGuffin of Antrim, N.H.: The story of a bear who finds a manuscript in the woods, steals a suit of clothes, and sets off to the big city looking for fame and fortune. Despite being rather large and hairy as writers go, he takes the literary world by storm. This book alternates between silly and satirical. It made me laugh out loud, and that doesn’t happen often.
“Catfishing on CatNet”
Beth Lareau of Little Canada, Minn.: This is a YA novel based on Kritzer’s Hugo Award-winning short story, “More Cat Pictures, Please.” Coming of age in the near future with long-distance friends, an AI that cares, and the usual difficulties of a teenager moved too many times, always the new kid in school. There is an element of suspense, interesting people, the effort to maintain connections, and a warning about telecommunication. At the same time, even the AI is a fully drawn, lovable character. A fast read that left me with a laugh and a sigh. What wonderful kids!
WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER
Nancy Carter of South Bristol, Maine: Part coming-of-age story and part murder mystery, “Ordinary Grace” transports us to small-town Minnesota just before the Fourth of July, 1961. For the narrator, 13-year-old Frank Drum, son of the town minister, his imagined future is just beyond the horizon, but first he must grapple with a family tragedy and learn some hard truths about the people he loves. He emerges with a new understanding of ordinary grace -- and so do we.
Even for a non-believer like me, this book inspires and moves me every time I read it. In beautifully crafted, elegiac prose, Krueger captures a quintessentially American time and place; a tableau filled with vivid characters, timeless questions, and perhaps an answer or two.
GINGER HENRY KUENZEL
Donna Wotton of Hague, N.Y.: I have a suggestion for a wonderful writer here in our small town in upstate New York. “Downtown” is a collection of stories about the colorful and quirky people that inhabit small rural towns, their hilarious antics in pursuit of the antidote to wintertime boredom, and the nonsensical governance of what constitutes small town politics.
While the hustle and bustle of urban life often homogenizes the individuals who live there, it’s hard for the crazy people to hide in a town of less than 500 residents – especially when they are all just a little nuts. It’s a quick and fun read that captures how great and entertaining small town life can be, and has some really fun suggestions on how to beat the winter blues no matter where you live. Time to slow down and laugh a little.
The DALAI LAMA and DESMOND TUTU
“The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World”
Rheta Rubenstein of Ridgefield, Wash.: Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are rock stars in philosophy and psychology. This book is filled with great wisdom that reminds us all to stay in touch with our humanity, the source of lasting happiness. Here are a couple of tidbits:
We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy. -- Tutu, p. 11
There are two different kinds of pleasure -- first through our senses, and second through our mind -- love, compassion, and generosity. The latter is characterized by the fulfillment it brings, it is much more long-lasting. -- Dalai Lama, p. 33
It was uplifting to hear the voices of such wise people … and to try to live some of their guidance.
“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”
Mary Hamilton of Davenport, Iowa: Ostensibly a book on how to be a writer, but it’s also a memoir. Loved it for its wicked wit and for its wisdom, but equally for its often spiritual tone.
“The Splendid and the Vile”
Elaine Z. Larsen of Shelburne, Vt.: A captivating page-turner about life during the blitz in England, led fearlessly and with confidence by Winston Churchill. Larson intersperses surprising intimate domestic drama with the intricacies of war planning (taken in part from recently released secret intelligence reports), and the harsh realities of what people lived through, how they were inspired by Churchill to carry on, and how Churchill persevered to gain the US as an ally in this war.
Cathy Hutchinson: Larson is one of my favorite authors and never disappoints the history geek in me. His story about Winston Churchill and WWII is written by researching the diaries and writings of people in his inner circle as well as the Nazis. Not only did he cover the war itself, but you read stories of unrequited love, debutante balls, egos, all while hundreds of German planes were blowing up London on a nightly basis. It was a great read.
Kevin Kozak of Holden, Mass.: The memoirs include perspectives from both English and German sources (such as Churchill and his family, plus German leaders like Hermann Göring and Rudolph Hess), and also weaves in how Churchill attempted to court the US into joining the UK in their war efforts. The politics are especially engaging and interesting.
In addition, a look at what life was like for people of the UK at the time, especially in London. It shows how people dealt with unspeakable terror and horror, but also were able to find joy and get on with their lives when things seemed bleak. It showed how a great leader could inspire people in the face or terrible danger, and also how people could band together in the face of a common enemy, both of which are lessons we could use today.
David Pinchin: Courage and resilience. Leadership writ large. The acceptance of the upstairs / downstairs way of life by so many in the middle of the last century.
“You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds”
Candi Calcandy of Oxford, Conn.: All of her books are laugh-out-loud books. This book is also an adult coloring book and one of my favorites. It has some short stories, quotes, and some amazing designs to color. You can view how she sees the world and events around her in a most humorous way. There are also some blank pages for your own designs.
Jenny has had an interesting life with a father who was a taxidermist. A very normal husband and daughter, and although at times she suffers from depression, she looks at the world differently than most of us. I recommend all her books.
”Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir”
Mary Ann Benson of Portland, Maine: I listened to this book on a seven-hour car trip by myself to attend a favorite aunt’s funeral. In hindsight, a dumb idea. I had figured I needed an upbeat listen while going to such a sad event. Unfortunately, it worked too well.
Jenny Lawson’s reading of her book had the effect of planting some amazingly ridiculous images in my mind, which stayed there through the funeral mass, despite my best efforts to brain-bleach them out. Most notably, I got a totally inappropriate set of giggle-fits during the homily, with the image of Jenny requesting her obstetrician to “sew up her vagina” with a Harry Potter lightning bolt after the birth of her daughter. This was so that when she got menstrual cramps in the future, she could claim it was because Voldemort was nearby.
My point is this book is FUNNY ... not just polite tee-hee, “isn’t that clever” amusing ... but laugh-out-loud, howl ‘til you cry and maybe wet yourself, lose your breath, and get a headache hysterical! Even the sad parts (and there are some) have humor.
I want this woman as my best friend so I can call her up and just listen to her to keep my endorphins going. I just KNOW we could manage to get into some very imaginative and memorable trouble together. She doesn’t take herself, anyone else, or life too seriously, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way we are intended to live. I’ll have to ask my favorite aunt the next time I see her.
Madeline Lee of New Paltz, N.Y.: Damnear perfect novel, deceptively straightforward, with a surprisingly complex and very human plot and resolution. Set in rural Canada.
“Pippi Longstalking” (ages 8 and up)
Jackie Miller of Woburn, Mass.: The wonderfully outrageous tale of Pippi, Tommy, and Annika’s new neighbor. Pippi is the world’s strongest girl, her best friends include a horse and a monkey, and best of all, she has no parents to tell her what to do. Pippi speaks her mind, can lift a horse, and has a pirate for a father. (I still want to be Pippi!)
NOTE: When you announce the books you select, could you encourage people to shop locally? Independent bookstores could use the support, especially now. Here’s a bookstore map from the New England Independent Booksellers Association. Thank you!
Kay White Drew of Rockville, Md.: While there are some serious moments, this is, overall, a laugh-out-loud read. The author is the daughter of a man who, for reasons known only to him, switched from being a Protestant minister to being a Roman Catholic priest, which meant she and her siblings grew up in a series of rectories in the Midwest. Lockwood and her husband move back in with the parents for economic reasons for a time, and the results are hilarious. Between the dad’s penchant for stripping down to boxer shorts when relaxing at home, the mom’s general wackiness, and the seminarian who stays with the family before his ordination, Lockwood has lots of comic material to work with. I can’t remember when I laughed so much reading a book.
ROBERT LUDLUM (under the pseudonym Michael Shepherd)
“The Road to Gandolfo”
Theresa Nickerson of North Attleborough, Mass.: The title is a take on the old Bob Hope / Bing Crosby Road movies! This book is a crazy romp that has a kidnapped pope and a crazy American general named MacKenzie Hawkins (Hawk) who was imprisoned in the People’s Republic of China for urinating on a national monument and an army lawyer, Sam, who gets in the middle of it all.
Not a normal plot for Robert Ludlum. But really funny! There is a sequel, “The Road to Omaha,” which is just as funny. I loved it because I picked it up from a book swap and was not expecting to laugh. It saved my sense of humor when my Mom was very ill, and I read it to her while sitting with her at the hospital. It made her smile sometimes, too.
“The Unlikely Thru Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey”
Peter Gilligan of Chapel Hill, N.C.: Many of us are finding solace during this seemingly never-ending pandemic in the outdoors where social distancing is easily accomplished. For those who might feel intimidated by hiking, meet Derick Lugo from NYC aka Mr Fabulous, who decides to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail even though he has never backpacked before. His journey of self-discovery and of community is filled with honesty, humor, and great joy. His evolution from a neophyte to a member of a very exclusive club, African Americans who have thru-hiked the AT, will make you want to kiss the sign on Mount Katahdin.
Grier Whitney of Lake Oswego, Ore.: I’ve just read a very funny book about two villages in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland during World War II and whisky is in short supply. The setting transports the reader to another place and time, and it’s entertaining to learn how the whisky shortage is resolved.
“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”
Judy Morice of Lansdale, Penn.: A unique pen-and-ink story for all stages of life, told in pictures and handwritten text. This book, given to me for my birthday this year, had me smiling from beginning to end. I still feel good from reading it. With the light whimsy of gestured ink drawings, the power of inked pen forming words, this story lays out adventures and truths found in the friendships of a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse.
Deborah Kravetz of Philadelphia, Penn.: Raleigh Hayes of Thermopylae, North Carolina had no idea he was going on a picaresque journey when he started his day, and he is buffeted right and left so fast he barely knows how to make any decisions about his actions, but he has a final mission to complete and a deadline and he keeps going, no matter how often he wonders why. Along the way he encounters hysterically funny, mind-boggling people and circumstances. He keeps telling himself he really does want to go back to his old, normal, boring life, but he keeps finding pleasure in his new experiences.
The best pleasure about reading Malone is the way his small-town North Carolina characters talk, going on and on with non sequiturs in wonderful speeches. He has also written a set of three “sort-of mystery” novels featuring Justin and Cuddy, which are also wonderful reading, but it’s the people he creates, denizens of a particular time and place, whom you will recognize, and they are hilarious. His short story collection includes a Christmas party and a wedding reception that are amazing.
Eleanor Kubeck: This book is my recommendation for both laughing and celebrating humanity.
“When Crickets Cry”
Mike McCready of New York City: A bearded stranger crosses paths with a young girl selling lemonade, and their lives will be totally changed. I laughed, I cried, I was touched. A fun cast of characters and a helluva ride. I need to read it again ... it’s been a while, but whenever I think of the title, it makes me smile.
“The Groucho Letters”
Ed Rutledge of Greenfield, Mass.: One book I repeatedly turn to when I need a laugh is my battered and stained 75 cent paperback copy of “The Groucho Letters.” Groucho corresponded widely with family, colleagues, and famous pen pals like T.S. Elliot and Harry Truman, and his writing (along with his correspondents’ responses) is frequently touching and thoughtful, but more often as hilarious as a Marx Brothers movie. As the blurb on the cover says: “This is no ordinary book” -Groucho Marx
Bruce Vogt of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: This is Harpo’s autobiography, taking the reader from a late 19th-century impoverished and rather mad childhood in New York, through the rough struggles in the vaudeville circuit, until a show with the wonderful title of “I’ll Say She Is” brought him and his brothers stardom.
That takes up perhaps the first third of the book, but the rest of the book is also quite wonderful: Life within a loving marriage and with a number of adopted children (he was clearly a wonderful, if anarchic, father). And the appearance of many well-known and lesser known friends.
It is very, very funny, but also deeply moving. And anyone who has visited the Tenement Museum in New York City will have their visit come to life with this book. You don’t have to love the Marx Brothers (as I do) to love this book, but it helps.
PATRICIA MARX and ROZ CHAST
“Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother’s Suggestions”
Maria Denaro of Marblehead Mass.: Last year I was fortunate to attend a book reading by Patricia and Roz with my two friends; we are all very devoted fans of Roz Chast. So my copy of this VERY funny book is signed by them! There is a wonderful introduction about Patricia’s mother and the book has quintessential Roz Chast cartoons illustrating witticisms from Mrs. Marx such as: “Never wear red and black together or you will look like a drum majorette.” Need I say more?? Read this book in honor of your mom, your mother-in-law, aunt, sister -- you’ll see. It really is laugh-out-loud funny!!
“A Year in Provence”
Kathy Shaw of Scituate, Mass.: I’ve read it so many times and it never gets old. Just wonderful vignettes about a couple relocated to Provence from London and getting to know the villages, the food, and best of all, the locals. It makes me laugh and look forward to the days of fun and travel again!!
”A Dog’s Life”
Carol Stein: After a year of whining, whimpering, growls, aggressive barking, and cowering beneath their desks, some of our politicians would do well to read this. Boy’s memoir details his dogged efforts to overcome his humble puppyhood in France as he yawns and stretches for a better life, ingratiating himself to anyone who will reward his efforts. His coming-of-age exploits, including his references to Proust, make me laugh out loud. This book reaffirmed my belief in Man’s Best Friend as an unshakeable and nonjudgmental source of solace and devotion.
“The Lake Effect”
Jodi Hill of Thessaloniki, Greece: Like a great number of the young adult titles I’ve read, this book has wonderful characters and a sweet message. I would normally warn you not to read this in a library. Since you’re stuck at home and everything you do annoys your housemates, read it and laugh freely.
The narrator and his family won my heart in the first chapter with their dry wit, and I was sorry when the young character left them for summer employment; however, the elderly woman (with her Serbian - I think?) accent and strange hobbies takes the humor to another level. I won’t tell the whole story because the big events should remain a mystery and I don’t actually remember the message.
“A Monk Swimming: A Memoir”
Lee Chirgwin of Orleans, Mass.: This book is as funny as his brother’s book (Frank McCourt, “Angela’s Ashes”) is tragic. Even the title. It is derived from the author’s mishearing of “amongst women” from the Hail Mary.
The book is a series of McCourt’s misadventures while living in his brother Frank’s miniature apartment in New York City. It begins with Malachy immediately and illegally bringing in a roommate, a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking Irishman who has had only a passing acquaintance with employment. The drunkard proceeds to get totally smashed, lays down on his bed, lights a smoke and passes out. He is a big guy in a microscopic room, so he needs the window open so his feet can dangle outside. It starts snowing. Malachy then enters to find his wayward roommate’s pillow on fire from the cigarette, and his feet covered in six inches of snow! No damage done. On to the next adventure!
Maybe you need to be Irish, but I found it a LOL series of escapades. Better than reading “stolen election.”
Regis J. Armstrong of Washington, D.C.: After a visit to Quincy, Mass., John, Abigail, and son John Quincy Adams fascinated me. Given the political turmoil of the past year, McCullough’s biography was a pure gift, especially since it was written so well that I found it difficult to lay it down!! It’s a refreshing piece of history about someone who helped to shape our American Constitutional ideals ... unlike you know who.
“Running with Sherman”
Eileen Simonson of Greenwich, Conn.: A farm-owning, odd-animal-collecting couple takes in a desperately abused donkey and hears about grueling donkey races and receives surprises about non-human creatures and lessons for life. A wonderful and unusual read.
Corrine Kimball of Byfield, Mass.: This is a tender, heartwarming, and also laugh-out-loud account of a man, Christopher, and his rescue donkey, Sherman, and how the man not only motivated Sherman to walk again, but to run in order to save his life, and surprisingly, the lives of others around him. The story builds to the grueling Pack Burro Race in the mountains of Colorado. I am smiling writing this quick recap and I read this book a year ago. It was a delight!
Susan Morris of Waldoboro, Maine: The author, a writer, and his girlfriend have recently moved to Amish country in rural Pennsylvania where they meet a neglected donkey, Sherman, that is close to death. Sherman’s recovery involves an array of neighbors of different, often amusing, always surprising, skills, who rally around to inspire him to live and to become a mountain marathon runner, and how helping Sherman inspires them.
I love the book because it is great story of rural life, often pretty crazy, neighbors helping neighbors, lifting each other up, all centered around lifting up a donkey. It is serious, but so funny it makes you cry. It’s a lot more than that, too! Lots of adventures.
WILLIAM H. McRAVEN
“Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life ... and Maybe the World”
Bronwyn Teixeira of Holden, Mass.: I was intrigued by the graduation speech video, looked up the book, read it in one sitting. The Admiral gives 10 commonsense life lessons applicable to any age, starting with making your bed, as it truly may be the only thing that gets done that day. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just enough to see you have accomplished something. I’ve re-read it when I need to be energized to get through a rough patch, and it doesn’t disappoint.
“I Was Amelia Earhart”
Francie Sheehan of Chesapeake, Va.: One of the most beautiful books I have ever read. A story of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan after landing off the coast of New Guinea in 1937. And she talks about her life before becoming the great flyer. It was a very unusual book. So beautiful to read and so full of joy and hope. I read a lot, but this book is always a first recommendation.
“Breakfast with Buddha”
Toniann Avery of Schenectady, N.Y.: Otto Ringling is about to embark on a road trip with a very unlikely passenger. He needs to settle his parents’ estate and is headed on a mission to get it done in a straightforward and organized manner. His flighty sister has ideas of her own, and although he thinks it’s her who needs wisdom and insight, she is actually the one who is seeing things clearly.
A thought-provoking, happy-ending, not-a-lot-of-sadness kind of book. It makes us take a step back and see what is right in front of us if we slow down and get rid of the excess blocking the view :)
Marcia Snyder of East Longmeadow, Mass.: The story of a man who travels cross-country, quite by chance, with his sister’s boyfriend, who happens to be a guru. I read this book more than 10 years ago, but it still is on the top of my list when someone asks me for suggestions. I laughed out loud often while reading and learned a bit, too, about peace.
SUZANNE METTLER and ROBERT C. LIEBERMAN
Henry Devlin of Acton, Mass.: The book is about four threats that threaten democracy and traces their effect through US history and Trump’s presidency. They are polarization, conflict over who belongs in the political community, economic inequality, and executive power. I found the book to be very helpful toward trying to understand how fragile democracy is, and how to survive as a fully functioning, caring, and responsive society.
“The Tender Bar: A Memoir”
Marcia O’Neil of West Newbury, Mass.: This is a laugh-out-loud read, and it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud! The real-life characters are hilariously described, not only their mannerisms, but also their actions -- or should I say shenanigans. This poignant story of a young boy’s survival in the inner city tells the tale of how he was raised by the “boys at the bar” to become an accomplished writer as evidenced by this memoir. The writing is so deliciously descriptive that you won’t regret a moment absorbed in this wonderful entertaining story.
One measure of a book is if and how it stays with the reader once one is finished reading. I loved this book because it held and delighted me right through the last sentence on that last page. It’s a winner!
“The Starless Sea”
Laurie Foster of Concord, Mass.: This is about loving books and stories. The author brings you to magical places with stories about a world underneath us with a starless sea, about pirates and swords, about fortune-tellers, and about the moon falling in love. Tying it all together is the story of a young man who opens a book in a library one day to find his own story written by someone long before. His journey to find out how this book came to be takes the reader on a whirlwind of adventures.
I loved this book because it sweeps you up into beautiful mysterious places and, as corny as it sounds, touched my soul with its eloquent stories.
“The Giver of Stars”
Lenor Filler of South Boston, Va.: This story takes place in the 1930s in Kentucky when an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt started traveling libraries on horseback. Despite disapproval and setbacks, Alice continues to bring books to the poor and uneducated. It highlights the power of books and a friendship between two women, one Black and one white. I just love “people books,” and this is based on a true story.
“Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood”
Barbara Fish of Durham, N.C.: Audiobook -- Trevor Noah himself reads this memoir, which enhances every emotion and event he describes. His use of different voices adds to the hilarity of the funny bits and had me laughing out loud many times. There are sad parts, too, but the overall mood is one of triumph. This is a case of the audiobook being even better than the print version.
Jan Carter of Carmel, Ind.: This is Trevor Noah’s autobiography of growing up in South Africa as the child of a white father and Black mother. The book is insightful into an oppressive government while at the same time sharing very funny anecdotes of the author’s life growing up in this environment. I listened to the book, which made it all the more enjoyable.
Sandra Wulach of Edison, N.J.: This memoir was the most uplifting thing I have read all year, especially given the contrast between the Obamas and the current, but thankfully soon-to-leave, occupants of the White House.
Margaret Theobald of Exeter, N.H.: She writes about her life, from a modest lower middle class but proud and striving family in Chicago, through college and law school to becoming the first African American First Lady of the United States. But this is more than an autobiography; it’s about her character, ambition, and resilience. I put this book down feeling hope about our future.
“The Thursday Murder Club”
Marianne Tortola of Lexington, Mass.: The story takes place at a posh retirement home in England where four clever residents of a certain age meet each Thursday to investigate cold cases. Lucky them, a murder happens nearby. If you like quirky, well-developed characters and an imaginative author who makes you laugh with a turn of phrase, this is for you.
Maureen Farren of Amesbury, Mass.: Why this book? Because the main characters are in their 70s (yay us), and they are funny, smart, interesting, and clever.
“The Dutch House”
Joyce Brothers-Butler of Medway, Mass.: Lovely, interesting story of a semi-dysfunctional family whose life tends to revolve around the perimeter of the interesting yet odd house that they live in. The story is about relationships in general, but specifically about a brother’s love and devotion to his sister throughout their privileged yet complicated lives. There is no violence. It’s just a wonderful story that warms the heart and reinforces the belief that there is goodness out there that comes in all shapes and sizes. I just loved it.
“Memories in the Drift”
Lenora Good of Richland, Wash.: My idea of a good novel is escape, and when I am returned to reality at the end of the book, I want to feel better for having read it. “Memories in the Drift” meets my criteria.
Ten years ago, Claire had a seizure. She not only lost her baby, she lost the love of her life, and she lost the ability to form and hold new memories. She lives in her hometown in Alaska, and everyone in the town knows her, and helps her. Fortunately, she was very organized “before,” and that organization comes to her aid now. She keeps journals of everything, on her phone, in a notebook, on 3x5 cards, and she reads them, daily.
When I started this book, I wasn’t sure about it. It would have been so easy to turn it into a Victim Story, but it wasn’t that at all. It is a story of love, of hope, of the beauty of being human, and of resilience. I am so grateful to Ms. Payne for writing such a beautiful book, though because of the memory loops, it must have been difficult. This is a book I will read again.
Hilda Douglas: This is the first of 16 books in the Inspector Gamache series. Louise Penny creates a “whodunit” filled with a phenomenal mix of memorable characters that make you laugh out loud and a protagonist whose moral compass and intellect and emotional IQ make you want the world to be more like him. All 16 books are worthy, and I’m anxiously waiting for No. 17.
“Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”
Jack Fowler of Brookline, Mass.: In a world beset by misinformation, superstition, ignorance, and a rejection of scientific knowledge, this book is a wonderful dose of what human beings and science and rationality can accomplish. Pinker takes on the things that matter most in our lives, including health, wealth, peace, safety, equal rights, and quality of life, and tells us what is known about where the US and the world are now and, often of most interest, how the situation has evolved over the years. In most areas, though of course not all, we are in much better shape now than we used to be and more than most people appreciate.
I recommend this book because I think almost every reader will learn a lot about what human beings have done to make the world better, and I think most readers will come away encouraged about the future, as I did.
“The Authenticity Project”
Tina Miller of Bedford, Mass.: A journal, left by a lonely old widower in a coffee shop, begins a series of associations and relationships and leads to an unlikely -- but appealing -- community of friends. I loved the quirky characters, their relationships, and their heartfelt support of one another.
Nicholas Jankowski of Catonsville, Md.: One of the books in Pratchett’s Discworld series, “Going Postal” introduces us to Moist Von Lipwig, a degenerate con man saved at the last moment from the gallows and given the option to live if he just takes on one small task: resurrecting the all-but-defunct Post Office. Given this choice, he begins brilliantly applying his devious mind to prevailing over incompetent staff, overconfident competitors, and underhanded corporate espionage. Pratchett’s humor, sarcasm, wit, and brilliant characters make this an excellent option as an introduction to his Discworld series.
Why I loved the book: (1) Pratchett is amazing. I was getting funny looks as I laughed out loud while reading it. (2) A man literally at the end of his rope finds a new life and opportunity against all odds, as the con man cons himself into going straight. Sort of.
”Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” (with Neil Gaiman)
Elizabeth Fewtrell of Tehachapi, Calif.: An angel and a demon surreptitiously work together to prevent the Antichrist from destroying Earth. Despite the seemingly depressing topic and characters (Famine and Pestilence, for example), it is laugh-out-loud funny and uplifting. Bonus points for listening to the audio version read by Neil Gaiman, who could make listening to the phone book a riveting and soothing experience.
THE VENERABLE TENZIN PRIYADARSHI and ZARA HOUSHMAND
“Running Toward Mystery: The Adventure of an Unconventional Life”
Susan M. Dolan of Edwards, Colo.: This is a story of a young child who follows his prophetic dreams and becomes a Buddhist monk, much to the chagrin of his Brahman family. Venerable Tenzin gives the reader many opportunities for thoughtful reflection as you follow along on his unusual journey from a childhood in India through navigating the cultural challenges of university studies in the US to becoming an adult and making difference in the world.
I loved reading this beautifully written portrait of a young person’s call to a life of contemplation and service. It’s an inspirational account of what is truly possible if you open your heart and mind to embrace the world as it unfolds around you.
“The Amber Spyglass”
Eileen Sorrentino of Mattappoisett, Mass.: This is the last book in Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. It gives me hope and joy and freedom from repression.
“Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting”
Winnie Hagan of Boston, Mass.: This was a poignant, heartwarming and at times hilarious read for me as a fairly new grandmother who is totally in love with my 4 (amazing) grandchildren. I am still laughing at myself whenever I think of the chapter entitled, “Did They Ask You?” Don’t miss it.
“Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts”
Steve Jervey, North Reading, Mass.: Of course, Tuesday doesn’t talk to ghosts, does she? But wouldn’t it have been helpful when the old guy dropped dead at the charity auction? Who knew that shamefully hilarious farewell would lead to such a zany treasure hunt, or that the treasure hunt would reveal such unexpected secrets in Boston’s theater district, or that those secrets would draw together such a cast of strong, independent, and often outrageously funny characters.
I loved this book. It made me laugh, but more, I marveled at the finesse of the young author devising such a plot, drawing the curtain back so carefully to reveal why the implausible had actually been almost inevitable, and introducing us to characters we don’t want to leave. And, finally, for letting Tuesday, and the reader, put some ghosts to rest.
(former restaurant critic for The New York Times and the last editor of Gourmet magazine)
”Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise”
Patricia Myerson: All her books are well written, insightful, and full of joy and zest for life. But this particular book is also free of any of the author’s major life traumas, making it a delightful but also meaningful escape read during a pandemic.
”Save Me the Plums”
Ann Willauer of Prouts Neck, Maine: Great autobiography of her work at Gourmet Magazine. Fascinating, funny, and a feel-good story, especially if you are a “foodie” like me. Also has fun recipes.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”
Linda LaTores of Paxton, Mass.: This is a children’s novel that tells the story of six misfit children who volunteer to star in their town’s Sunday School Christmas pageant, and end up teaching the town the true meaning of Christmas. (This description is from Wikipedia.) This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
“Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk”
Cathy Angellis of Yarmouthport, Mass.: This is the most enjoyable and uplifting book I have read in 2020. It’s a portrait of an extraordinary 85-year-old woman who relives her past during a walk across New York City on New Year’s Eve. The people she encounters on her stroll of neighborhoods across more than 10 miles represent a rich cross section of characters with their own stories entwined. If you love to walk, enjoy New York City, and want an interesting and uplifting read to begin 2021, I would highly recommend this book.
LEO ROSTEN (under the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross)
“The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N”
Ruth Kleinfeld of Manchester, N.H.: This is a marvelous book that is uplifting, inspirational, outright funny, and whatever the other criterion is. It’s still relevant after over 50 years, telling the story of a new immigrant learning English at night school in New York City. Hyman insists on spelling his name with stars as he mangles the language hilariously. I recently bought a used copy just to enliven my COVID experience, and it’s just as delightful as I recalled from reading it the first time many decades ago.
MARY DORIA RUSSELL
Claudia Vocino of Ann Arbor, Mich.: A Jesuit linguist volunteers for a space expedition, meets an alien race, and suffers a crisis of faith.
Marcia Thompson: I read this years ago along with members of our book group; it was one of the few that we unanimously agreed was a winner, then promptly spent the next two hours reading sections aloud to each other instead of discussing the literary merits/themes/metaphors/plot devices that we usually honed in on. Mostly we read to remember the hilarity that we agreed was its best feature. Okay -- some of it might have been to do with our wine consumption (we’ve been accused of being a wine group with a book problem), but on the whole, the experience was definitely one of happiness and humor.
The fact that the story takes place at an underfunded, second-rate college in Pennsylvania and deals almost exclusively with the agonies (and very few ecstasies) of academic life makes this a romping good read that, in the hindsight afforded us by 2020, is both hilarious and perhaps a bit prescient.
Kris Kay of Medford, Mass.: The chair of an English department caught between his divided staff and also plagued by his own personal problems. It’s been so long since I read it, but there is a HILARIOUS scene about wasps under his porch. I cried laughing many times throughout this book and would love to find some equally funny ones to read.
George C. Shields: This hilarious read tells the story of an English professor who has had it with the poor state of funding and support at his regional, public university, somewhere in Pennsylvania. His department is dysfunctional, and the professor is a reluctant leader of the department. Russo is the author of many great books, and teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. This is the funniest book I have ever read; I fell off the sofa laughing the first time I read it.
”Nobody’s Fool” and “Everybody’s Fool”
TJ Seguin of Cotuit: Literature by a Pulitzer Prize winner about real people and real stupidity. I grew up with these people and am one of them.
Tom DeMarco of Camden, Maine: Twin sisters “talk” to each other in the cradle, real talk, not understood by adults. They both grow up to have careers in language and linguistics, but destroy their friendship in the process: one is a grammar purist and the other a go-with-the-flow grammar reactionary.
The author loves her two main characters, and almost immediately, so did I. They just have trouble loving each other. There is humor on every page. “The Grammarians” manages to be deep and still extremely funny.
“Dear Committee Members”
Helen Giambro of Quincy, Mass.: An academic farce, this novel is a series of missives written by a dedicated, albeit dyspeptic, professor of creative writing at Payne (pun intended) University whose humanity is revealed through a year’s worth of letters of recommendation, memos, and personal correspondence. It’s a marvelous blend of humor and righteous indignation.
David Vossbrink of Sunnyvale, Calif.: This is a hilarious sendup of the burdens and frustrations of academic life told through a collection of letters of recommendation by a choleric professor of English. Anyone who has struggled to write reference letters for any purpose, including those for mid-list employees, students, colleagues, and benighted nephews, will appreciate the art of convincingly saying nothing. It’s one of the funniest “campus novels” I’ve ever read, a great satire with a surprising heart.
“The Best of Me”
Mary Moreland: A collection of pieces from over the years that Sedaris considers his best work. Sedaris is laugh-out-loud wry/funny about himself, his family, and life in general.
Jennifer Dolan of Louisville, Ky.: I have loved Sedaris for years, and I usually laugh so hard that I cry when I read his books. But this one is my new favorite -- because he chose the best stories from all of his books from the past 25 years and put them together in one volume. “Jesus Shaves,” “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” and “Undecided” are just a few of my favorites. Sedaris’s observations about living in this world are sometimes ridiculous, sometimes crazy, often poignant (especially when he writes about his family), but he always makes me laugh. And that’s just the right prescription for this world right now!
Lisa Cramb: A “best of” collection of his most cutting, insightful, funny, sarcastic, etc. stuff. I’ve read or heard them all read before, but they are quick bites of fun that are still funny (or funny and revolting, and head-scratching) … perfect for now. I revisited this gem last night … a good story to put one in the holiday mood. ;)
”Me Talk Pretty One Day”
Greg Darnall of Lincoln, Mass.: It’s the first book I’ve ever read that made me laugh uncontrollably again and again, so hopefully it fits the bill. I also once saw a woman reading it on the Red Line in Boston and she was intermittently laughing so hard that she couldn’t sit straight -- almost as if the jokes kept catching her off guard.
My loose recollection is that the book is a collection of essays portraying a fictionalized account of David’s childhood with his parents and siblings, in which his humor and imagination clearly created his own alternate reality, to hilarious effect.
Ellen Cliggott of Hyannis, Mass.: All of Sedaris’s books are funny, but I believe that with this book, he fully came into his own as a writer. His humor can be dark at times, but it’s based on pointing out the absurd and the ridiculous in life. He makes fun of his family and friends, but more often that not, David is the butt of his own jokes, and he freely shares his own foolish moments. For example, when he moves to France and attempts to learn French, as told in the title story.
The first part of the book includes stories from his childhood through his 20s, and the second part covers his life in France, featuring such gems as “See You Again Yesterday” and “Picka Pocketoni.” If I want to laugh out loud, I just think about these tales and I immediately feel better. Sedaris received the Thurber Prize for American Humor.
Cindy Boyle of Groton, Mass.: You’ll read stories about events during a period in David’s life and about him and his family. The collection focuses on observations of middle age and aging from his unique view.
I didn’t read this book -- my grown son, who was staying with me for a few weeks while he tried sorting out some difficult issues with his own future, read it. This book made him laugh out loud, and often dissolve into breath-catching giggles. He would read me excerpts and we’d chortle together. This book pushed aside, for an hour or so on many evenings, the stress and anxiety of his “real life.” If it could provoke my usually taciturn son to laugh like a kid, I highly recommend it.
Caroline Steiner: Before he made it big, Sedaris cleaned houses, and this hilarious book of essays seems to be him imagining the lives of the people he cleaned house for. It’s sometimes raunchy, but nothing else in print has ever made me laugh so hard. I was sobbing with hysterical laughter on the train to the degree that people actually got up and moved away because they thought I was not right while reading it. Nothing better for you than laughter, is there?
”Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim”
Taylor of Brighton, Mass: Essays about Sedaris’ experiences growing up in the South with four sisters. The dark humor isn’t for everyone, but it also comes with a lot of warmth and honesty. I couldn’t read this book in public because of the amount of times I’d double over laughing with tears streaming down my face. Highly recommended to anyone who needs a laugh and wants to be intimately involved in the life of a buoyantly dysfunctional family.
“The Murmur of Bees”
Carol Elsesser of Pittsburgh, Penn.: A magical realism tale of a Mexican family with a very special boy. Loved this book for its great writing and setting in the time of the 1918 pandemic.
“Is This Anything?”
Janice Stillman: Seinfeld compiled all of his jokes over five decades, with brief personal context to introduce each period of his life. If you loved him then, you’ll love him again. It’s not necessarily a cover-to-cover read; any/every page has something that makes you laugh out loud. The jokes are timeless and the rhythm/pace is sooo Seinfeld (of course) that you might start talking like him (again). Yada, yada, yada.
Phil Webber of Grantham, N.H.: A collection of his jokes over his lifetime. I am listening to it, and he is also the narrator. Lots of laughs.
Denise Smith of Townsend, Mass.: I’m hoping to get a copy for Christmas, so I can’t give a summary, but it’s Jerry Seinfeld! Happy holidays – (I started researching Festivus - for venting NEXT year about THIS year).
Trinka Snyder of Wellfleet, Mass.: I am listening to the audio version (read by the author). It is essentially a compilation of many of his jokes and bits from over his decades-long career, broken down by decade. I listen to it when I take my daily walk and I laugh out loud. It’s a wonderful escape from the world we are living in right now. If you are a fan, you can’t help but enjoy this book, and hearing it in his voice is especially fun.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends”
Jackie King of Raleigh, N.C.: Each poem makes me smile. I’ve used this book to help new readers catch on, and there is always a great discovery when they realize they have just read something funny!
I must remember ...
Turkey on Thanksgiving,
Pudding on Christmas,
Eggs on Easter,
Chicken on Sunday,
Fish on Friday,
But ah, me -- I’m such a dunce.
I went and ate them all at once.
“The Rosie Project”
Karen McGloughlin of Delaware: This is fiction, and if you love it as much as I did, there are two followup books, “The Rosie Effect” and “The Rosie Result.” I read a lot, but rarely find a book that is laugh-out-loud funny. This one is. It is a romantic comedy, and you can’t help but love the quirky characters and root for it all to work out.
Kyle Harvey of Chicago, Ill.: Wonderful story about professional horse racing told from many angles, including that of a Jack Russell terrier. I laughed and wept.
“The Beavers of Popple’s Pond: Sketches from the Life of an Honorary Rodent”
Annie Reid of Westborough, Mass.: Delightful real-life wild-animal tales from the unique perspective of a professional naturalist/wildlife rehabilitator who has befriended beavers and many other wild animals in her local Vermont woods or in her care, from moose and bear to rabbits, flying squirrels, minks, otters, robins, shrews, and baby porcupines. Short, enjoyable chapters. Not a children’s book, but fun for the whole family -- read together or alone.
I love this uplifting book because it offers vicarious experiences of the woods and relationships with wild animals that few of us are ever going to have in our own lives. I myself am reading the book for the fourth time, a chapter at a time at bedtime, to put my mind in the woods and allow me to escape into sleep.
RACHEL LYNN SOLOMON
“Today, Tonight, Tomorrow”
Carol Kassel of Bronx, N.Y.: My daughter and I recommend this YA romance -- smart, witty, and satisfying. The main character is an intelligent young woman who happens to be Jewish, which is also a refreshing detail you don’t often find in novels where everyone seems to celebrate Christmas. There are also lots of Seattle references, and not just the usual Space Needle and Starbucks, either.
“Miss Buncle’s Book”
Susan Klinger of Washington, D.C: Barbara Buncle is in a bind. It is the Great Depression, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. She decides to write a novel, but stumped for ideas, draws inspiration from her fellow residents in the little English village she knows inside and out. To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It’s a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because once her fellow villagers realize they are the subjects of the book everyone in the country is reading, the whole village is in an uproar and lives are upended, including Miss Buncle’s own.
The novel was originally published in 1934; it’s a total period piece and a delight. I tell people that it’s like champagne: No nutritional value, but it’s light and fizzy and you feel infinitely better after reading it.
“All Adults Here”
Becky Sykes of Brooklyn, N.Y.: While the book addresses a number of societal challenges, including parenting, adolescence, gender identity, aging, and homosexuality, it does so in a way that allows for humor. At root, the tensions we often feel around these issues include a touch of absurdity: Why do we care how others express themselves in a healthy, consenting relationship?
I enjoyed the book because it was an easy read and I was able to relate to and care about the characters and their fates.
Peg Doyle of Medfield, Mass.: Olive is a quasi-fictional character residing in a rural Mine town. She’s erratic, prone to blowing her lid on her sweet pharmacist husband, and her eccentricities and self-descriptions make her character laugh-out-loud funny at times. As I read it, I thought probably everyone reading this book knows an Olive -- I certainly do.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
“The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861”
Allan Keyes of St. George, Vt.: Daily observations of daily walks by a poet and naturalist who writes well and understands how to attend to the present moment. “Each page written in its own season, out-of-doors, in its own locality.” I have been reading and annotating Thoreau’s journal in season for the past 10 years as part of my daily ritual and am enriched in my own walks by his observations and art of seeing the world.
“The Thurber Carnival”
Michael DeWitt of Ancramdale, N.Y.: This book is a collection of essential James Thurber stories and drawings. All the good stuff is in one volume -- a cure for the COVID-19 stay-at-home blues. It’s time to appreciate Thurber again (and again and again) because he wrote (and drew!) so beautifully and humorously about, well, everything! I don’t think James Thurber now gets nearly the attention he deserves, but he’s an American treasure, and if your readers don’t know him, they’re missing a lot (especially these days).
IAN W. TOLL
Lincoln T. Fuller of Cousins Island, Maine: How the US started our Navy, with all the politics involved. Accurate, graphic, enlightening. One of the best books I’ve read all the way to the end. Makes me wish I had paid attention during all those history classes.
JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE
“A Confederacy of Dunces”
Kathryn of Northbridge, Mass.: New Orleans. Crazy characters. He’s ridiculous, but hilarious. I read it when I was much younger and commuting to work by bus. I still remember laughing out loud reading this on the bus and everyone staring at me. Sometimes I would cry laughing. This is what we need right now.
“A Gentleman in Moscow”
Alexa Mason: A Russian aristocrat is confined to house arrest by the Bolsheviks. In his case, his home is the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. The novel takes place almost entirely within the walls of this grand hotel and introduces all sorts of fascinating characters -- both above and below stairs. Our hero, Count Rostov, plays the cards he has been dealt with charm and a wry sense of humor. The changes that Russia is going through as the 20th century progresses affect everyone within the hotel, but the twists and turns of the plot are joyously entertaining and the novel has an unexpected and happy ending. What more could one want?
Ann W. Caldwell of Wakefield Mass.: I’m sure I won’t be the first or the last person to recommend this book as a perfect antidote for the isolation and claustrophobia of the pandemic. The protagonist is a wonderful role model of humility, resilience, curiosity, and creative resolve to make the best of constrained circumstances. I loved it and found Count Rostov a most amiable companion in these trying times.
Frances Adams of Santa Fe, N.M.: Who would think that a novel about the titular gentleman confined by force to a hotel in Moscow during the early years of Communism would be a joyful read? Consider that it’s a luxurious hotel, and it seems that all the world passes through, and that none of this is lost on the gentleman. Perfect reading for a time when we all are more-or-less confined.
Caroline Clayton of Indianapolis, Ind.: In the 1920s, a Russian aristocrat is sentenced to life imprisonment in a luxury hotel. I loved how the main character kept evolving and adapting! He -- and the book -- were like nested dolls!! Cheering for him was simple and natural and sooooo rewarding! The writing was smart, clear, funny, engaging, and informative! Towles’ inclusion of history, lifestyle, and culture was mesmerizing and engrossing without being didactic or slowing the story. The 2020 world deserves a happy and satisfying ending to a book.
Judy Rycus: This novel is particularly relevant to our current circumstances, because it’s about a young Russian count (royalty) who has been “imprisoned” in the Hotel Metropole in Moscow for life by the new regime. He was granted clemency -- allowed to live, albeit in banishment, rather than being killed because of his royal status. If he ever sets foot out of the hotel, he will be arrested on sight and immediately imprisoned (or maybe shot? I don’t recall).
In any case, it’s a story of how he creates a life for himself, even though his world has shrunk dramatically to the hotel itself and the postage stamp of his sleeping and living quarters in the attic. The book is about relationships, and how he continues to grow and learn and make a life for himself even in his highly limiting circumstances. The way he turns lemons into lemonade is the gem of this book. Imprisoned in a hotel, he still manages to live richly. A good message for people who think being isolated at home because of COVID is a fate worse than death.
Barbara Irving of Amherst, Mass.: This is the perfect pandemic book. It is a quiet, elegantly written novel with many clever allusions to Western cultural and political history, English poetry, and Russian literature. It is fun to catch the clues and inspiring to journey through time with an intelligent, curious, warm-hearted man who deftly turns a cage into a stage. The generous lessons for coping with uncertainty, isolation, and disappointment in these short chapters resonated with me in these fraught times and made me smile.
Alice Lanckton of Newton, Mass.: Count Alexander Rostov goes back to Russia from Paris during the early days of the Russian Revolution to help his mother leave Russia. He is arrested by a Bolshevist tribunal, which takes his wealth and imposes a life sentence of confinement to the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. He lives his years working there, finding a lover, family, friends, and a full life.
I loved it because the way Rostov is able to make this rich life is terrifically inspiring and enormously interesting as well as teaching the reader a lot about the beginning and development of the Soviet Union. The writing is marvelous.
“Tepper Isn’t Going Out”
Steve Latham of Lee, Mass.: On the surface, it is about an ordinary if quirky New Yorker, Murray Tepper, who has a knack for finding really good parking spaces (such as one where you can leave your car for several days before having to move it to accommodate street sweeping) and once he has one, he refuses to give it up until he has to. He loves to sit in his car reading the paper, which infuriates those hunting for a space (as well as a blustering mayor, who is a great parody of Rudy Giuliani), but to others, he takes on an almost mystical status and becomes a cause celebre.
The theme couldn’t be more mundane, but Trillin’s dry humor and his wonderful development of characters makes it pure joy to read. I read it in one sitting on a rainy day on Block Island and literally laughed so hard I cried.
”Alice, Let’s Eat”
Mike Naughton of Millers Falls, Mass.: A collection of essays about food which are usually about more than food. I always enjoy reading Trillin – maybe I’m in a minority, but I think he’s one of the best writers there is, and his bemused but focused quests in Foodland take me out of the everyday and into a wonderfully special place. Whatever adventure he’s on, I always wish that I could be along for the ride.
”Feeding a Yen”
Nora Klein of Houston, Texas: A hilarious, occasionally reverential book about local food from Kansas City to Cuzco. It kept me laughing -- a lot.
Mary Grzenda: This is a very timely story about a young African American boy who was adopted by a wealthy white family under a less than ethical manner.
LAURENS VAN DER POST
“A Mantis Carol”
Timothy Tate of Bozeman, Mont.: Van der Post tells a true story of an episode in his life that led him from his home in London to NYC in search of one of the First People Bushman of Africa whose name is Hans Taaibosch. And it all begins with a recurring dream of a praying mantis. My take comes from the title page quote: “And always mantis would have a dream, they told me in the desert. And the dream would show them what to do.”
ELIZABETH VON ARNIM
“The Enchanted April”
Hilary Miller of Lexington, Ky.: First published in 1922, this entrancing book relates the blossoming of four very different, but equally troubled, British women as they spend a magical, transformative month in the sunny, flower-swept surroundings of a “small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean.” The novel shifts seamlessly from each woman’s musings, apprehensions, and longings, and the many comical misunderstandings and unintended consequences sweep the plot along to its totally satisfying conclusion. I was alternately amused and astonished by the perfect crafting of this novel, a wonderful antidote to the angst and anxiety of 2020.
“An Old Man’s Game”
Kate Hays of Toronto, Canada: A detective novel that is a funny and feel-good story?! Weinberger has created an elderly, retired, very Jewish, Los Angeles detective who is asked to find out who killed a beloved but controversial rabbi. The plot thickens, of course.
What drew me to this novel -- and a subsequent one with the same protagonist -- is the character of this detective, Amos Parisman. His warmth, thoughtfulness, care for his debilitated wife, and deep connection with others makes him a mensch with whom I just enjoyed hanging out.
“The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers”
Stan Haney of Wiscasset, Maine: This is the most inspiring book that I have read in quite some time. The book is organized around a series of train rides that Weiner, a correspondent for NPR, takes to visit areas associated with a range of philosophers from Socrates to Simone Beauvoir. Each train ride is a quiet interlude, where Weiner mulls over his thoughts about what constitutes the good, moral, and vital life.
While riding the train, he ponders on what the next philosopher on the itinerary might have to say about these musings. The speculations are never heavy-handed or bogged down with obscure philosophic claptrap. They are simply the insights of a contemporary man asking wise men and women of our past basic questions appropriate to our confusing age.
The reader joins him in this exquisite journey with his teachers Marcus Aurelius, Thoreau, Gandhi, Montaigne, and half a dozen others, including his 11-year-old daughter. We are fellow passengers on his train, and we almost feel like we are in a conversation with him. We learn with him to take the long view, to be calmer, more attentive, more stoic, and kinder. It is a train ride of discovery and growth. I enjoyed every mile of it.
“The Once and Future King”
Myron Bud Stern of Shaker Heights, Ohio: The book is a highly imaginative and penetrating retelling of the legends of King Arthur of Britain. When I was introduced to this book in 1961, by a person who treasured it, I was captivated. “One of the best novels ever written.” It contains the struggle of a complex man to fight with the forces of evil with everything he has -- no cannons, bombs, or fighter planes! Does he succeed? Read the book!
Liz Champeon of Orrington, Maine: Perhaps due to the current low level of ethics in our current society (or at least among the more prominent members), I would like to recommend one of my all-time favorite books. This story follows the education of young King Arthur by the Wizard Merlin. As part of his journey, young Arthur learns about the societal structures of such varied creatures as wild geese and ants. The humor, tragedy, thoughtfulness, and ethics are intended to prepare the young King for his impending responsibilities. I honestly cannot tell you how many times I have read it.
LAURA INGALLS WILDER
“The Long Winter”
Naomi Allen of Brighton, Mass.: This book tells the story of a bad winter in the Dakotas. There are some challenges, but nothing bad happens. Readers learn the benefits of a long, strong rope. It also gives one an appreciation of the past (it takes place in the late 1800s) and the fact that we probably won’t have any storms this winter that are as bad as the one in the book. The story is really well told, is historic, and makes one feel hardy.
“This is Happiness”
Phil Leonard of Mount Holly, Vt.: This is the story of the serendipitous friendship between two men, set in a tottering village in the west of Ireland. The narrator is a youth who has returned to his grandparents’ home to reassess his future plans. His friend, in late middle age, shows up as a boarder and is preoccupied with aspects of his past. There is much to recommend in the story, but I experienced the book primarily under the “flat-out funny” rubric. Williams renders local color and characters with consummate craft, embroidering the full range of village life with flashes of hilarity.
Carlie Krolick of Charlotte, Vt.: Gorgeous, evocative language, a great character on every page, and free transportation to Ireland. I loved this book because it took me away from COVID hell.
Nancy Ross of Hingham, Mass.: An old man reflects on his summer in 1950 in a small rural village in Ireland when he was 18. The constant rain has finally stopped, electricity may or may not be installed, young love is in the air. This book is beautifully written. I’m smiling through it.
“The Book of Lost Friends”
Janet Lynch of Oviedo, Fla.: This book follows a teacher, Benny, in 1987 and a freed slave, Hannie, in 1875. While Benny tries to get her apathetic students interested in learning, Hannie leaves on an unplanned trip and meets with many surprises along the way. This book was beautifully written and it was uplifting because it portrayed townspeople coming together to help Benny, and some amazing people encountered by Hannie during her journey.
Laura Mosedale of London, England: An obnoxious Hollywood child and British aristocrat swap bodies at the dentist and hilarity ensues. A temporary cure for what ails us right now.
”The Inimitable Jeeves”
Karen Coffey: This tells the story of an Englishman, Bertie Wooster, and his valet, Jeeves, set in the last century. Wooster finds himself in unusual and hysterical situations that require the help of Jeeves. Wodehouse is my favorite author and his books are the funniest I have ever read. In these trying times we need to laugh, and everyone will love Jeeves.
”The Code of the Woosters”
Eric Rohmann of Pennington, N.J.: I’ve been a Wodehouse fan since my teens, and now, 60 years later, I still read a few each year for the joy of his language, the absurdly complex plots, the silliness of it all, and simply to have a lot of laughs!
Although there are nearly 100 volumes of his work out there in the world, for those who haven’t yet had the joy of reading The Master, a good place to start is “The Code of the Wooster.” You get Bertie Wooster and and his “gentleman’s personal gentleman” Jeeves along with Lord Emsworth and a Blandings Castle romp all under one roof. It involves imposters, the theft of a silver cow creamer, misadventures, and much merriment.
For a shorter introduction, there’s “Uncle Fred Flits By,” a short story featuring Drones Club member Pongo Twistleton and his eccentric Uncle Fred (Lord Ickenham) together in an uproarious farce. It’s included in “Young Men in Spats” or the new complete Uncle Fred stories and novels in paperback, “Utterly Uncle Fred.”
“What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner”
Pamela Harms of Dumfries, Va.: A hilarious nonfiction account of Emily Yoffe becoming involved with BREW (Beagle Rescue, Education, and Welfare). As Teresa Hanafin described in her encounter with a rescue basset hound, you will always experience heartbreak with animals. But how would you know something was funny without crying?
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