The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.
Can literature be funny? What is your favorite humorous literary book?
Of course literature can be funny. It is not because a book is literary that it has to be dry and serious. I believe that wit and sarcasm are an effective way to discuss serious topics. Plain humour is also enjoyable.
The first titles coming to mind are not literary titles per se, although it is always difficult to figure out where you draw the line. Maybe the fact that they actually had me laughing out loud is a sign of the quality of the writing? However, I will not discuss these now.
I am quite responsive to sarcasm and Margaret Atwood’s writings often make me laugh for this reason. Her novels, as well as short stories and non-fiction, often display such sarcasm or just plain humour. I am thinking of The Penelopiad, for instance, with its parody of The Odyssey, or Payback in which Atwood creates a revision of Scrooge called Scrooge Nouveau, who is a stereotypical modern business man:
“As you know, there are two Scrooges. There’s the squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner we meet first in the story about him – I’ll call this one ‘Scrooge Original’, following the lead of certain soft-drink and potato-chip companies. Then there’s the second Scrooge, the one that emerges after his born-again experience. I’ll call him ‘Scrooge Lite’ . . .
But let’s contemplate a third Scrooge: as he would be if he were among us in the early twenty-first century. I’ll call this one ‘Scrooge Nouveau’, because when you’re introducing a high-end quality product it’s just as well to make it sound a little French.
Scrooge Nouveau is the same age as Scrooge Original, but he doesn’t look it. He looks much younger, because, unlike Scrooge Original, he does spend his money: he spends it on himself. So he’s had hair transplant, and some facial adjustment, and his skin is tanned from the many voyages he’s taken on his private yacht, and his very white and expertly restored teeth gleam eerily in the dark.”
One cannot remain cold to the humour displayed in her short fictions either. The examples are numerous. It is a sarcastic humour that has me grin and think at the same time.
“All men are created equal, as someone said who was either very hopeful or very mischievous.” (“Alien Territory”, Good Bones)
Another book I read not too long ago that had me laugh or smile a good bit is Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. I find the tone of passages such this one humourous:
“Everybody in America was supposed to grab whatever he could and hold onto it. Some Americans were very good at grabbing and holding, were fabulously well-to-do.”
I also enjoy playfulness, which in itself can be humourous. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino would be a good example of a book that made me giggly because of its form. I found the first chapter addressed to the reader quite fun, and then I found the fact that each beginning of a story-within-the-story is abruptly interrupted for one reason or another hilarious.
“You have now read about thirty pages and you’re becoming caught up in the story. At a certain point you remark: ‘This sentence sounds somehow familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before.’ . .
Wait a minute! Look at the page number. Damn! From page 32 you’ve gone back to page 17! What you thought was a stylistic subtlety on the author’s part is simply a printers’ mistake: they have inserted the same pages twice.”
These are just a few examples. I think that literature is often infused with humour, so I could be going on all night. What type of humour in books makes you laugh?