Mel Brooks once famously said, “Humor is just another defense against the universe”. This is a mantra we should all keep in mind with the current Covid-19 crisis. It has never been more important to keep your sense of humor within arm’s reach. If you have a lot of time on your hands, put a book into them. Escape into the lighter side of things with one or more of these titles.
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened | Jenny Lawson. Lawson is best known for her popular blog, The Bloggess. Her story of growing up in Texas as the daughter of a taxidermist means that having stuffed squirrels and rattlesnakes turned into puppets is a “normal” occurrence. Flash forward to Lawson meeting Victor, her husband, and everything these two argue about, from their wedding to scorpions, is comedic gold. Of all of her stories, probably the funniest is Jenny, a non-wine drinker, going to a wine retreat. The tasting notes she shares with us? Pee your pants funny! Definitely one of the funniest books I have ever read.
Domestic Violets | Matthew Norman. Cathy S from Harper Collins sent me this before it came out. Little did she know she not only created a Matthew Norman groupie, but it’s also the one book everyone in the Burr Ridge Barbara’s Bookstore loved unconditionally. Tom Violet hates his job, is having marital problems with his wife, his dog has acute anxiety, he’s flirting with his cute coworker, and he is plugging away at his literary masterpiece, but he has an even tougher stumbling block- his Pulitzer Prize-winning father Curtis Violet. Can he mend fences with his wife, get his dog off of Prozac, not cheat on his wife, save the world, and overcome his insecurities regarding his talent compared to his father? I’m telling you, this is still one of my all-time Top 10 debut reads.
- Bitter is the New Black | Jen Lancaster. Chicago’s very own Lancaster began her career writing about her career with a top company and the best of all worlds. Until she’s laid off. Trying to find a job in a crappy economy is quite the learning curve for our Jen- witness her trip to the unemployment office clutching a Prada bag. And that’s only the beginning of the fun!
- Lamb | Christopher Moore. I found out about Christopher Moore from my friend Ross. I was going through a depression and he recommended this (he was also responsible for my discovery of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series but that’s another post). You remember that JC guy There has been a lot written about his birth and life. But there are missing years that no one knows about, until now. Biff, Christ’s childhood friend, lets us into JC’s early life. Filled with magical journeys, corpse reanimations, demons, king fu, and hot babes, it’s definitely an eye opener!
- Candide | Voltaire. Senior year AP English brought me this gem. Voltaire, a philosopher out of the Age of Enlightenment, brings a tale of a young man living a sheltered life, and being indoctrinated into a new way of optimism by his mentor, Professor Pangloss (not a name I would recommend for an online dating profile). What follows can only be described as a journey of many colors, views, delivered with blistering wit.
- The Canterbury Tales | Geoffrey Chaucer. One of my favorite classics. 24 stories that run to over 17,000 words and written in Middle English may not sound like your cup of coronavirus, but why not? Don’t give me that argument about not having the time! Most of Illinois is sheltering in place, so that excuse won’t work. Chaucer’s characters are memorable, heavy on irony and bawdy. Give it a whirl.
- The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy | Douglas Adams. The start of the beloved 5 book series. It begins the adventures of Arthur Dent, the last surviving man. Earth has been taken down by a Vogon constructor fleet, and into this wanders Ford Prefect, an alien who works for the electronic travel guide The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He rescues Dent and the fun begins!
- We Are Never Meeting in Real Life | Samantha Irby. Another local treasure delivers her 2nd book, full of raw, self-deprecating and honest essays. Irby’s voice comes across loud and clear in this brilliant collection of essays.
- Then We Came to the End | Joshua Ferris. 2001 hits, the dot com bubble bursts, and a group of advertising execs working in a Chicago business on the verge of imploding, decide to band together to weather the crisis. As relevant know as it was when it was released.
- Humans | Matt Haig. An extra-terrestrial appears on Earth, taking the form of Cambridge University Professor Andrew Martin. What he sees of humans and the way they conduct themselves, makes him sick. Slowly but surely, as often happens, the influences start to seep into our alien friend and he transforms into a wine-swilling classic rock fan whose main vice is peanut butter (sounds like me!). A compulsively funny look at ourselves.
- Will Not Attend | Adam Resnick. My colleague Lisa called me a few years ago and told me to read this book. I am so glad she did! Resnick, an Emmy Award winning writer, invites the reader into his “troubled” psyche in this memoir-in-essays. The traumatic Easter Egg hunt has to be one of the funniest ones I have read. If you love Larry Davidesque humor, this one is for you.
- If Chins Could Kill | Bruce Campbell. If you have no idea what the movie Evil Dead is, well, start there and then head over to Campbell’s book. Campbell runs us through his journey through Hollyweird, with his trademark sarcastic and quirky manner. These sort of memoirs are often a mixed bag; happily, not this one.
- The Dangerous Animals Club | Stephen Tobolowsky. Tobolowsky’s memoir is another quirky Hollyweird tome. Go behind-the-scenes and learn about the eternally bizarre game of acting. Throw in travel tips, a great LSD in the coffee story, and you have a winning combination.
- The Know-It-All | A.J. Jacobs. NPR contributor A.J. Jacob’s brings us into his life as he embarks on a singular goal that most would not bother with. He decides to read the Encyclopedia Brittanica from A to Z. Oh, that actually might work from some of our bored quarantiners. Oh, the facts we learn from his adventure and the laughter that ensues.
- A Confederacy of Dunces | John Kennedy Toole. If this book doesn’t define as a “modern classic”, I don’t know what does. Ignatius J. Reilly is a 30-year old man still living with his mother, writing his great works and hiding it under his bed like a petulant child, and constantly talking to everyone about his traumatic experience with a Greyhound Supercharger. Ignatius’ drunk mom gets them into a car accident, leading to the greatest comic tragedy of all- Ignatius has to find a job! Full of unforgettable supporting characters and tongue-in-cheek repartee, the conclusion it brings us to is that we all know an Ignatius.