My 10 favorite funny novels (plus dozens of runners-up)

funny novels - They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher BuckleySixteen authors are represented on this post, four of whom have made a career of writing funny novels (Christopher Buckley, Carl Hiaasen, Donald E. Westlake, and Sophie Kinsella). That forced me to make arbitrary choices in several instances. Not to mention all the other humorous novels I’ve read that I was forced to omit. It’s a tough job, but I’m up to the task.

Each of the 10 first-choice titles highlighted below is boldfaced, and each is paired with a link to my review. Since I can’t possibly choose one of these 10 books as the funniest, I’ve arranged them in the alphabetical order of the authors’ last names.

Below is a second list. It includes more than two dozen other worthy funny novels. They’re all rated @@@@ (4 out of 5) or @@@@@ (5 out of 5). I’ve omitted those books I’ve read and reviewed with lower ratings.

My 10 favorite funny novels

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley—Washington and Beijing get what they deserve in this satirical novel

Christopher Buckley writes satirical novels about politics that are often hysterically funny. They Eat Puppies is my favorite. But I’ve reviewed many others. Here are some of them (linked to my reviews): The Relic Master, The White House Mess, Florence of Arabia, and No Way To Treat a First Lady.

The Sister Brothers by Patrick DeWitt—Hired killers, the California Gold Rush, and lots of surprises

The Sisters brothers are no run-of-the-mill gunslingers. Nor do the other characters in this extremely funny novel about the Gold Rush era fit recognizable stereotypes. Here, for example, is the response to the brothers from one of their targets: “‘Yes, you demand that we should share our profits with you, and if we choose against this, well, you will be obligated to kill us. Do you see how your proposal might be lacking, from our point of view?’”

Little Elvises (Junior Bender #2) by Timothy Hallinan—A crimebuster encounters the ghosts of Elvis Presley

Most of Timothy Hallinan’s novels are detective stories. One series is set in Bangkok, the other in Los Angeles. However, he is also writing a delightful series of comic novels featuring a career thief named Junior Bender, who serves as a private investigator of sorts—for other criminals, and usually against his will. I reviewed Crashed, the first novel in the Junior Bender series, here: A career criminal narrates this clever and funny mystery. You’ll find my review of the third book, The Fame Thief, here: A cockamamie story about Hollywood and the mob. The fourth, Herbie’s Game, is at A hitman, burglars, and hackers in the San Fernando Valley. And here is my review of the fifth, King Maybe: From Timothy Hallinan, a very funny crime novel set in Hollywood.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Remember how Joseph Heller describes the paradox he calls Catch-22? “’Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.’ The result, put simply, is that no one can get off the ride. It’s hard to describe briefly just how gloriously, envelopingly hilarious this logic becomes as the novel unfolds.” Thus writes Chris Cox in a review that appeared in The Guardian on the fiftieth anniversary of the novel’s publication. Catch-22 is widely regarded as one of the best anti-war novels of all time. Certainly, I think of it that way. It may just be the most effective illustration ever written about the insanity of war. (It’s been more than fifty years since I read the book, so I haven’t reviewed it myself.)

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen—Reality TV, African rodents, and the roach patrol

Carl Hiaasen, a columnist for The Miami Herald since 1985, has written dozens of books. Fifteen of those are novels about crime in Florida, usually with environmental implications. They’re almost all laugh-out-loud funny, as are his similar novels for younger readers. I’ve reviewed several of his books: Bad Monkey, Chomp, Star Island, and Skink: No Surrender.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride—American history, laughing all the way

As I wrote in my review of the novel, The Good Lord Bird is “a rollicking, tummy-tickling, topsy-turvy account of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry—the stupidly quixotic act that helped light the fuse of the Civil War. James McBride won a well-deserved National Book Award for this hilarious little novel.”

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi—Diabolically clever, and very, very funny

Redshirts is the most diabolically clever science fiction novel I’ve read in a very long time. It’s also uproariously funny all the way up until . . . it’s not funny anymore, just brilliant. No wonder this book won the Hugo Award, the genre’s top prize. In his Acknowledgments, author John Scalzi goes out of his way to insist that Redshirtsis not based on Stargate: Universe, the short-lived TV sci-fi series for which he served as creative consultant. Funny: I didn’t detect any resemblance to any TV sci-fi series except the original Star Trek. That resemblance is unmistakable. Even if it was unintentional on the author’s part (which I seriously doubt). Scalzi himself is diabolically clever.

Get Real (Dortmunder #14) by Donald E. Westlake—Dortmunder’s last caper, funny to the end

Dortmunder’s gang is approached by a reality-television producer—the company is called Get Real—and asked to carry out a robbery on film, with their faces obscured. This loopy proposition isn’t even the most over-the-top twist in the story—but I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that the gang’s all here—all the familiar characters in Donald E. Westlake’s long-running, bestselling Dortmunder series. When this motley crew accepts the TV producer’s generous offer to make them the subjects of a new show, additional characters come onto the scene and confusion breaks out. In the end, of course, nothing turns out as planned.

The Code of the Woosters (Jeeves & Wooster #7) by P. G. WodehouseA classic comic novel that’s still funny today

Nowhere in this comedy of manners does anything truly serious take place. A plot unfolds, things happen, and matters are resolved in the end. But what is most distinctive of Wodehouse’s writing is his peerless skill with the English language. Nobody else writes like P. G. Wodehouse. The narrative is endlessly colorful, the dialogue precious. Consider this example: “There are moments, Jeeves,” Bertie says, “when one asks oneself ‘Do trousers matter?'” Jeeves replies, “The mood will pass, sir.”

Two dozen (or more) other worthy funny novels

By Christopher Buckley:

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin—Jimmy Breslin’s hilarious classic novel about the Mafia

The Captain and the Glory by Dave Eggers—A satirical novel about Donald Trump by Dave Eggers

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells: An Homage to P. G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster #16) by Sebastian Faulks—A new Jeeves and Wooster novel is almost as funny as the originals

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain—A war hero and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in a funny anti-war novel

By Ron Goulart:

Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle (Groucho Marx Mysteries #6) by Ron Goulart—Groucho Marx solves another baffling murder

By Timothy Hallinan:

Project HALFSHEEP: Or How the CIA’s Alien Got High by Susan Hasler—The CIA, LSD, and a drug-addled alien from the planet Utorb

By Carl Hiaasen:

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby—From Nick Hornby, a very funny story that’s not all laughs

Serious Men by Manu Joseph—A comic novel about India today, and Big Science, too

Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore—A hilarious tale of Colonial America by two history professors

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella—“Chick lit?” Wickipedia thinks so. But oh, so funny!

The Spellman Files: Document #1, Lisa Lutz—A family of private eyes stars in this debut of a funny detective series

Head of State by Andrew Marr—Political satire where it hurts the most: 10 Downing Street

Deacon King Kong by James McBride—Unforgettable characters in this delightful new novel

Deadline, by John Sandford—Funny crime fiction, and from John Sandford!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple—If you like weird stories about eccentric people, you’ll love this novel

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan—Sufferin’ succotash! It’s the ghost of Tom Pynchon come back to haunt us

Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas—Cocaine, the CIA, and a Central American revolution

By Donald E. Westlake:

The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley—A comic novel from the 1950s about nuclear madness

If I’ve omitted some of your favorite funny novels, please let me know. I’m always looking for new books to read, and I’m sure there are a lot more than just a few dozen funny stories.

For further reading

If you’re taste runs more toward serious fiction, you might enjoy my reviews of Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site and 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up).

And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.

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