Top Ten Tuesday: Books to make you laugh (or at least smile)

Top Ten Tuesday

I wasn’t going to take part in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) because I didn’t think I read enough funny books to be able to make a list…but when I stopped to give it some thought, I actually didn’t have a problem coming up with ten titles.

I have concentrated here on books which were specifically written to be funny or which contain lots of amusing scenes, rather than just one or two funny moments (the list would have been far too long in that case). Let me know if you’ve read any of these or if you can think of any more.

Three Men in a Boat

1. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome – This tale of three friends (and dog) who take a disastrous boat trip along the River Thames had to be top of my list!

Three Men on the Bummel

2. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome – Our old friends, J, Harris and George get together again for a tour of Germany in this sequel to Three Men in a Boat.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

3. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse – I could have included other Wodehouse books here too, but this Jeeves and Wooster novel is the only one I have reviewed on my blog.

Cold Comfort Farm

4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – I didn’t find this parody of the British rural novel quite as funny as other people have but it still deserves to be included here.

The Convenient Marriage

5. The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer – Many of Heyer’s novels feature a bit of comedy and some witty dialogue, but this is one I remember being particularly funny.

The Canterville Ghost

6. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde – This light and entertaining satire is possibly the least ghostly ghost story I’ve ever read!

The Adventures of Alianore Audley

7. The Adventures of Alianore Audley by Brian Wainwright – Some knowledge of the Wars of the Roses might be needed to fully appreciate this tale of a 15th century Yorkist spy.

Don Quixote - Edith Grossman

8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – Who would have thought such an old book could be so funny? The humour doesn’t always work but when it does it’s hilarious.

The Uncommon Reader

9. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett – A lovely, witty novel about the Queen’s love of reading.

The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

10. The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome – Yes, it’s another book by Jerome. This collection of essays is not as funny as the Three Men books, but will still make you smile.

~

Have you read any funny books recently? What would be on your list?

The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I still pick it up from my shelf at times to re-read certain passages when I want to cheer myself up. The sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, wasn’t quite as funny but I did enjoy reading that book too and was looking forward to trying this one, The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (published in 1886, a few years before Three Men in a Boat).

Unlike the other two books I’ve read by Jerome, this is not a novel but a collection of short essays covering topics as diverse as Cats and Dogs, Eating and Drinking, Being in Love and Being Shy. The tone of his writing varies from essay to essay – sometimes he is melancholy and poignant, sometimes satirical and hilarious (I should warn you that if you read any of Jerome’s books in public, you won’t be able to stop yourself from smiling and should be prepared for people asking you what’s so funny).

A few examples:

On the vanity of cats…

I do like cats. They are so unconsciously amusing. There is such a comic dignity about them, such a “How dare you!” “Go away, don’t touch me” sort of air. Now, there is nothing haughty about a dog. They are “Hail, fellow, well met” with every Tom, Dick, or Harry that they come across. When I meet a dog of my acquaintance I slap his head, call him opprobrious epithets, and roll him over on his back; and there he lies, gaping at me, and doesn’t mind it a bit. Fancy carrying on like that with a cat! Why, she would never speak to you again as long as you lived.

On babies…

There are various methods by which you may achieve ignominy and shame. By murdering a large and respected family in cold blood and afterward depositing their bodies in the water companies’ reservoir, you will gain much unpopularity in the neighbourhood of your crime, and even robbing a church will get you cordially disliked, especially by the vicar. But if you desire to drain to the dregs the fullest cup of scorn and hatred that a fellow human creature can pour out for you, let a young mother hear you call dear baby “it.”

On buying an umbrella…

I bought one and found that he was quite correct. It did open and shut itself. I had no control over it whatever. When it began to rain, which it did that season every alternate five minutes, I used to try and get the machine to open, but it would not budge; and then I used to stand and struggle with the wretched thing, and shake it, and swear at it, while the rain poured down in torrents. Then the moment the rain ceased the absurd thing would go up suddenly with a jerk and would not come down again; and I had to walk about under a bright blue sky, with an umbrella over my head, wishing that it would come on to rain again, so that it might not seem that I was insane.

I did enjoy this book, but I didn’t like it as much as the two Three Men…novels. I found it very uneven – there are some great lines and anecdotes, but it’s also quite boring in places, especially when he becomes very sentimental. It’s worth reading (and the lack of a plot makes it a perfect book to dip in and out of when you have a few spare minutes) but I wouldn’t describe it as an essential, must-read classic. On the other hand, this is what Jerome himself says about the book in his Preface:

What readers ask nowadays in a book is that it should improve, instruct, and elevate. This book wouldn’t elevate a cow. I cannot conscientiously recommend it for any useful purposes whatever. All I can suggest is that when you get tired of reading “the best hundred books,” you may take this up for half an hour. It will be a change.

It was certainly a change!

Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome

Last year I read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) which was one of my favourite books of 2011 and one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Three Men on the Bummel is the sequel, less well known but still worth reading. It’s set a few years after Three Men in a Boat but it’s not really necessary to read them in the correct order. In this book we join our old friends J, Harris and George again (this time without Montmorency the dog) on a bicycle tour across Germany’s Black Forest. There’s not much of a plot – like the first book, the whole story really just consists of a series of mishaps and disasters, funny anecdotes told by the three friends, descriptions of the places they visit, and some philosophical musings and observations from our narrator, J.

The humour in this book is very much the same as in the first and some of the stories are very similar too (if you remember reading about Uncle Podger in Three Men in a Boat, for example, there are more Uncle Podger stories here). But I did start to lose interest a little bit towards the end of the book and I couldn’t help feeling that maybe Jerome had used up most of his better ideas in the previous book. There’s nothing here that has stuck in my mind the way the pineapple incident or the Hampton Court maze did, to give just two examples. But there are still some moments that stand out: George being accused of embarking on a life of crime after getting on a train with the wrong ticket, the three of them being lost on a hillside arguing over which way was north, Harris and his encounter with a man watering the road, George’s experiment with a phrase book, and a few others. My favourite was the trick J and Harris play on George, leading him to believe a statue is following him around the town, appearing in four different places at once.

“Why, that thing,” said George; “look at it! There is the same
horse with half a tail, standing on its hind legs; the same man
without his hat; the same–”

Harris said: “You are talking now about the statue we saw in the
Ringplatz.”

“No, I’m not,” replied George; “I’m talking about the statue over
there.”

“What statue?” said Harris.

George looked at Harris; but Harris is a man who might, with care,
have been a fair amateur actor. His face merely expressed friendly
sorrow, mingled with alarm. Next, George turned his gaze on me. I
endeavoured, so far as lay with me, to copy Harris’s expression,
adding to it on my own account a touch of reproof.

“Will you have a cab?” I said as kindly as I could to George.
“I’ll run and get one.”

The German setting in my opinion didn’t work as well as a backdrop for the novel as the River Thames did in Three Men in a Boat but it does give Jerome an opportunity to have fun with British and German stereotypes (though in a gentle way, I thought) and the misunderstandings that could arise from differences in language and culture. He spends a lot of time discussing different attitudes to law and order for example:

Nowhere, and under no circumstances, may you at any time in Germany walk on the grass…The very dogs respect German grass; no German dog would dream of putting a paw on it. If you see a dog scampering across the grass in Germany, you may know for certain that it is the dog of some unholy foreigner. In England, when we want to keep dogs out of places, we put up wire netting, six feet high, supported by buttresses, and defended on the top by spikes. In Germany, they put a notice-board in the middle of the place, “Hunden verboten,” and a dog that has German blood in its veins looks at that notice-board and walks away.

Overall this wasn’t quite as funny as Three Men in a Boat and I can see why it’s not as popular, but I still enjoyed reading it. Both books were written in the late Victorian period (this one was published in 1900) but I would recommend them even to people who don’t usually like Victorian fiction as they do have quite a modern feel and a lot of the humour is still relevant today.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what the word ‘bummel’ means, it is explained but you’ll have to wait until the end of the book to find out!

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome

I have book blogging to thank for the fact that I’ve finally read this wonderful classic. It’s not a book I would ever have thought of reading until I started to notice other bloggers giving it glowing reviews and decided I really had to read it for myself. I’m pleased to say that it lived up to my expectations – I found it an easy, entertaining read, not to mention a genuinely hilarious one! I can’t remember the last time I read such a funny book and I would recommend it to anyone who feels daunted by the thought of reading a Victorian classic.

The ‘three men’ are our narrator, J., and his two friends, George and Harris. When they decide they need a break, the three men (accompanied by Montmorency the dog), set off on a boat trip along the River Thames – and everything that can go wrong does go wrong!

What makes Three Men in a Boat so funny is that, despite the book being written such a long time ago, so much of it is still true of modern day life. The accuracy of the British weather forecast, for example, doesn’t seem to have improved at all since Victorian times!

I do think that, of all the silly, irritating tomfoolishness by which we are plagued, this “weather-forecast” fraud is about the most aggravating. It “forecasts” precisely what happened yesterday or the day before, and precisely the opposite of what is going to happen to-day.

Most people should be able to identify with at least a few of the disasters that J. and his friends recount. I’m sure anybody who has ever been camping will laugh at the descriptions of two people trying to put up a tent in the rain. And what about Uncle Podger hanging a picture on the wall? Does this scenario sound familiar?

“There!” he would say, in an injured tone, “now the nail’s gone.”

And we would all have to go down on our knees and grovel for it, while he would stand on the chair, and grunt, and want to know if he was to be kept there all the evening.

The nail would be found at last, but by that time he would have lost the hammer.

“Where’s the hammer? What did I do with the hammer? Great heavens! Seven of you, gaping round there, and you don’t know what I did with the hammer!”

Some of the funniest parts are when the three men relate to each other little anecdotes about things that happened to them in the past – my favourite was George getting up and going to work in the middle of the night because his watch had stopped and he thought it was morning. I also loved the story Harris told about the time he got lost in Hampton Court Maze.

During their journey up the Thames, we are given lots of historical and geographical facts about the places the three men pass in their boat; these sections read almost like a travel guide and I suspect they might have been of more interest to me if I lived near the Thames and was more familiar with the area. I also don’t have any interest at all in sailing, rowing or boats in general so a lot of the boating jokes went over my head – but I suppose I shouldn’t really complain about there being too much boating terminology in a book called Three Men in a Boat!

Whether you’ll enjoy this novel or not will depend on whether you can connect with Jerome K. Jerome’s sense of humour. If you can’t then you might be disappointed because the book doesn’t really have a plot, other than the outline I’ve given above – so if you do read it I hope you’ll be able to laugh at it as much as I did!