My Top 5 books to make you laugh…

I’ve been getting bogged down in some truly depressing novels of late.  It seems that in everything I’m picking up there are either far too many unpleasant characters, or the likeable characters are undergoing such hideous suffering that I can’t bear to read on.  My desperate desire for something cheerful led me to write today’s top 5: quite simply, it’s my pick of the books that never fail to make me laugh.  If like me you’re stuck in a rut of literary misery then maybe one of these is the way forward!

  1. “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome – An oldie but a goodie, this nineteenth century classic proves that disastrous holidays have been a feature of life since time immemorial. Three men (and their dog) decide to take a break from the tedium of everyday living with a relaxing boating holiday.  Unfortunately their ineptitude combined with a series of unforeseen disasters result in a trip which is a very long way from the one they had in mind.  A hymn to the British determination to persevere with a plan no matter what, it’s a very funny read.
  2. “Stark” by Ben Elton – This early Ben Elton novel does what many of his books do: it makes a serious comment on an aspect of modern society in a side-splitting and riotous way. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by him, but this one has a special place in my heart as it’s the first one I tried.  Its theme is the environment, and it’s at once ridiculous, extreme, farcical – a scarily, a little bit believable.
  3. “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” by E.M. Delafield – If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that I wrote a review of this a few days ago. She may be a creation of the 1930s but the Provincial Lady is just like any one of us (I particularly appreciate the way in which she fends off the melancholy of her financial woes by going shopping!)  Her neighbours are as hilarious as they are hideous, and it is with great wit that the heroine endeavours to maintain her integrity in a stratum of society where keeping up appearances is the name of the game.
  4. “Does my bum look big in this?” by Arabella Weir – I never took to Bridget Jones as a character, and in fact would go so far as to say I found her incredibly unlikeable at times. This, however, is what “Bridget Jones’ Diary” would have been like if it had a more naïve and endearing heroine.  The subtitle is “The diary of an insecure woman”, which tells you exactly what you’re going to get: jokes about cellulite, sex and dress sizes abound, and pretty good jokes they are too.  It might all sound a bit hackneyed, but for a bit of girly silliness you can’t do much better.
  5. “Down Under” by Bill Bryson – I knew I had to get a Bill Bryson book in here, as no author has ever made me laugh quite as uncontrollably. The question was which one to choose; in the end I went for this one purely because there’s a scene involving a visit to a small, provincial museum that is as close to comedy perfection as you’ll ever get.  Bryson can come across as somewhat curmudgeonly on occasion, but there’s no doubting his comic gift.

Well, that’s brightened my evening no end!  As always I’d love to hear your thoughts – which books make you laugh out loud?

“The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson – review

It’s a short and sweet review on the blog today, simply because the book in question is so cheerful, chirpy and big-hearted that it doesn’t need any lingering analysis from me.  I’ve read Bill Bryson’s previous travel books so I was pretty hopeful of loving this one just as much, but still, when there’s such a sense of anticipation surrounding a new title by a favourite author there’s always the niggling fear that it’s going to turn out to be a disappointment.  It wasn’t of course – in fact it was as if he’d never been away.

Bryson has written a few intriguing history books over the past few years, plus his autobiography, but for me, like many readers I expect, it’s his travel writing that’s his real calling card.  To spend a couple of hundred pages in his company as he reassesses his adopted country some twenty years after “Notes from a Small Island” is to fall in love with Great Britain all over again.  For “The Road to Little Dribbling” the author takes as his starting point a route he dubs “The Bryson Line”, the furthest you can travel across the country in a straight line without having to cross the sea at any point.  After some initial experiments with a map and ruler, he discovers that this imaginary line would run from Bognor Regis on the south coast to Cape Wrath at the northern tip of Scotland.  So, with his start and finish points determined, Bill sets out on a journey along the full length of the British Isles, meandering quite substantially as it turns out from the line itself, but always striving towards the moment when he can stand with no land left between him and the polar regions.  On the way he takes in every imaginable terrain, from the narrow streets of Cornish fishing villages to the expansive landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales, and of course, this being Bill Bryson, he finds plenty to make us laugh along the way.

I can vouch for the fact that this book is laugh-out-loud funny.  If you’re feeling a bit low reading this will certainly bring a smile back to your face.  Yet what this author can do so deftly is intersperse moments of hilarity with some truly poignant insights into how our landscape, heritage and communities are being eroded and in some cases obliterated by the demands and catastrophic misjudgements of modern life.  Many times during his journey, Bryson tells us how lucky we are to enjoy the wealth of history and nature that we do.  Being American born and raised he is able to describe our country through the eyes of someone who has seen first-hand the differences between Britain and other places with a far lower concentration of historical and natural diversity, and for me it makes the eulogy so much more powerful.  Yes, it made me laugh, but it also made me want to hop on a train and really explore some of those precious places that are so close by and yet forgotten through mere familiarity.  I think that’s what all good travel writing should make you do – and Bill Bryson is one of the best.