The Ten Best Humorous Fiction Books

So you read a funny book and it felt good. Maybe even the kind of good your mother and childhood religious figures warned you against. 

And now you want more.

Next thing you know, you’re googling, “books like Good Omens,” or “top funny books,” at work one Tuesday afternoon rather than compulsively scrolling your Twitter feed as per usual.

Humorous non-fiction, like comedian memoirs or essays, is easy enough to find, and while that’s all well and good in the right context, it’s not what you’re looking for. 

Discovering genuinely funny fiction books can be tricky. Maybe you ask your friends for recommendations and they stare at you slack-jawed with that books-aren’t-supposed-to-be-funny stare that I got all throughout college (I mostly hung out with pretentious dicks, but we all make mistakes when we’re young). Maybe you feel like that one funny book you read was a fluke and no more books like it exist. 

I happen to know it’s not the case. There is plenty of hilarious fiction just waiting for you to discover it. And I’ve assembled just the tip of the iceberg. (And if you laughed at “just the tip,” welcome to my blog, friend. I hope you stay awhile.)

Behold! Your new go-to list of the top funny fiction books, in no particular order because deciding that is 1) almost impossible, 2) totally unnecessary, and 3) the quickest way to have a mob kicking down my door, shouting about how there’s no way Douglas Adams is better than Terry Pratchett.

I’ve added my two cents by each title. BUT if you want to read more about the book, click the cover to view it on Amazon. (Disclosure: It’s an affiliate link because I’m not missing out on free money. Clicking it costs you nothing but you can navigate around it if the thought of me getting paid bothers you.)

1. The Princess Bride

I know I said it would be in no particular order, but I have to start off with this one because it’s my personal favorite and I think everyone can enjoy it. The first time I read it, I couldn’t get past page 11 because I was laughing too hard. I’ve since read it more times than I can count and push it on everyone. Seriously. I just gifted a copy to someone last week.

You’ve probably seen the movie, right? The book is exponentially funnier, and I say that as someone whose favorite movie is–any guesses?–The Princess Bride.

The humor is outrageous, tongue-in-cheek, and will sneak attack you when you’re not expecting it. And the framing of the story in itself is a stroke of comedic genius. You won’t want to miss a single authorial interjection of this “abridged” version.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I was in high school the first time I read this, and it sort of blew my mind. Not just because my teacher had assigned us a book with hookers in it, which was in itself legendary, but because I found myself laughing at some of the darkest shit I had ever read.

Kesey could have easily painted caricatures of each resident featured–after all, each has his unique set of mental quirks that could carry the narrative well enough–but instead Kesey provides his characters a full-bodied richness that sticks with you, that leaves you equal parts amused and horrified by the way the events play out between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched and the collateral damage and instability McMurphy’s arrival brings to the unhappy equilibrium of the mental institution. This book will make you laugh, cry, and maybe drool (I don’t know how you live your life).

3. The Sirens of Titan

Almost embarrassed to admit how much time I wasted debating which Kurt Vonnegut book to put on the list. Truly, this entire list could be Kurt Vonnegut and I would feel like I’d done my job.

But The Sirens of Titan has always stood out to me as Big V’s best work insofar as its merciless skewering of the human race. Every time I read this book, I find myself shouting stuff like, “COLD-BLOODED!” at a variety of drop-the-mic moments that are such damning yet subtle statements on modern society that only Vonnegut could pull it off. If he’d tried this kind of shit in Europe just a few centuries ago, his head would’ve been a pole topper faster than you can say “syphilitic aristocracy.”

It was a close race between this, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, but the good news is that if you like Sirens of Titan and you’ve never read Vonnegut (it happens even with the best intentions; there are a lot of books), you’re in for a treasure trove of awesome.

4. Tenth of December

I can’t believe how low an average rating this book has on Amazon and I hope you’re all ashamed of yourselves. This is the only collection of short stories I’ve included on the list, and each one is its own kind of brilliant.

Warning, though: the first time you read it, you might be too blown away by the genius of how Saunders crafts his characters and his story to actually laugh. Some of the narrative stunts he pulls are so ballsy, though, I had to go back and re-read it again and again. If you fancy yourself a writer, get on this. If you fancy yourself a lover of high-IQ humor, sit back and be dazzled.

Bonus: Listen to the audiobook narrated by the author. Saunders has a ridiculous Woody Allen-esque voice (not so much that you’ll assume he’s a pedophile) that adds a delightful, dorky color to the tales.

5. The Color of Magic

Folks who love Terry Pratchett love Terry Pratchett, so I included the first book of his miles-long Discworld series on this list as a good place to start. His humor is zany, whimsical, and oh-so-British, and the way he combines it with fantasy makes this an instant favorite for lots of fans who need a quick break from the overly serious tomes of that genre.

Personally, I was lukewarm on this book, but I still said, “Oh, that’s funny,” plenty of times as I breezed through. Imagine Monty Python in book form, set in a magic world on the back of a turtle, and you have Discworld pretty well pegged. And if you like it? You’ve got another four hundred thousand or whatever left in the series to enjoy for the rest of your life.

6. Don Quixote

Oh yes, going old-school here. This book is the great-great-great grandfather of hairbrained satire, and if you really want to call yourself a connoisseur, you need to crack open the cover of this baby, pull up the SparkNotes in case you get lost, and educate yourself, fool!

In all honesty, it’s not an especially difficult book if you possess a college reading level, and you’ll be surprised how much it makes you laugh. One might even say it’s timeless. The scenes are iconic, Sancho Panza is the OG dumb sidekick archetype, and if you learn yourself on Spanish society in the early 17th century, you’ll develop a new appreciation for how well Cervantes riffs on the strange mingling of Spain’s taste for the romantic amidst the ongoing war with the Ottoman Empire.

7. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I selected the entire series for this one because all the books go together so seamlessly. If you love the first, you’ll love the rest.

Not only are the observations about life on earth from an alien perspective cutting and hilarious, the characters in this book make it incredible. I was just talking with a friend tonight about how genius the idea of a depressed robot is and how perfectly Douglas Adams pulls it off in this series.

Truly, I could spend all day explaining why you should give this book a shot, or you could just check it out yourself. Pro-tip: If you can get your hands on the BBC radio versions of Hitchhiker’s Guide, DO IT.

8. The Importance of Being Earnest

You can’t talk about humor and satire without mentioning Oscar Wilde. Did you know he did more than lounge around on daybeds and spout pithy quotes perfect for refrigerator magnets? Not much more, but a little. Namely, he wrote plays, short stories, and one novel that’s pretty damn funny in my opinion (The Picture of Dorian Gray), but nowhere near as zany as The Importance of Being Earnest. So, yes, this is a play, not a novel, but I bet you can still manage to read it. And while you do it, you’ll look extra educated because who just sits and reads a play? Learned-ass people. That’s who.

If my description doesn’t sell it, just look at that damn cover. Croquet. I bet Wilde hatecroquet. He probably thought the only thing worse than playing croquet was not playing croquet or something like that.

9. Catch-22

This book will make your head spin, which is the point. A Catch-22, when you need A to get B but you need B before you can get A, leaves you feeling the same way this book does. And, would you believe it, the same way war makes Yossarian feel in the story.

This is a book that thrives on circumstance and characters so ridiculous, you have to laugh. It’s your only escape from the atrocities of war and the madness in the lives of those on the ground being asked to do seemingly unreasonable things without any explanation from leadership as to why.

Full disclosure: I’m also partial to this book because a well-timed Major Major Major Major reference first gained me the attention of my now husband. See? If you read the right books, you can find The One. Never give up on your nerd dreams!

10. Good Omens

I left this one for last solely because I knew some people will start to get all worked up when they don’t see it on the list right away. But don’t worry, this is one of my favorite books, too.

I only read it for the first time until a couple years ago, and I’m acutely upset with everyone in my life who didn’t push this on me sooner. Neil Gaiman is a storyteller extraordinaire, and his abilities combined with Terry Pratchett’s outrageous comedic imagination feels so right it must be wrong. The casual irreverence of a demon and an angel searching for the antichrist is uniquely British, and if you haven’t read it already, I suggest you go and buy yourself a sturdy copy that will endure multiple reads.

Maybe you’ve already burned through all or most of the books on the list, and you were hoping to discover something new to enjoy.

I would be a complete idiot if I didn’t point you in the direction of the Jessica Christ series to satisfy your insatiable craving.

Bonus:
11. The Beginning

The Beginning is the first in what will eventually be a 7-book series, following the life of God’s only begotten daughter, Jessica.

If you haven’t pieced together the many visual clues around this blog, I’m the H. Claire Taylor mentioned on the cover.

The first five books are out and should keep you busy until the sixth releases later this year. I won’t go on about the merits of this book because that’s super icky coming from the author, but I will say, if you enjoyed the blasphemy of Good Omens, the characters of Hitchhiker’s Guide, and the whimsical satire of The Princess Bride, I think you might enjoy this series.

How’d I do? Did I miss one of your favorites? Do you want to shout at me for it?
Leave a comment to let me know how my list compares to yours.

6 thoughts on “The Ten Best Humorous Fiction Books

  1. William M Hoyler says:

    How could you leave out “Confederacy of Dunces”? Besides being flat out hilarious it won a Pulitzer. “Cannery Row” is another you whiffed on.

    • hclaire says:

      Ya know, I almost included Confederacy of Dunces except I never finished it myself. I started it and it was pretty funny, and then I got distracted. I’ll have to add it to this year’s reading list and maybe include it in a blog post called “The Ten ACTUAL Best Humorous Fiction Books, For Real This Time.”

      I’ve read a lot of Steinbeck (East of Eden is among my favorite books of all time), but not that one. I don’t generally think of Steinbeck as a comedian, though the end scene of Grapes of Wrath did make me laugh uncomfortably when I read it in high school lit. Adding Cannery Row to my reading list as well!

  2. Marian Parsons says:

    Nice list! I would say that Pratchett’s Discworld series gets more nuanced and funnier as it goes on. Also, a personal favorite author is Christopher Moore, whose books cause me to experience spit takes on a regular basis.

    • hclaire says:

      Good to know about Discworld! I’ll add a few to this year’s reading list.

      I’ve had Christopher Moore recommended to me so many times, and the first one I picked up was Lamb. You’d think it’d be right up my alley, but it just … wasn’t. Maybe it got overhyped. I dunno. What’s your suggested gateway book to Christopher Moore?

  3. George Smith says:

    Two books that consistently make me laugh out loud are Lonesome Dove and Get Shorty.

    I agree regarding George Saunders! A “hidden” gem I guess? The Semplica-Girl Diaries – absolute genius. Especially Sept. 14th when he’s trying to finance the birthday party. You have to have lived it to write about it so keenly.

    I want to be clear though: The Beginning is way too low on the list.

    • hclaire says:

      Adding both your suggestions to my reading list, George. I’m trying to read 100 books in 2018, and I can always use more ideas. The Semplica-Girl Diaries is one masterpiece of a trip. Glad to see another Saunders fan around these parts!

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