It’s often said that laughter is the best medicine. The following is a prescription of 10 writers, all of whom go about delivering that medicine in very different ways.

Dorothy Parker—The Complete Poems

Dorothy Parker

Many people would say that if you looked up ‘Waspish’ in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Dorothy Parker. They would be wrong: dictionaries don’t usually have pictures. Parker certainly is waspish though, and her fiendish wit shines through the stories and essays she wrote. However, it’s her poems that showcase this best.

 

George Saunders—The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

George Saunders

If Thomas Pynchon calls you funny then nobody is allowed to disagree. That’s just a rule. But ‘funny’ doesn’t come close to doing justice to Saunders’ stories—there’s also a real strangeness and tenderness to them. Like the best things, they are utterly impossible to describe properly. The stories in The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil show Saunders at his weirdest and funniest. He’s also a wonderfully witty essayist, and some of the best examples can be found in his collection The Braindead Megaphone.

 

Jaroslav Hasek—The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War

Jaroslav Hasek

Josef Švejk’s adventures during the First World War see him travel the breadth of Eastern Europe. It’s a chaotic, bawdy journey, and one with a cast of characters that Josef Lada’s illustrations bring to life perfectly. As well as the horror of war, The Good Soldier Švejk is a novel about the absurdity of bureaucracy, something Švejk undermines throughout by following the orders of his superiors entirely literally. Whether this is through deep cunning or haphazard luck has left critics divided—but there’s no arguing that the consequences are immensely funny.

 

Lorrie Moore—Self-Help

Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore writes short stories about themes like loss, adultery, divorce, and terminal illness. So not subject matter you’d traditionally call ‘laugh-a-minute.’ But Moore is a master of light and shade, and consistently punctures any gloom with big laughs, searing insight, and some really quite goofy puns. Her first collection Self-Help, written when she was just 19, is a great starting point.

 

Magnus Mills—All Quiet On The Orient Express

Magnus Mills

Magnus Mills is a dead-pan comic wonder, a writer who mixes the awkward pauses of The Office with the creeping horror of Franz Kafka. Each of his books have outwardly banal plot lines (they feature town planners, fence erectors, and delivery drivers) but soon slowly morph into something a little more sinister. All Quiet On The Orient Express is no exception, as what begins as a one-man camping trip in the Lake District takes a turn towards the strange.

 

Lydia Davis—The Collected Stories

Lydia Davis - The Collected Stories

No one writes remotely like Lydia Davis. Her spare prose is capable of making you laugh one second and punching you in the gut the next, and both sensations are intensified as a consequence. Alongside the jokes, the sheer audacity of Davis’ talent will make you smile. An off-beat, idiosyncratic treasure.

 

Paul Neilan—Apathy and Other Small Victories

Paul Neilan - Apathy and other small victories

Apathy and Other Small Victories, Neilan’s only published writing to date, occupies the sweet spot where the brute force of Bukowski and the mischief of the Marx Brothers overlap. Blisteringly profane but also genuinely hysterical, Apathy… is laugh out loud escapism for anyone who has ever worked a dull office job. And by way of a bonus, along the way you’ll learn how to say some really crude things in sign language.

 

Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle—The Molesworth Books

The complete molesworth

Any 'fule kno' that the Molesworth books are comedy classics. And before you write a letter of complaint to our proofreader, this is just how schoolboy Nigel Molesworth, the self-proclaimed ‘goriller of 3b’ and ‘curse of st. custards’ writes. Like Riddley Walker, A Clockwork Orange, or Trainspotting, reading the four Molesworth books will leave a lasting impression on your vocabulary, and probably affect your spelling for the worse. But Molesworth’s errors mask a rich vein of satire. Superficially he is the private school equivalent of the Bash Street Kids – a wannabe tearaway who hates 'skool sossages', getting the kane, and his nemesis 'fotherington thomas'. But Molesworth’s collected advice on school life forms a fascinating chronicle not just of the education system, but of 1950s Britain in general.

 

John Kennedy Toole—A Confederacy of Dunces

John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces

There’s no denying that Ignatius J. Reilly is a deeply unpleasant character. A huge, lost, slob of a man, he spends the course of Toole’s masterpiece embarking on Jeremiads against more or less all the trappings of modernity. That he manages to be even vaguely endearing is testament to how feverishly hilarious these rants can be—and by extension to Toole’s skill as a comic writer.

 

Jon Ronson—The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson - The Psychopath Test

It might seem odd that the only non-fiction entry on this list is also about a serious topic. But Ronson is never blasé about the subject. Like Hunter S. Thompson’s polite, socially anxious brother, Ronson throws himself into stories with an odd mix of abandon and compassion, and it’s from this that much of the books humour springs. As Will Self says, “by inserting his own character with a forensic skill into the very real and frightening world that surrounds us all, Ronson achieves a gag-rate that puts him on a par with Woody Allen.”

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