Since Kickstarter launched a #LOL hashtag last week, I’ve got humor on my mind: in particular, funny books and books about humor. Here’s a stack of books (some old, some new) that have made me (or my kids) laugh.
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe, in case you didn’t already know, creates the popular and extremely geeky webcomic xkcd. He also runs a column called What If? in which he delves into absurd hypothetical questions with scientific rigor (and, as you’d expect, a good dose of humor). Now, some of the best questions and answers have been updated and collected into a book, and it’s terrific. Find out answers to life’s pressing questions, like what if a glass of water were literally half-empty, or how long a nuclear submarine would last in space. Interspersed between the longer explanations are sections called “Weird (and Worrying) Questions From the What If? Inbox,” sometimes presented without comment, or else a very short cartoon answer.
Note to parents: I haven’t gotten through the entire book yet (it’s a fairly sizable book) but I’ve skimmed through it and it seems mostly kid-safe, aside from a swear word or two—definitely safer than the webcomic usually is.
I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
This entry’s a two-fer, because they’re similar ideas. Here’s the gist: customers and patrons do funny things, and it’s amazing what people don’t know about books or how to behave around books. Gina Sheridan runs the website I Work at a Public Library, and Jen Campbell writes about working at a bookstore at her website. Both sites include serious bits, but the books are entirely about the funny things that happen. If you love bookstores and libraries (and especially if you’ve ever worked in one), you’ll enjoy these two books. They’re pretty slim so they won’t take very long to breeze through, but you’ll have some good laughs. Campbell also has a second book out, More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, but I haven’t read that one.
How About Never—Is Never Good for You? by Bob Mankoff
Bob Mankoff sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1977, founded the Cartoon Bank in 1992, and became the cartoon editor of The New Yorker in 1997. So he knows funny—at least, the particular brand of funny seen in the cartoons, arguably the best part of the magazine. He’s also responsible for the titular comic (“How about never?”), which is the most widely reprinted cartoon in the magazine’s history. How About Never is Mankoff’s memoir, and if you love New Yorker cartoons, it’s well worth a read. Not only is it fascinating to read about the history of the magazine’s cartoons, but Mankoff is a really funny writer, so you won’t just want to flip through to the many, many cartoons included in the book. But if you’re just looking for a quick laugh, this large hardcover can also serve as a cartoon book.
I Only Read It for the Cartoons by Richard Gehr
And speaking of New Yorker cartoons … I Only Read It for the Cartoons isn’t actually a funny book in itself, but is a deeper look at several of the magazine’s foremost cartoonists. Richard Gehr gets personal with the likes of Lee Lorenz, Roz Chast, Jack Ziegler, Gahan Wilson, and more. The irony, though, is that there are actually fairly few cartoons included in the book—so if you’re somebody for whom the title is true, you’ll probably skim past most of this book. (Available in October)
The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
This one’s not out until the end of the month, but if you’ve got kids who like storytime, it’s fantastic. It’s a funny concept: it looks like a picture book, but there are no pictures. It plays off the idea that whoever’s reading a book out loud (usually the adult) has to say all the words in the book, no matter how ridiculous they are. Blaggity-Blaggity Glibbity-globbity globbity-Glibbity Beep. Boop. The hardest part is trying not to laugh as you read this to your kids, so you can act appropriately horrified by all the things coming out of your mouth.
Goodnight Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown
Brown follows up Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess with this bedtime book for little Wookiees (and humans). In an attempt to get Luke and Leia to settle down and go to bed, Darth Vader reads them a bedtime story about various characters from the Star Wars universe going to sleep. Unlike the first two books, this isn’t a collection of single-panel cartoons. Instead, each two-page spread has somebody going to bed, with a rhyming couplet below. Maybe not quite as laugh-out-loud funny, but just the right speed for a somewhat humorous bedtime.
Crap Kingdom by D. C. Pierson
Tom Parking is the chosen one from Earth who will bring down the wall and restore the kingdom to glory. Pretty exciting, right? Except that when Tom goes through the portal and steps into this new world, it turns out to be pretty crappy, and he bails. So then they pick Kyle, Tom’s best friend who happens to be cooler and more popular … and now Tom wants his Chosen One title back. Crap Kingdom is a young adult novel that’s a great twist on “chosen one” tales. It reminds me slightly of the graphic novel The Return of King Doug, but Pierson takes his tale in a different direction. A hilarious read for those readers who have always known they’re meant for something more.
The Chronicles of Kazam series by Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde is well-known for his very funny literary novels for adults, and The Chronicles for Kazam is his first series written for younger readers. It starts with The Last Dragonslayer, about a young orphan (or foundling) named Jennifer Strange, interim head of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, in a world where magic exists but is heavily regulated (not to mention drying up). There’s an odd plot that starts with a prediction of the death of the last dragon. The story continues in The Song of the Quarkbeast, with King Snodd IV trying to gain control of all the magic for himself, and Jennifer once again at the center of the conflict. I’ve read both books aloud to my kids and they’re delightful, and we’re looking forward to starting the third book, The Eye of Zoltar, which comes out next month.
The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward
Here’s another one I read out loud with my kids. The Whipple family is a record-breaking family: everyone in the family has set and broken world records: highest number of shared coincidental birth dates in a family, most poison darts dodged in a single game of extreme hopscotch, youngest individual to live a month with a wolf pack (voluntarily) … except for Arthur Whipple. Somehow, he just can’t manage to break any records. But then, something goes wrong, and the Whipples suffer a series of disasters—is it an age-old family curse? Or those clowns of unusual size? The book is filled with all sorts of delightfully ridiculous world records and the attempts to break them, and my kids and I had a great time reading it. The sequel, War of the World Records, is due out in December.
Disclosure: GeekDad received review copies of the books listed, except Weird Things.