Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Penguin, $17).
Probably the first novel ever written, and still one of the greatest — an earthy mock epic featuring an immortal comic duo who bumble their way through a series of chivalric misadventures. When a book's been making people laugh out loud for 500 years, you know it's the real deal.
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (Spiegel & Grau, $28).
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Trevor Noah's memoir of his childhood in apartheid South Africa is thoughtful and hilarious at the same time, a rare combination. I recommend the audiobook for this one — Noah's a wonderful storyteller with impeccable comic timing, an uncanny ear for accents, and an inexhaustible sense of wonder.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead, $27).
Patricia Lockwood didn't just have a Catholic childhood; her father is an actual priest (he converted after starting a family), an eccentric who lounges around the house in his underwear and plays electric guitar when he's not administering the sacraments. Lockwood's a strikingly original stylist, combining a David Sedaris–like sense of humor with a poet's flair for imagery.
Straight Man by Richard Russo (Vintage, $17).
This is a comic masterpiece by one of our finest writers, a book as clever as its excellent, double-edged title. Russo vividly evokes the follies of contemporary academic culture in a novel that's somehow both unsparing and affectionate.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Picador, $16).
Racism is America's original sin and the cause of immense suffering, but Beatty transforms it into the source of irreverent absurdist comedy. This book, which won the Man Booker Prize last year, takes subjects like slavery and racial stereotypes and spins them into scathing satirical gold.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Back Bay, $16).
There have been a number of novels poking fun at the excesses of contemporary child-rearing in America's upscale ZIP codes, but this shrewdly constructed epistolary farce is the funniest one I know, and it also has teeth. Semple's exploration of parental ambivalence and despair has the ring of bitter truth.
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