Maeve Higgins' new essay collection, Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them, offers her outsider's perspective on life in America. Below, the Irish-born, New York City–based comedian and columnist recommends other funny books about serious matters.
S.J. Perelman: Writings (2021).
This goofy man was resolute in his dedication to jokes, bits, and general chaos. He wrote for the Marx Brothers and The New Yorker in its laugh-out-loud humor heyday, and this collection captures his spirit beautifully. Buy it here.
The Possessed by Elif Batuman (2010).
As you'd hope from a book that literally follows in the footsteps of the saddest and funniest writers ever to live, The Possessed will make you laugh and cry. It's the nonfiction account of a possible murder on Leo Tolstoy's estate; the retracing of Alexander Pushkin's wanderings in the Caucasus; the explanation of the 100 different words for crying in old Uzbek; and so much more that I didn't know I needed. Buy it here.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (2017).
An instant classic — every essayist needs to pay attention to the best in the game. Irby takes the smallest thing and blows it up so we can see it more clearly, and lets us cringe at how absolutely, gloriously silly and grumpy and alive the human race can be. Buy it here.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018).
We love a wicked woman, and Ayoola is one of the greats. The more men she kills, the more exasperated her sister, Korede, becomes. And the funnier the whole situation gets for the reader. A peculiar alchemy is at work in this book. I'm not sure how Braithwaite does it, but I love it. Buy it here.
Troubles by J.G. Farrell (1970).
A fabulously sad boy, Major Brendan Archer can't quite pull himself together during his stay at the crumbling Majestic Hotel. It is 1919, and all around him Irish history unfolds in painful spasms while he looks on, helpless in his confusion. What else is there to do, really? Buy it here.
Today I Wrote Nothing by Daniil Kharms (2007).
Deadpan doesn't begin to describe Kharms' tiny, strange, and hilarious snatches of prose. He lived a terribly oppressed life under Joseph Stalin and ended up starving to death in a Soviet prison. It's even more miraculous then, that through posthumous collections such as this one, he left us all laughing. Buy it here.
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