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Can funny books be great literature too?


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Speaking as someone who often cites as his favourite books ones with a humourous bent ("Catch-22", "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy") and who is more than partial to a bit of Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse or Jonathan Coe, I couldn't agree more.

 

It's the same as saying a book that clearly falls into a genre like crime or science fiction couldn't be great literature. If anything, I'd have thought good comic writing was harder to craft and this should be recognised more often.

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Completely agree. While my very favourite books (eg. Prayer for Owen Meany, Cloud Atlas, Love in the Time of Cholera) wouldn't be classed as comedies, they all have truly funny moments in them and I personally would love to see far more humour in quality literature. So many books I read are fantastic at getting the gritty, depressing side of life over, it's a real joy when you come across one that also sees the funny side of life.

 

One of the funniest books I ever read was Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens" - and I'd rather have that on a desert island with me than the many a "more worthy" tome.

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Like Grammath I love The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy which I first read as a teenager. My son has read the first book and is currently reading the second - Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. A series of books which has stayed this popular for so long, and I am sure will continue to be, has got to be considered great literature. After all, the whole purpose of a book is to be read. My son laughed the whole way through Hitchhiker's Guide and is currently doing the same with the second. To me this just proves how truly great they are.

 

Just because a book is funny does not mean it is not great literature. If after 30 yrs it is still funny and loved by the current generation, then it is absolutely has to be considered great - if not amazing - as that is not an easy thing to achieve.

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Just because a book is funny does not mean it is not great literature. If after 30 yrs it is still funny and loved by the current generation, then it is absolutely has to be considered great - if not amazing - as that is not an easy thing to achieve.

 

I like your point of a book being funny after 30 years. I hadn't really thought about the longevity of humour, but I think humour dates very quickly and so, as you say, if it is funny after many years that probably says it was a darn fine joke in the first place!

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Yes, I was really pleased recently when I gave Hitchhikers to my friend's son for his 11th birthday. He started opening the book at random and laughing at what he found. It was good to know it has stood the test of time!

Cold Comfort Farm is another one which has stuck around. The humour felt very modern when I read it recently.

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I am going to try a couple of the reads on the list, but I think that for the people that complile the award winner lists the very idea of proposing a humorous book gives them palaptations. If you look at the list of the last 10 years winners for booker and similar are there 'funny' books in there?

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  • 2 weeks later...

The short en.wikipedia.org article on the comic novel makes a remark which strikes me as relevant to this thread:

A comic novel is a work of fiction in which the writer seeks to amuse the reader, sometimes with subtlety and as part of a carefully woven narrative; sometimes, above all other considerations.

It then proceeds to lump together Evelyn Waugh (whom I would firmly place in the first category) and Tom Sharpe (whom I would even more firmly place in the second).

 

For my money, and by just about any standards, Tom Jones is one of the greatest and funniest English novels of all time. And Jane Austen is comedy of the subtlest variety, a million miles from Tom Sharpe. (I've just had a hard time, yet again, showing my students how hilarious the opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice is: I had to resort to reading it in silly voices...)

 

But it's true that comic novels get overlooked for the big prizes. Witness the fact that tedious stuff like The Inheritance of Loss and The Gathering wins the Booker, while none of Jonathan Coe's novels - What A Carve Up! is one of the funniest of all twentieth-century novels - has even been shortlisted...

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(I've just had a hard time, yet again, showing my students how hilarious the opening chapter of Pride and Prejudice is: I had to resort to reading it in silly voices...)

Do you teach your students in French or is it an English school in France?

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I teach English (in English as far as possible) in a French school in France.

Cool

 

I can always remember our English teacher at school Mr Crompton trying to explain a funny bit in Jane Austen's Emma and we all just looked at him blankly. I bet he went home and told his missus that it was like throwing pearls before swine :D

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