Need a literary pick-me-up? These 16 hilarious books will help lift your spirits

Whether you're in self-isolation and need a way to while away some time or just in need of a little cheering, these fun reads should do the trick

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With schools shutting down and more and more people working from home, you may have found yourself in a full house lately. Events have been cancelled and gyms have temporarily shut up shop as well, in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus, so there aren’t many ways to relieve stress.

Luckily, we can still find some escape and enjoyment in a good book. And in these trying times, never has a light-hearted, rib-tickling read been more necessary to help lift the spirits.

Our top picks will make your time in self-isolation pass, perhaps, a little quicker.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut published by Dial Press Trade. Courtesy Penguin Random House

Few writers can highlight the pitfalls of human behaviour and society as playfully as Vonnegut. With scrawling illustrations of signposts, Volkswagens and electric chairs, this 1973 novel dives gracefully into satire while tackling political issues, from pointing out the ruthlessness of capitalism in the US to the country's history of slavery. Breakfast of Champions is Vonnegut's seventh novel and is set predominantly in the fictional town of Midland City. Its two main characters are Dwayne Hoover, an affluent Pontiac dealer, and Kilgore Trout, a relatively unknown science-fiction writer. Their paths eventually clash (in every sense of the word) in a rowdy plot that touches on various themes from free will to race relations.

Razmig Bedirian, culture writer

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Notes from A Small Island by Bill Bryson published by Black Swan. Courtesy Penguin UK

It may have first been published in 1995, but the American author’s – and self-confessed Anglophile’s – travel tome on his adventures around the UK has certainly not dated in 25 years. Bryson perfectly captures the idiosyncrasies (and frustrations) of life in Great Britain in hilarious anecdotes, bewildering encounters and fascinating facts that will leave you with a newfound appreciation – whether you’re a local or not - for the vast history of the island.

Emma Day, deputy features editor

The Lives and Loves of a She Devil by Fay Weldon

The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon. Courtesy Sceptre

Weldon’s 1983 account of an “ugly” jilted wife going all out to make life miserable for her former husband and his attractive and successful new lover deals with issues of heartbreak, envy and adultery in a comical way for the most part. Sure, you feel a bit bad for the “abnormally tall and warty” Ruth Patchett, but she does opt to shave a few inches off her legs surgically in her bid for vengeance.

Panna Munyal, lifestyle editor 

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Courtesy Little, Brown And Company

This memoir by the 30 Rock creator is as sidesplitting as the shows and films she's been behind. From her experiences on Saturday Night Live to her impersonations of Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, the book touches upon the highs and lows of Fey's life. Bossypants is replete with her signature self-deprecating humour with lines like: "My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivalled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne." But there are also plenty of inspiring and encouraging quotes, such as: "You can't be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute."

Razmig Bedirian, culture writer

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore published by William Morrow. Courtesy HarperCollins

Blending the surreal and the occult with a sprinkle of science fiction, Moore’s novel is set in the art scene of 19th-century Paris. Every major artist of the period pops up along the novel’s vertiginous ride: from van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec to Monet and Cezanne. And at the heart of the story is a mysterious pigment of blue paint called Sacre Bleu and the murder of van Gogh. And if you ever wondered why 19th-century painters were so eccentric, this book offers some hilarious insight.

Razmig Bedirian, culture writer

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams published by Del Ray. Courtesy Penguin Random House

In the first chapter, the Earth is demolished to make way for an intergalactic bypass – and this perfectly sets the scene for what is to follow in this zany book. From then on, readers get to follow the adventures of Arthur Dent, a cranky Englishman, and his adventures around the universe with Ford Prefect, an alien who spent the past few years masquerading as a human for research purposes, and Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford's eccentric semi-cousin who also happens to be the Galactic President. Not only is this one a barrel of laughs, it's a good reminder that we are all specks in this vast universe – and we shouldn't always take ourselves too seriously.

Janice Rodrigues, lifestyle writer

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. Courtesy Penguin Random House

Dumas was 7 years old when she and her family moved to southern California from Iran in 1972, knowing next to nothing about the country beyond her father’s rosy memories from his time as an engineering student. The book chronicles the family’s efforts as they grapple with American culture with prose that will have you in stitches.

The family also makes a wonderfully engaging set of characters: from Dumas's quixotic father, who dreamt of hitting it big in Las Vegas and later lost his job during the Iranian revolution, to her elegant mother, who never cared to master the English language, to Dumas herself, who as a girl had changed her name to Julie.

Razmig Bedirian, culture writer

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Courtesy HarperCollins

Moran's 2011 non-fiction book can always elicit a chuckle or two. The book chronicles The Times columnist's formative years – from her mid-teens until her early thirties – recounting hilarious, self-deprecating anecdotes and invaluable lessons learnt along the way. Brash, irreverent and endlessly entertaining, Moran is not everyone's cup of tea – but she'll certainly give pause to any woman who still shies away from calling herself a feminist. In her own words: "What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are."

Selina Denman, Luxury and travel editor 

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Courtesy Picador

This Man Booker-winning novel is about a young man’s isolated upbringing and a race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. Beatty’s wit makes his prose a delight to read as it takes a satirical scalpel to American society. Yes, it is political but also surreal, irreverent and hilarious.

Razmig Bedirian, culture writer

A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French

A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French. Courtesy Penguin UK

While the subject matter is serious, and the overall message is poignant, this novel by British comedienne French will have you laughing out loud throughout. It's told through the eyes of a mother and her two teenage children, with each chapter narrated by someone different. It tells the story of a modern family heading towards a meltdown, and will appeal to anyone who's ever been a parent – or a teenager (so, everyone).

Katy Gillett, Weekend editor

Blind Faith by Ben Elton

Blind Faith by Ben Elton published by Black Swan. Courtesy Penguin UK

Comedian Elton is savage in his depiction of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian England. It features a characters called Caitlin Happymeal who was born in public on "WorldTube" into a society where vaccinations are banned under "Wembley Laws". While the book's undertones are certainly sobering, Elton masterfully manages to infuse it all with his signature tongue-in-cheek, dark humour.

Katy Gillett, Weekend editor

Kill Your Friends by John Niven

Kill your friends by John Niven published by Windmill Books. Courtesy Penguin UK

This tale of ambitious music A&R agent Steven Stelfox is so outrageously absurd it can only be fiction. In a fast-paced and frantic plot, readers follow Stelfox's attempt to rise to the top of his chosen field using far from orthodox methods. Set in London in the midst of egocentric 1990s Britbop, this is definitely not for readers who are easily offended, but for those game for a satirical rollercoaster ride, this book is stitch-inducing funny.

Sarah Maisey, deputy Luxury editor

Accidental Hitman by A W Wilson

Accidental Hitman by A W Wilson. Courtesy A W Wilson

Tom’s just a regular guy with a noisy next-door neighbour – and a slightly off-kilter moral compass. After taking drastic action against his rowdy wallmate, a series of mix-ups leads Tom to become a fully-fledged member of the criminal underworld, a role which he navigates with an endearing lack of skill or knowledge. It’s a book as funny as it is thrilling, as you curiously find yourself rooting for a hapless murderer.

Emma Day, deputy features editor

Cookin' With Coolio: Five Star Meals at a 1 Star Price by Coolio

Cookin' with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price
by Coolio published by Atria Books. Courtesy Simon & Schuster

Coolio has been cooking longer than he's been rapping. The Gangsta's Paradise star started making 30-minute meals when he was 10 years old and developed a whole new cuisine: Ghetto Gourmet. His recipes bring a healthy twist to solid comfort foods, all without breaking the bank. With chapters titled Chillin' and Grillin' and Pasta Like a Rasta, this won't be like any cookbook you've come across before. It's a great way to keep your spirits up while staying creative in the kitchen. As Coolio says: "All you need is a little bit of food, and a little bit of know-how."

Saeed Saeed, art and lifestyle writer

One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks

One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks published by  Ebury Press. Courtesy Penguin UK

British writer Hawks is known for his non-fiction works that chart a personal adventure, often started by a bet – such as the time he was challenged to cart a mini fridge around the entirety of Ireland, for example. In this read, the comedian – who had a one-off hit single in 1988 – is tasked with recreating the feat almost two decades later. This is an alternative travel memoir that follows Hawks around the world as he tries to land a chart-topper in any country that will listen.

Emma Day, deputy features editor

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol published by Penguin Classics. Courtesy Penguin UK

The premise is this: a nose leaves the face of a St Petersburg official and develops a life on its own. Though the satire was written in 1835, you'd be surprised by how fresh the writing is and how the points it makes are still pertinent today. The Nose playfully admonishes a society obsessed with status. When Major Kovalyov sees his own nose dressed in the uniform of a higher-ranking official than himself, he is embarrassed and unable to approach the nose. The story is a great read, and an especially good introduction of Gogol's works, all of which blend themes like identity and class with the supernatural.

Razmig Bedirian, culture writer


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