If it's funny you want on your holiday reading list, you're in the right place. We asked a panel of authors and comedians to pick the world's wittiest tomes. Here's the first batch:
1 Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (1969) Portnoy’s Complaint is the Derek And Clive of high literature, a proper book by a proper writer in which the main character fucks a piece of liver.
Roth’s key discovery – published in the same decade as British juries agonized over whether to allow the masses to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence’s pompous, semi-fascist high seriousness outpouring about sex – was that the best way to render the pain, disgust, uncertainty, anxiety, despair and terror surrounding sex was to make it funny. (Review by David Baddiel)
2 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
A book that has appeared in several formats – hardback, paperback, CD, acid flashback – but nobody, including its author, has ever been entirely certain as to what Fear and Loathing actually is. Part reportage, part confession, part chronicled binge, it details a trip to Las Vegas undertaken by Thompson and a strange brute he refers to as ‘my attorney’. This is a masterpiece of many colours, almost all of them lurid. (Review by Joseph O’Connor)
3 The Moon's A Balloon by David Niven (1972)
David Niven is probably best remembered for his glittering Hollywood career, his roguish, moustachioed charm, and his notably thick penis (by a chosen few at least). But this autobiography, which sold five million copies on first publication, should be added to the list: it’s hilarious, engaging, and filled with the kind of scandalous gossip that would make Kerry Katona choke on her frozen vol-au-vents.
4 Without Feathers by Woody Allen (1975)
The reason, I think, that Woody Allen is so funny is that – for the first half of his paragraphs – he really thinks he might just, this time, achieve universal metaphysical profundity. But when he realises he’s not going to get there by Route One, because he’s not a tormented Mitteleuropean genius, because he’s just a tormented Brooklyn pisher, he goes straight for the Daddy-kill – and blabs something about shaving, cholesterol, or hens.
Here’s Allen trying to execute his biggest Daddy, Franz Kafka. Kafka, I should add, is famous for referring to people by just an initial, ‘K’ or ‘M’:
‘Should I marry W.? Not if she won’t tell me the other letters in her name.’
Once you’ve read this immortal pair of sentences, it’s almost impossible to read Kafka’s Diaries without thinking that Kafka was majorly into Woody Allen, but that he isn’t as hot with a punchline. (Review by Toby Litt)
5 Changing Places by David Lodge (1975)
David Lodge’s Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses astringently mocks academic life, and the comedies of transatlantic culture. Two literature professors on an exchange program swap places between a red brick university called Rummidge (Birmingham) and the state of Euphoria (California). For a transplanted American academic teaching literature in England like me, Lodge’s 1975 satire of two nations divided by a common language seems even more uproarious—and apposite--than ever.
The novel’s masterstroke, the nasty game of Humiliation, in which literary academics admit which great works they haven’t read, seems to me not only a small satirical parable about how literature, academia, and power work—but also flays British culture, from the inside. (Review by Sarah Churchwell. Sarah Churchwell is senior lecturer in American literature and culture and a regular guest on Newsnight Review)
6 The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs (1975)
In this uunnerving account of one man’s mid-life crisis, Reginald “Fish out of water” Perrin wakes up to an unwelcoming world of inconsequence, pomposity and absurdity that only he is aware of. Outrageously funny, it was later turned into a timeless sitcom starring the late, great Leonard Rossiter.
7 Wilt by Tom Sharpe (1976)
Sharpe by name, devastatingly amusing by nature, history lecturer Tom Sharpe’s first novel in the Wilt series holds up as a perfect, uproarious example of farce. Meet the ultimate beta male, assistant lecturer Henry Wilt, as he entertains uxoricidal fantasies and gets a little over-familiar with an inflatable doll.
8 Airships by Barry Hannah (1978)
I keep his books - Bats out of Hell, Ray, Airships - next to the dictionary on my desk; that’s how important they are to me as literature, as comic authority. I remember Barry seated beneath a NO SMOKING sign, sucking on a cigarette, with three nicotine patches decorating his arm. I remember descending Sewanee Mountain in his Jeep, when he turned around in his seat, said, “Take the wheel,” and proceeded to dig around in the backseat for Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy.”
I remember a group of us fishing in Tennessee, when we looked over to see Barry stripping off everything but his once-white BVDs, walking into the river until we could only see his head, floating there, like a frog’s, with a cigarette clamped between his lips, soon extinguished as he submerged completely. When he later climbed the muddy riverbank—his cigarette an ashen mess across his chin, his underpants clinging to him grayly—a truck full of rednecks pulled up. Their eyes jogged between Barry—who looked like a sodden, underpanted Gollum—and the rest of us. Finally the driver said, his lip bulging with chew, “Something funny going on here?” And in that moment I realized I was in a Barry Hannah story. (Review by Benjamin Percy.)