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John van de Ruit

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

On a quest to track down the funniest novels of all time

For those who have read my blogs, books, or more rarely, seen a play that I have written, will know that absurdity, madness and exaggeration cling to my missives like a suspect body odour. In these times when the creative monster hibernates, I am able to look backwards and forwards and digest this rather peculiar world that I’ve stumbled into. For that is just it, up until Spud I always felt that everything achieved was a consequence of my direct input over which I was (mostly) in control. Post Spud, I have entered a world that seemingly happens to me. It’s thrilling, but I can’t help the feeling that it all appears a little charmed and out of control. One moment I’m caught up in the throes of writing and creating, and then I’m touring the country with much fanfare, like some sort of Prodigal son on yet another lap of victory. The third phase is the most difficult – the silence and banality of filling each day without waking up and jumping on the rollercoaster. One would think that regular living would be the easiest phase to adapt to, but to be honest it seems like a great pause before the next storm. The last time I was able to wake up and not have to write or promote my books was almost two years ago, and yet I have learned from that experience that despite my agonising and minor emotional torment, this period of downtime is as important as any other part of the writing cycle.

The title for the third Spud book derived from the first two lines of the chorus in Tom Petty’s song Learning to Fly.

“I’m learning to fly,
But I ain’t got wings…”

Strange that the following two lines should speak to me right now:

“Coming down
Is the hardest thing…”

Touché Petty!

But before I lapse too far into indulgence, let me say that I have been thinking greatly about what will follow the final Spud book. And whilst I’ve learned never to say never; it would take a prolonged period of creative or financial bankruptcy to force me back into the world of schoolboys after Spud 4. The “undiscovered country” is a tantalizing thought, along with the creation of a new set of characters which leaves me slightly tremulous with anticipation. But that’s all for the future and in the lap of the Gods. Right now I’ve got to figure out what to have for lunch and whether it might rain this afternoon or not. Since i don’t have an umbrella this may factor into whether I take a walk to fetch the evening paper or not… Let’s face it, it’s a risk… Okay I’ve decided, I’m staying in with Stephen Fry’s priceless journey through America and a pot of steaming tea for company.

I’m also on a quest to track down the funniest novels of all time. I am aware that humour is subjective and that some people think haemorrhoids hilarious, but if anybody would like to add to my reading list I would be most thrilled. After copious research and mass trawling through websites i have purchased the following…

Right ho, Jeeves. PG Wodehouse
Lucky Jim. Kingsley Amis
A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole
Three Men in a Boat. Jerome K Jerome
Adolf Hitler, My part in his downfall. Spike Milligan
Wilt. Tom Sharpe

Others that I would consider for the mantle of the funniest novel ever would be Catch 22 (Heller), The World According to Garp (Irving) and Still Life with Woodpecker (Robbins).

Look forward to hearing your thoughts…

John

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 13th, 2009 @16:25 #
     
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    *glee* I've been wanting to post list of funny books since forever. Thanks John, for the opportunity:

    Totally agree re Confederacy of Dunces. For the rest:

    * A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby (non-fiction). Readers might have to "get" Empire writing to understand why this is so hysterically funny -- the final scene, involving tough-as-nails traveller Wilfred Thesinger, is classic. Has spawned a thousand pale imitations, but this remains the benchmark for funny travel writing.

    * Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. The first time I read this, I could be heard in the next parish. However, this could be because I studied 19th-century lit, and this is a glorious parody of all that doom and ruin rural tragedy Thos Hardy, the Brontes, D.H. Lawrence et al wrote. Origin of the phrase "something nasty in the woodshed". Plus the family cows are called Graceless, Aimless, Feckless and Pointless (*starts giggling*)

    * The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. The man's memoir, and an utter delight as well as cryingly funny.

    Rats, I see you mentioned novels. *thinks* Okay, the first two Adrian Mole books deserve special mention, as does any Terry Pratchett involving Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, with special mention of Witches Abroad.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 13th, 2009 @16:37 #
     
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    Lauri Kubuitsile, via Facebook, asks me to post this:

    Ben please add Adriane Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction to that list. I can't live knowing that book is not among the funniest ever written. The swans in the parking lot alone makes it worthy.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 13th, 2009 @17:26 #
     
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    It was the school trip/motorway madness scenes in the early Adrian Moles that did me in.

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  • <a href="http://twitter.com/liamkruger" rel="nofollow">liamkruger</a>
    liamkruger
    October 13th, 2009 @18:40 #
     
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    Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett. Any of his titles would probably do - so much so that I'm a little embarrassed about naming him here - but this one had me laughing out loud, which is rare in this age of colour television and other imagination-sapping things.

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  • <a href="http://sveneick.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sven</a>
    Sven
    October 13th, 2009 @19:06 #
     
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    If you haven't read them already:

    Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul - Douglas Adams
    Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett
    High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
    Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates - Tom Robbins (though it's a toss up between this and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas)
    Getting Stoned With Savages - J. Maarten Troost (home of the funniest line committed to paper at any point in the history of mankind)
    Choke - Chuck Palahniuk (dark but funny)

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    October 13th, 2009 @19:16 #
     
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    I've laughed out loud at some of Sherman Alexie's short stories

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    October 13th, 2009 @20:30 #
     
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    As I remember, the 'Just William' series by Richmal Crompton were pretty funny (she wrote some big people's books too, but I seem to think they were more serious) and there's the Billy Bunter books which may have been more novelistic, less short story than William..

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 13th, 2009 @20:53 #
     
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    Of course! *slaps forehead* How could I forget Douglas Adams? All-time best is the compilation of the first four books into "the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy". It has an introduction explaining the genesis of the series that had me howling.

    Getting Stoned With Savages is indeed very funny. But not quite in the Eric Newby/early Dervla Murphy class.

    Tom Robbins also a funny novelist, as is David Lodge.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 13th, 2009 @22:02 #
     
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    The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

    Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

    A Good Man In Africa by William Boyd

    The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

    Confessions Of A Failed Southern Lady by Florence King

    ALL OF THE LUCIA BOOKS by E F Benson!!!!

    Red Sky At Morning by Richard Bradford (Has anyone in SA besides me read this?)

    Auntie Mame and Around The World With Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

    The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovitch

    Of the ones already mentioned, I would totally agree with Right Ho Jeeves, (as well as other vast chunks of Wodehouse), Cold Comfort Farm, High Fidelity, the Douglas Adams books, everything ever written by Bill Bryson, and Lucky Jim (adore that book!)

    I have never understood the attraction of Tom Robbins, Terry Pratchett or David Lodge.

    I am now going to seek out and read A Confederacy Of Dunces and some Eric Newby.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 13th, 2009 @22:06 #
     
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    This is a great post. Thanks, John!

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  • <a href="http://twitter.com/liamkruger" rel="nofollow">liamkruger</a>
    liamkruger
    October 13th, 2009 @23:40 #
     
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    Making History or The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry manage to raise a couple of chuckles.

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  • ar
    ar
    October 14th, 2009 @00:33 #
     
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    Wow. There’s my December reading all laid out like a fantastical buffet, and all I did was blink. Wondrous.

    Here’s more:

    The De Villiers Code (with the usual caveat of skim that other one first), by our Mr Eaton

    Texas, ditto

    Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

    Only You Can Save Mankind, by Terry Pratchett

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  • Maire
    Maire
    October 14th, 2009 @08:12 #
     
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    In addition to many mentioned above, I love anything by Jasper Fforde His Thursday Next (Special Operative in literary detection) novels are priceless: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, First Among Sequels

    In The Big Over Easy, Jack Spratt from the Nursery Crimes division looks into the mystery of Humpty Dumpty's death and he appears again in the Fourth Bear featurimg ... of course... Cinderella and the other three.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 14th, 2009 @09:38 #
     
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    My husband would want to add -

    The Horse's Mouth - by Joyce Cary.

    But I found it quite depressing.

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    October 14th, 2009 @10:07 #
     
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    Eric, Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett
    The Brentford Trilogy - Robert Rankin

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 14th, 2009 @11:57 #
     
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    Fifi, at last -- a few points of difference! (along with the startling similarities). Big thumbs-up to the Stephanie Plum books, The de Villiers Code (also try Twelve Rows Back, Tom's collection of columns). Giggled at the one Jasper Fforde I found.

    * Welcome to the Martin Tudhope Show, by our very own Sarah Britten. Even funnier than Spuddie (sorry, John!), and it's been completed ignored.

    * I forgot about Nancy Mitford! Don't Tell Alfred is my favourite.

    * EVELYN WAUGH'S SCOOP!! (yes, I'm really excited by now.) This would make it to my top five list.

    * Edward Behr's memoir Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English? Yes, I also blanched at the title (it was renamed something more anodyne in the US), but it's named for the plaintive call of British journalists wandering through reception centres of shell-shocked Belgian nuns being evacuated from the Congo in the 60s... the accounts of the author's exploits during WWII had me yelling. (Ok, this does not sound convincing. You will have to trust me.)

    Gary Paulsen's semi-autobiographical Harris and Me.

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  • <a href="http://lisalazarus.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Lisa</a>
    Lisa
    October 14th, 2009 @13:08 #
     
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    Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother (very dark, very funny).

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 14th, 2009 @14:06 #
     
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    * Jane Austen's juvenilia, esp Love and Freindship [sic]. The Diary of Iris Vaughan.

    And (to make the leap into an entirely different media): the Northern Exposure TV series. Does anyone out here have the DvDs? With the original music? This is one of my secret passions. For the clandestine handshake, see http://home.comcast.net/~mcnotes/YouKnowFan.html

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  • <a href="http://shelaghf.wordpress.com/" rel="nofollow">shelagh</a>
    shelagh
    October 18th, 2009 @06:18 #
     
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    Fay Weldon's Life and Loves of a She Devil; Nancy Mitford's The Blessing (recently reread and still cracks me up); all P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books; all the early Jilly Coopers (Imogen, Emily...); Stephen Fry's Moab is my Washpot was a real snorting tea through the nose joyride.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 18th, 2009 @13:00 #
     
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    There's a Jilly Cooper (one of the later pot-boiler ones Appassionata? Score?) where during an open-air concert, the performers' dogs all get embroiled in a fight mid-aria... side-splitting. But wait! We've all forgotten Gerald Durrell! My Family and Other Animals is the Real Deal, as are the sequels. And there are Lawrence Durrell's Espirit d' Corps novels, also cackle-inducing stuff.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 19th, 2009 @09:16 #
     
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    I vastly prefer Gerald to his sibling. Funny how Lawrence was considered the "real" writer of the family when they were both still alive, but Gerald's books have had far more staying power.

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  • ar
    ar
    October 19th, 2009 @11:28 #
     
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    I’ll second Fi’s motion for Confessions Of A Failed Southern Lady.

    And not a novel, but everyone should get themselves a copy of Laugh The Beloved Country (Compiled by James Clarke and Harvey Tyson) for xmas. It’s been everywhere with me and sometimes without me and is one of my most sticky-taped possessions.

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  • <a href="http://dougdownie.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Doug</a>
    Doug
    October 19th, 2009 @13:53 #
     
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    How about My Life and Times by James Thurber? Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante is quite funny.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    February 17th, 2010 @09:05 #
     
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    The Palm-wine Drinkard - Amos Tutuola

    I Served the King of England - Bohumil Hrabal (no, not hardebal, Richard)

    Ripley Bogle - Robert McLiam Wilson

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