Top Ten Funniest Books by Women

Posted July 5, 2016 by Lory in lists / 32 Comments

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When I was writing my review of Lucky Jim, one of the most acclaimed comic novels of all time, I looked around to see what else was included on lists of the funniest books. I found that they were heavily dominated by male writers; this one from AbeBooks, for example, was chosen by British readers and only includes two female authors, Helen Fielding and Sue Townsend.

Now, it’s not to say that these women’s books are not hilarious, nor to denigrate the comic talents of Wodehouse, Vonnegut, Bryson, and Pratchett, all of whom I adore, but there are some other writers out there whose works really deserve our attention as well. I find it quite depressing that when New York Times editors were asked to choose the funniest novel, not a single woman made the list. I can only imagine that those editors’ reading habits are very different than mine, because when I started making a list featuring female authors who make me laugh, I found it difficult to stop. Here are ten or so of my personal favorites — sorry, I was laughing too hard to count.

BrandonsPeriod Piece – Gwen Raverat
Written and illustrated by Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, who became a fine artist, this marvelous memoir of the Victorian age affectionately pokes fun at the habits of our ancestors.

The Brandons – Angela Thirkell
For fans of Trollope, Thirkell takes us back to Barsetshire with a social comedy full of witty phrases and sly allusions.

Friday’s Child – Georgette Heyer
One of Heyer’s funniest, sunniest Regency romances, this is about a young couple who have to grow up — and fall in love — after they get married.

Christopher and Columbus – Elizabeth von Arnim
When unsympathetic English relatives send a pair of half-German twins to America during World War I, nothing turns out quite as expected. The absurd dialogue of the Twinkler twins is the highlight here.

The Egg and I – Betty MacDonald
MacDonald turned a difficult life on a chicken farm in the Pacific Northwest into superb comedy. Her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for children are also both hilarious and psychologically astute, with their magical solutions to child-rearing problems.

UnderfootShowPlease Don’t Eat the Daisies – Jean Kerr
The wife of New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr was a playwright and humorist in her own right. Some of the humor in her 1957 book of essays has dated, but it remains a lively and intelligent take on family life.

Underfoot in Show Business – Helene Hanff
Hanff is mostly known for 84, Charing Cross Road (which is also a very funny book), but I wish more readers would pick up her delicious memoir of trying to make it on Broadway.

The Serial Garden – Joan Aiken
For over sixty years, starting about age sixteen and continuing right up until her death in 2004, storyteller extraordinaire Joan Aiken wrote tales about an otherwise ordinary British family who just happen to become involved in magical adventures, with wild and wacky results.

Bilgewater – Jane Gardam
Jane Gardam can take the painful realities of life and turn them into comedy like nobody else. Her early coming-of-age novel about a girl growing up in a boys’ school is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious.

YearoftheGriffinYear of the Griffin – Diana Wynne Jones
Jones’s delightful send-up of the “magical school” trope is also very likely the only book ever to feature a female griffin who goes to college. Please ignore the bizarre cover art; it makes Elda look like a menacing monster, but really she’s a sweetheart.

To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis
I haven’t yet read Three Men in a Boat, a popular choice for funniest book of all time, though it’s on my list. Even so, I found Willis’s slapstick time-traveling homage to Jerome’s Victorian classic a hoot.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered – Sarah Caudwell
First in an all-too-brief mystery series, featuring a group of young British barristers and their older mentor — who, in a tantalizing twist, narrates their adventures without revealing his/her gender. As is appropriate to legal mysteries, a highly stylized, double-edged writing style is key to the humor here.

And I haven’t even mentioned Lisa Lutz, Margery Sharp, Maria Semple, Shirley Jackson, Susannah Clarke … just thinking about them makes me smile. What are your favorite funny books and writers?

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32 responses to “Top Ten Funniest Books by Women

  1. This is a great these for a blog post. It is also an interesting looking list of books.

    I had no idea that Angela Thirkell had written books set in Barsetshire. As you know I loved the original series. I will have to look into these books.

    • Captive Reader is a big fan and has reviews of most of the books. I’ve only read a couple so far, but am on the hunt for more. (My library doesn’t carry them, alas.)

  2. You have some good ones here and a few I am not familiar with and will have to look up. I love Angela Thirkell and To Say Nothing Of The Dog is wonderful. I just reread it and enjoyed it just as much this time as the first time. You really need to read Three Men In A Boat. Then reread Willis.

    Have you ever read Our Hearts Were Young And Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough? It is a memoir of their European tour back in the 1920s. It makes me laugh until I cry.

    • I am pretty sure I have read it, but my memory was not clear enough to put it on the list. I should do some rereading and then I could very easily make another list of ten or more!

  3. Lizzie Ross

    Yes to Jennifer Lee’s suggestion re Skinner & Kimbrough’s book. I’d add Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. But if you’re looking for FOTFLMAO, try these two graphic memoirs: Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, and Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half.

    • [Headslap] How could I forget Nancy Mitford? She’ll go on list #2 as well.

      And Roz Chast is brilliant! I haven’t read Hyperbole and a Half but I hear good things.

    • Nice, I like the combination of books you chose. I tried to comment on your post but your spam blocker isn’t letting me. Happy TTT!

  4. Great topic to post on! Austen and Christie were often very funny (in their way). Marisha Pessl is dark by wry. Same for Lyndsey Faye.

  5. Wonderful list! I’ll have to add the ones I haven’t read to my TBR. I’d add Stella Gibbons’ “Cold Comfort Farm,” which is one of my favorites. 🙂 And in the fantasy genre, Patricia Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons series.

    • Cold Comfort Farm is another one that I have read, but don’t remember well — will consider for list #2. Dealing with Dragons is another great suggestion!

  6. I’m afraid I haven’t read any of these books and sadly a lot of my favourite humorous authors are male – off the top of my head though Jane Austen, J K Rowling, Stella Gibbons and M C Beaton have really made me laugh 🙂

    • A lot of my favorite humorous authors are male as well! Nothing wrong with that, I just think there are some overlooked gems on the other side.

  7. Along the lines of the Jean Kerr and Betty MacDonald titles, I would add Shirley Jackson’s (yes, the same woman who wrote The Lottery) Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons which are similar books about finding humor in housekeeping and childrearing.

    I also second Stella Gibbons. I only read Cold Comfort Farm and even without recognizing all the works she was spoofing, I found it hilarious.

    • Yes, Shirley Jackson was one that just got left off because my list was getting too long. And obviously I do need to reread cold Comfort Farm.

  8. Hmm I haven’t read any of your books although Georgette Heyer is familiar to me of course. I enjoyed Maria Semple’s Where’d you go Bernadette though. I find I just get a smile every so often from many a book written by women.

    • Where’d You Go Bernadette was hilarious, especially since I used to live in Seattle (and temped briefly at Microsoft).

  9. I really don’t read enough funny books, so I will definitely have to check some of these out! Great list 🙂

  10. K. Harris

    I love Lisa Lutz. There’s Sylvia Townsend Warner and Barbara Pym. One of my favorites is Moo, by Jane Smiley, and what about humorists similar to Dave Barry, like Bailey White?

  11. Great list! 🙂 I think I would have to have Cold Comfort Farm though (I don’t think I’m the first one to say that hehe) – I really loved Period Piece too though. Now you’ve given me another list idea! I tend to get a topic idea then store entries in the Notes section of my phone for a while until I have enough for a list – how do you do it? Hope you’re having a good week!

    • I make post drafts using the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin. They can be scheduled or unscheduled, so if I have an idea without a date to put it on, I can easily store it there. I’ll look forward to seeing your list (and I really must reread Cold Comfort Farm).

    • I tried to list some lesser-known books and authors, so I’m glad if you found some of interest to you.

  12. Late to the party, so here’s my decidedly dated contribution–Erma Bombeck. My parents had several of her collections when I was growing up, and I always found her humor delightful. Jenny Lawson’s book, Furiously Happy, also had me guffawing my way through.

    • Oddly enough, though I found MacDonald, Hanff, and Kerr on my parents’ shelves, I never read their Bombeck books. Maybe it’s time to rectify that.