Funny But Substantial Fiction – The Prose Practice

The other dayI received some direct messages from Twitter all the way from Austin, Texas which were asking for some reading suggestions, and as I was both slightly stumped and intrigued in the idea of such a genre I thought I would have it as the latest Prose Practice problem so that all of you could help me and a dear reader out. So the question was this (I have turned what became a chat into a question)…

Dear Simon,

I am looking for some good light reading to cleanse the palate between ‘heavy’ books, ideally funny but substantial. I don’t really have anything like that at the moment and could do with some recommendations please. Dry wit might do?


Now initially I thought this would be really easy but then two factors came into play. The first was, well what do you like reading heavy or not, the second was what really funny reading? The first David answer by telling me he really likes ‘everything from the classics to modern classics like Forster to Raymond Carver and Kundra’. The second part I am stuck on because actually I don’t often read funny books, or if I do they aren’t that substantial, and so David has kindly highlighted a question I have often pondered and not yet asked on Savidge Reads. You can bet its something that I quite fancy giving a whirl… I am not too great at farce, but funny and substantial appeals to me.

So today I have a simply question for you, can you please recommend some ‘funny but substantial’ books to a pondering reader… and also to a pondering blogger? Am I right in hazarding a guess that Howard Jacobson would fit this genre or is that misplaced?


Filed under Book Thoughts, The Prose Practise

16 responses to “Funny But Substantial Fiction – The Prose Practice

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and the Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams

    Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

    Krokodil Tears by Jack Yeovil

    It depends how ‘funny’ you want it, though. Some things are more satirical than comedy, but still funny x

  2. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz (and the three Spellman books that follow) is my usual recommendation in cases like this.

  3. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

    Beyond the Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjornsen

    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

    Those are some funny, but substantial reads. And they are amongst my most favorite reads ever.

  4. Bet

    My first thought: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. That book had me laughing hysterically… and sometimes moved me to tears. That’s a rare book.

  5. lizzysiddal

    Does farce count? If yes, I recommend Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up!

  6. A difficult one. We may each have a very different idea of what constitutes a “substantial” read, and are even more likely to have a different idea of what is funny. Robert McCrum recently wrote a piece entitled “Which is the perfect comic novel?” which may be helpful, though his suggestions seem to put the emphasis more on the funny than the substantial, certainy by comparison with the comments above.

  7. How about “Passing Through” by Louis L’Amour? A piece that has stuck in my mind for years …
    “Are you riding that paint horse?”
    “No, maam, I’m eatin’ breakfast. Care t’ join me?”
    I try to put some light moments in my novels but I’m not great at comedy. They do, however, contain history.


  8. kimbofo

    The first that springs to mind is Scoop by Evelyn Waugh.

    Or how about my top 10 funny novels for further suggestions?

  9. Stephanie

    For good ‘light reading’, but not laugh out loud, you could suggest Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series. These books are a fast read and have a special charm about them.

  10. gaskella

    I’m with Kimbofo on Scoop, plus The loved one – which I adore. How about David Lodge too.

  11. I second The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams, I have yet to move onto his Dirk Gently books but I’ve heard there very good as well.

    Plus I also love books by Isabel Losada which are a combination of diary/musings/feelings and the actual adventures she goes on in the quest to become a happier person. So far I’ve read For Tibet, With Love and The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment.

  12. Wodehouse or saki maybe a b it to classic but great fun ,all the best stu

  13. All the Magnus Mill’s books that I’ve read, except the one about the kings.

    very dry.

  14. I’m reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome right now and laughing out loud quite a bit. It’s a great little 169 page treat!

  15. To ride on the coattails of Kristen’s response, I just read and loved Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, which gives a shout-out to Three Men in a Boat. It’s got some wit, but also makes you think a bit.

  16. Almost anything by David Lodge. Some are a little too much “of their time”, but I think that “Nice Work” and “Small World” stil work very well today.

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