1. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13-3/4, by Sue Townsend
Who's the bigger loser: the clueless Adrian Mole or the middle-aged woman who wheezes with laughter every time she reads his journal? But really, it's hilarious, as evidenced by this entry from Friday, January 23:
That is the last time I go to a disco. Everybody there was a punk except me and Rick Lemon, the youth leader. Nigel was showing off all night. He ended up putting a safety pin through his ear. My father had to take him to the hospital in our car. Nigel's parents haven't got a car because his father's got a steel plate in his head and his mother is only four feet eleven inches tall. It's not surprising Nigel has turned out bad really, with a maniac and a midget for parents.2. Barrel Fever, by David Sedaris
Not my favorite Sedaris book on the whole, but "The SantaLand Diaries" makes it a must for this list. It's an absolutely brilliant account of the author's Christmastime stint as Crumpet the Elf at Macy's. I read it every December and laugh my fool head off.
Interpreters for the deaf came and taught us to sign "MERRY CHRISTMAS! I AM SANTA'S HELPER." They told us to speak as we sign and to use bold, clear voices and bright facial expressions. They taught us to say "YOU ARE A VERY PRETTY BOY/GIRL! I LOVE YOU! DO YOU WANT A SURPRISE?"3. High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
My sister Amy lives above a deaf girl and has learned quite a bit of sign language. She taught some to me and so now I am able to say, "SANTA HAS A TUMOR IN HIS HEAD THE SIZE OF AN OLIVE. MAYBE IT WILL GO AWAY TOMORROW BUT I DON'T THINK SO."
Perhaps more bittersweet than amusing, but so much of it makes me chuckle (and cringe) in recognition. I love that crap.
[B]y moving to London I had made it easier to be liked by girls. At home, most people had known me... when I was little, and consequently I'd always had the uncomfortable feeling that my boyhood was about to be exposed.... There were pictures all over my parents' house of me with big ears and disastrous clothes, sitting on tractors, clapping with glee as miniature trains drew into miniature stations; and though later on, distressingly, girlfriends found these pictures cute, it all seemed too close for comfort then.
4. A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
OK, I really wanted to include an excerpt about Bryson's kooky friend Katz, who loves Little Debbie snack cakes and tries to hike the Appalachian Trail with his gear in a newspaper delivery bag. But I don't actually own the book, and I didn't feel like schlepping up to the fifth floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library to get it, so I'm giving you the funniest bit I could find on the Internet. And you will like it.
My first inkling of just how daunting [hiking the Appalachian Trail] was to be came when I went to our local outfitters, the Dartmouth Co-Op, to purchase equipment. My son had just gotten an afterschool job there, so I was under strict instructions of good behavior. Specifically, I was not to say or do anything stupid, try on anything that would expose my stomach, say, "Are you sh*tting me?" when informed of the price of a product, be conspicuously inattentive when a sales assistant was explaining the correct maintenance or aftercare of a product, and above all don anything inappropriate, like a woman's ski hat, in an attempt to amuse.
5. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
Oh, how I love this book. Sure, parts of it break my heart, but it's damn funny too. This is mostly thanks to Max Roby, a cranky old dude who, Russo writes, lives "comfortably within the confines of a two-word philosophy": "So what?" A sample:
Miles studied his father, whose stubble had a strange orange tint. "Your beard's full of food. Cheetos?"Right on, Max.