What is humorous to you?

friedag

I wanted the title to be "What is humor?" but the red-box notice informed me I must have at least 15 characters. Okay, I guess I can find something humorous about that instruction!


Carolyn in the Literary Fiction thread pointed out that some of William Faulkner's writing is "wickedly funny" to her, and many other readers agree. I confess that I don't associate Faulkner with funniness, and I wonder whether I even noticed his humor while I was reading most of his books and short stories that I've tried (most of it a long time ago and perhaps I've forgotten). In The Reivers I did think he was funny -- a pleasant surprise for me and it stayed with me -- but I think that's the only one.


Which brings me to: Humor is said to be the most subjective of tastes. And it comes in many, many styles and forms. What styles do you like most? What books do you think are particularly funny?


I never seem to know what will strike me as humorous. Take sarcasm which I only appreciate in small servings, as a relish. I know some readers and comedy-watchers who like to have sarcasm as the main course -- or at least laid on quite thickly. I am not big on guffaws, but I have embarrassed myself by laughing out loud at something that seems hilarious to me, while people around me haven't cracked a smile and are looking at me as if I've lost my marbles. I can't tell a joke without usually messing up the punchline, either.


I usually don't deliberately seek humor in books, but I like when it hits me unexpectedly.


I hope you all will share some of what you find amusing!

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woodnymph2_gw

I will have to give this some thought. I am a very eclectic reader. Two examples immediately came to mind: some parts of Alcott's "Little Women" and Dody Smith's "I Capture the Castle". Oh, and one more---- Spark's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."

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yoyobon_gw

Bill Bryson's observations on life in his books always make me chuckle.....especially if listening to him read one of his books. Since he knows the story he frequently can barely keep from laughing out loud at his own words.


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skibby (zone 4 Vermont)

I don't care for humorous books - they usually try too hard. If something is unexpected or irreverent, that sometimes tickles me. The book Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger cracked me up.

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friedag

. . . humorous books - they usually try too hard.

Skibby: I think so, too! Do you sometimes get 'humor fatigue'? I do when a writer can't seem to control the impulse to be satirical about everything.

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annpanagain

I love humorous books! I have some that have gone out of print and managed to find in charity shops. Most of the authors that make me laugh or smile seem to have written years ago though. I have to find my amusement now with cosy mystery writers.

Certainly, what amuses us is a matter of taste. I mentioned to a friend that a chapter in a Dornford Yates book had me crying with necessarily silent laughter, as I was in a library when I read it. She read the same chapter as I watched and never even cracked a smile!

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yoyobon_gw

Skibby.......I agree, it has to be some unexpected slant on things in order to really tickle me. It is difficult to define, but I know what amuses me when I hear it or see it....I'm not an easy sell :0)

What is NOT humorous to me : Any time a person ( usually a guy) greets me and says "Have you heard this one" as a prelude to a lame joke. I love clever personal humor but really dislike jokes. I worked with a man who always greeted you with that statement.....followed by a foolish, inane joke. I tended to avoid him since I am not good at feigning delight !


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kathy_t

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is a book that kept me laughing.

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yoyobon_gw

Kathy.....yes that was a fun read. I really enjoyed that book, although the ending felt a little like she lost her way with the story a bit.

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friedag

Carolyn: At the risk of belaboring a point (sometimes I am like a dog who won't let go of a bone), I think you've given me a key to what I have missed with Faulkner: humor.

I know you call Faulkner's style "wicked", but do you mean it is gallows (black) humor, wry, dry, droll, caustic, a sly wink, tongue in cheek . . .? I'm supposing it must be subtle or I would have noticed it more and remembered it better -- flattering myself a bit there! I think I might try Faulkner again to see if I can find the humor, knowing now that it's there 'cause Carolyn said so. :-)

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carolyn_ky

Yes, black humor, Frieda, and I certainly hope you find some since it is down to me! Google Humor in Faulkner and you will get more intelligent answers than from me. I recommend the Snopes books; there are three.

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friedag

Carolyn, I followed your advice and searched for Humor in Faulkner. This is the first example I ran across (not a direct quote):

In As I Lay Dying, Addie Bundren's youngest son (his age is not noted) was worried that his mother would not be able to breathe in her coffin, so he took it upon himself to drill holes in the coffin's lid to ease his anxiety and help make his mother more comfortable. Later, Addie's other kin removed the lid (for a last look at her?) and found that holes had been drilled into Addie's face.

Yikes! That's just pitiful to me -- and macabre. But context is everything, so I must not be getting the full picture. Either that or Faulkner's black humor, in this case, is beyond me!

I'm not giving up, however. I think there must be better representations. I believe black humor is possible, as I thought Richard Hooker's original M*A*S*H novel was funny and so were parts of Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

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vee_new

Humour is so subjective. Since the 1920's people have rolled around the floor at the books by P G Wodehouse. They have been turned into several TV series and Jeeves the Gentleman's gentleman is now used as a name/term for someone who is full of wisdom whereas Bertie Wooster is recognised as the amiable twerp. Recently I came across one of his books and tried to read it but didn't find it very/at all funny . . .possibly because the language and situations had become so very dated.

I don't enjoy books of the 'laugh a minute' type. usually the humour is over-laboured as though the writer has a handy copy of The Boys Books of Jokes on his desk.

An English author who has stood the test of time is Richmal Crompton, a classics teacher at a girl's school, originally wrote for a monthly magazine and her tales about the eleven year old, William Brown can be read at any level. Adults enjoy her poking fun at the mores of the time in suburban England . . . the apoplectic military men, the slightly dotty spinsters, the weedy curates. The older brother, always 'in love', the pretty sister setting her hat at the village swains. Younger readers enjoy the mayhem and anarchy caused by a small group of boys.

William is 100 this year and the books have never been out of print and many TV shows, tapes and full-length films have been made about his exploits.

And there isn't one joke in any of the thirty something books. It is all 'in the writing'.

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yoyobon_gw

I did find that Bossy Pants by Tina Fey had some " chortle moments".

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friedag

Vee: Speaking of British humour, a couple of my English friends claim that E. F. Benson's "Mapp and Lucia" books are some of the funniest English books ever written, especially the ones from the 1930s. I took a look, but was only mildly amused. The foibles of upper-middle-class snobs get old very quickly, in my estimation. However, the running gag about the lobster recipe (I forget the title) is quite funny to me, especially because so many fans -- including Nigella Lawson -- have attempted to re-create it. Do you enjoy the antics of those characters as much as my other friends do?

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carolyn_ky

Vee, I couldn't read the Jeeves books either, and I also don't like books that try to be funny. What amuses me is more like what Kath said--an unexpected turn of phrase or a sideways poke at something.

Frieda, I told you I don't like As I Lay Dying. I don't find that quote AT ALL amusing--that's way too black for me. If I remember correctly, the Snopes family try to play the system to get their way "by hook or by crook." I hope I don't have to re-read any of this stuff.

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annpanagain

Frieda, I have read and collected Mapp and Lucia books by Benson and other authors who continued the stories. I was amused to see that attempts have been made to recreate "Lobster a la Riseholme". Were they successful? They must use Hen lobsters apparently!


I suppose I can enjoy the gentle humour of the "Between the Wars" and even further back writers because I grew up with people who lived at that time and can recognise them.


Vee, we owned only a few books but one was "A Monstrous Regiment" by Richmal Crompton. It was short stories about women and as I read them so many times, I can still recall the plots and some of the lyrical writing.

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friedag

Carolyn, I remembered you saying that you don't like As I Lay Dying, so I was taken aback when it was the first Faulkner book considered in the Internet humor-in-literature discussions. Maybe the excerpts come in alphabetical order by book title -- I didn't notice, but it's a likely explanation.

I promise I won't make you reread any Faulkner! I just wanted to let you know what path you set me on. I really appreciate it. I'm enjoying every minute of trying to relieve my cluelessness! :-)

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Rosefolly

My favorite kind of humor is generally wittiness. I like play with words. I even like puns, if they are clever.

My most disliked humor is slapstick or humor based on stupidity or cruelty. If it is so very well done that it makes me laugh in spite of myself, I am very angry at the manipulation.

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friedag

Rosefolly: I haven't pondered about how much manipulation there sometimes is in humor. Now you have mentioned it, though, I recognize that it can make me angry, too, perhaps because I insincerely or guiltily laugh and smile when I really don't want to. You've given me lots to think about in that respect!

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vee_new

Frieda, I thought I had posted a reply to you yesterday re the Mapp and Lucia books but it seems to have gone up in smoke.

I said something along the lines of not having read the books but enjoyed the fairly recent TV series, much of it made on location where the real and ancient town of Rye, where Benson had lived (on the edge of Romney Marsh) was used as 'Tilling' and yes all its inhabitants were wonderfully stuck-up and always trying to out-do each other.

Annpan I think a few of Richmal Crompton's adult books have been reissued.



Mapp and Lucia

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friedag

Vee, I intended to say, but didn't above, that I haven't read the Mapp and Lucia books. Like you, I only watched some of the more-recent TV series. I can't make up my mind who is more insufferable, Miss Mapp or Mrs. Lucas.

I read the biographical sketch of Richmal Crompton and was surprised to learn that she wrote one children's book with a girl as the main character. The girl wasn't as well received as William, so the girl was left behind. I know there are feminine versions of the popular 'school stories' but they never seemed to be quite as successful as the boys. Why do you think that was/is? Were boys considered inherently more interesting -- perhaps funnier, as well -- than girls? George Orwell noted that the boys' adventures were avidly followed by almost as many girl as boy readers.

Crompton seems to have been marvelously attuned to boys' behavior -- the models for William were probably her younger brother and a nephew. Yet, she taught in a girls' school so why wasn't she able to convey the girls' experience as sharply? I suspect it's all about the receptivity of the reading audience which up until quite recently has been skewed in favor of the impression that boys are more comedic. Of course we probably can think of quite a number of examples of books, films, etc. where that's not true.

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vee_new

Frieda, I think stories about boys go down better with both sexes. Back in the day (and Crompton's first 'William' book came out in 1919) boys had more fun, they could get muddy, roam the fields, form 'gangs'. Girls were expected to play with their dolls and 'help' in the house and stay clean.

There is one female character in the books, a dimpled, lisping and ringletted Violet Elizabeth Bott who always gets her own way "If you don't let me play with you I'll thcweam and thcweam until I'm sick."

The humour in the stories comes, not because the boys are 'funny' but because of the interplay between children and adults. Neither group appreciating or understanding the world of the other.

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annpanagain

I used to enjoy stories about girls but they weren't usually funny and were set in boarding schools. The authors had little knowledge of poorer girls. I remember reading about a girl who was poor but had a Post Office Savings Account with money in it! I had an account too, we were encouraged to open them as a Save for Victory effort but I never had pocket money to put in it. Few of my school friends, daughters of working class parents, did!


Vee, is the class system still as rigid as it used to be?

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vee_new

annpan, I don't think it can be nearly so bad as in the 'good old days', although people of my parents generation while not quite 'tugging their forelocks' felt that a certain respect was due to the Upper Crust. As an eg when I was a child several of my little friends had riding lessons and were pony-mad. Of course I wanted to join them but no way would my Father agree to foot the bill. "Who do you think you are?
If you lived on a farm you might need to ride a horse but as we are not farmers nor Gentry you have no need to learn to ride. You want lessons? Pay for them yourself."

Well that was telling me! I only had a pound in my piggy bank enough for two lessons!

Re the Post Office Savings. At school some children brought in half-a-crown a week and bought savings stamps (pictures of a very young Prince Charles and Princess Anne on them) which were glued into a book. I'm sure none of the money came from their own pocket money, but from the parents. As I only received thruppence a week I saved it at home well-hidden from the thieving hands of my younger brother . . .

.

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friedag

Annpan and Vee: I'm enjoying your stories of 'the old days' because they are amusing to me. Although not exactly funny, they do make me smile, since they are different -- yet similar enough -- to the experiences I, or any American I knew, had. I think that's why so many Americans are fascinated with the details of English life. I don't recall any U.S. equivalent to a Post Office Savings Account.

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yoyobon_gw

I do remember in the 50's we used to bring change to school to buy "War stamps" ( is that what they were ? ). I'm not sure what that was all about.

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friedag

Yoyo, I began my formal schooling (kindergarten) in September 1955 when I turned five years old. I don't remember 'War stamps' so I asked my mother (now 97) about them. She says the stamps and "War bonds" were plans to get every American invested in 'the War Effort' -- paying off the expense. The stamps were aimed mostly at children while the bonds were for adults.

It seems the larger percentage of the sales of stamps and bonds went to some rather nebulous government fund, but a percentage was allotted to the buyers for their own savings accrual. It could be cashed in to pay for such personal expenses as a house down-payment or college education. The cashing-in was usually handled through a bank, Mama says. It all sounds so small potatoes -- and probably was -- yet must have seemed worth the trouble to Americans who wanted to help and be patriotic.

Did your school(s) do the March of Dimes drive for Polio? We schoolkids were given a card with slots to be filled with ten dimes. Each filled card meant a $1.00 donation that was a big deal. We were ashamed if we couldn't fill the whole card. We were supposed to use our own money and not importune for the amount, but many kids probably got help from their parents.

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vee_new

Frieda, as you will know from you time living here the General Post Office offered quite a few 'services' other than buying stamps, sending parcels and letters. As a Department of State they used to deal with telegrams/telephones and controlled radio and TV licences . . . even dog licences. The savings bank was started in the 1860's which was useful for people who didn't need to use the 'big' banking houses. When Old Age pensions were introduced they were payable at the PO along with other State benefits. Eventually they created their own bank 'National Giro'; now no more.

Of course these days hundreds of PO's have disappeared especially in villages and small towns where the Post Master/Mistress could run a 'shop' as a side line. It has led to a decline in the quality of 'village life' especially for the older population who might not own a car or want to deal with large amounts of cash . . . or just catch up on the latest gossip!

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woodnymph2_gw

I remember the March of Dimes cards very well. I also remember war ration books from WW II. I learned to write by tracing over my mother's handwriting in her ration books.

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carolyn_ky

I had a $25 war bond that matured about the time I graduated from high school. I can't remember what I bought when it was cashed in, but that wasn't "small potatoes" to me in 1952.

I found something humorous to me in The Light over London: "This was the closest she had been to a man since she let Gary kiss her behind a hedge just to see what it would feel like. It hadn't felt much like anything as it turned out." It made me laugh out loud, not only because it was unexpected but because it so aptly described my own first kiss.

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friedag

Carolyn, I'm sure $25 wasn't 'small potatoes' to the individual in 1952. Mama and I were thinking it was small potatoes to the government in paying off the cost of the war, back when the government actually did pay debts in full, in a timely manner. The purchase of bonds was not required of citizens (or anyone), so the Feds found other ways.

The first kiss quote is humorous to me, also. "It hadn't felt much like anything as it turned out." Yep, that about sums up my first kiss, as well. So why do I even remember it? :-)

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yoyobon_gw

$25 wasn't small potatoes in 1963 either. My college roommate and I flew on Mohawk airline from Binghamton NY to JFK airport ( I think it was called Idlewild then ) for $50 round trip so that we could go to the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows ! What a thrill.

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friedag

Does anyone recall Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm? We had several former RPers who had much to say about this parody. Dido (Diana G) loved it! I think Jankin was another who did. However, other readers were baffled by its humor/humour.

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vee_new

You need a well-developed sense of English humour to appreciate this tale of rustic grime, inbreeding and madness, though as to the truth of Aunt Ada Doom oft repeated warning about seeing "Something nasty in the woodshed" it is yet to be revealed.



Cold Comfort Farm trailer

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annpanagain

I seem to remember that there was a hint of sci-fi in that book. A foretaste of Skype when Flora makes a call from a public phone box and can see the person she is speaking to.

I don't have the book so I am hoping I got that right!

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friedag

Annpan, you're right. The book was first published in 1932, but a part of the story was supposedly set some time in the not-too-distant future. I can't recall what year Gibbons intended. I first read it in the 1980s and got the impression then that Gibbons had projected her tale fifty years forward. It's peculiar, though, that when I read it in the 2000s for our RP discussion, I thought Gibbons meant it to be seventy years in the future! If I read it now, would I think she meant the 2010s? But that makes absolutely no sense to me because some of the wonderful new things, such as Flora's beau picking her up in his bi-plane, were obviously still of the 1920s or perhaps early 'thirties, at the latest.

I've been told that I shouldn't worry about the discrepancies -- it's parody after all.

During my first encounter with Cold Comfort Farm, I didn't get most of the humor. Later I learned that I had unwittingly read an altered version, one that had been changed and dumbed down for American audiences. Grrr! How patronizing can some publishers get?!

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friedag

Annpan, I thought of you again while I've been reading (rereading actually) The Brontes Went to Woolworth's by Rachel Ferguson. I'm not sure why I associate it with you, unless you have mentioned it as being one of your favorites. Is it?

The Carne sisters -- Deirdre, Katrine, and Sheil (the last 'just out of the nursery') -- have invented a role-playing game. They, along with their mother, are interested in the theatre (Katrine is attending drama school). They choose a well-known person and proceed to imagine what that person's personal life is like. This goes on for a good while. Apparently this was similar to ways the real-life Bronte sisters liked to amuse themselves, something they did even as adults. Eventually however, Deirdre actually is introduced to the man whose life they have been embellishing so imaginatively -- and he agrees to be a Carne family friend! Was he, could he be, as interesting as the Carne sisters had made him?

This 1931 book is good, gentle fun of the type that I'm not certain is written anymore. I smile a lot while reading it!

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annpanagain

Friedag, No, I have never come across that book! Perhaps you associate me with books set in both Pre-war eras! I do like authors from those times both mystery and humour genres.

A number of authors who wrote in the early 1940s set their books in the happier 1930s and who can blame them?

I come from a mixed marriage, my mother was adopted by working class parents who had her educated to be a secretary and was taught the piano and violin, my father was more middle class so I was familiar with both lifestyles. This had given me an understanding of books which describe the peculiar British system of that time.

The underlying drive of all classes was to be seen as respectable. This was the most important thing! The aristocracy may have been different. I never had dealings with them...

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skibby (zone 4 Vermont)

Yesterday a friend came over to visit and we were discussing books. I mentioned that I had ordered the Owens' book Cry of the Kalahari to read shortly. We talked about it for a while but the next time I mentioned the title I mistakenly referred to it as "Cry of the Calamari". Hahahaha! This generated a different discussion - complete with sound effects. Just another way books make me laugh.

(I may have to wait awhile to read this one so I can get that visual out of my mind)

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Rosefolly

I also had a savings bond, the post-war successor to War Bonds. I used mine to buy myself a bicycle, used but reconditioned and quite nice. It was probably my first major purchase.

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erasmus_gw

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis was funny to me. I don't remember what about it was funny but I'm sure it poked fun of the main character and his convoluted travails. I looked up reviews on Amazon and read a few...one person said it's not a book for the highbrow. Another said they had to put down the book they were laughing so hard. Another said it wasn't funny. I think it's funny and doesn't try too hard, just hard enough.


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kathy_t

Erasmus - I never heard of that book, but just looked at some reviews of it. Now it's on my TBR list. Thanks for the heads up.

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erasmus_gw

My BIL gave it to me a few years ago and I have been tempted to send it to a person in a dire situation to cheer them up. I read several others by Portis and liked all except , I think, Atlantis or some such. Portis wrote True Grit, a Western, which is a very good story but very different than The Dog of the South.

I used to sneer at Westerns or just had no interest in them but when my husband was unemployed for a long time we read aloud to each other about 70 westerns. The hardships of the trek west, the triumph over tough circumstances resonated with us in our hard times. We enjoyed books by Louis L'Amour, but I think Zane Grey was the finest writer. He was a good landscape wordsmith....a bit rhapsodic and poetic about the countryside. Very lovely.

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