Some of the funniest books I’ve read are also the darkest. I’ve always gravitated to stories about evil in our world… how do we respond when we’re confronted by the corrupt politician, an organization eating away at our societal values, a monstrous act? The problem with these weighty topics is that they can sometimes feel… well, too weighty. The authors I admire most know this, and balance that darkness with a comic tone, aware that stories can become too bleak, and veer into unrealistic territory. No person is all good or all bad, and these moments of levity remind us of that.
So, without further ado, here are five books that made me laugh out loud.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
In a lot of ways, Korede and Ayoola are two normal sisters…but they’re keeping a big secret. Charming, beautiful Ayoola has a habit of murdering her boyfriends, and Korede—the smart, responsible one—has the unfortunate task of cleaning up after her. This genre-bender is somewhere between literary fiction, thriller, and horror novel, and is so smart and darkly funny I kept putting down the book to laugh. Korede’s only confidante is a man in a coma, and as the story races to its conclusion we see that confessing to him, well, might not have been the best idea.
Sum by David Eagleman
The reader is given forty versions of God and the afterlife in this novella, which is as clever and imaginative as it is profound. An afterlife where the world is composed only of those people you knew in your real life, which leaves you longing for all those you did not. An afterlife where you are split into versions of yourselves at all ages (young adult, middle age, old age) and those selves run into each other at the grocery store. Or perhaps my favorite—an afterlife where Mary Shelley sits on the throne, appointed by God himself, who we learn is Shelley’s biggest fan. I mean, who could understand the angst of our creator better than the woman who wrote Frankenstein?
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Ummm…isn’t this book about mass murder? you ask. A future where an AI system called the Thunderhead controls society, choosing scythes to “glean” the population? Yes, yes and yes. But as dark as this book is, there’s humor on almost every page. In the opening scene a family gets a visit from a scythe. Tension builds as we worry and wonder who he’s there to kill…but no, he just stopped in for some baked ziti before murdering their neighbor (who doesn’t love baked ziti?). Rowan’s best friend is a splatting junkie and has to spend days in a revival center, “speedhealing.” There’s a playfulness in the smallest details, like how Scythe Curie lives in Fallingwater. It’s always a thrill to be in Schusterman’s head, even if the story takes us to some deeply disturbing places.
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
We’ve always known there was something a little creepy about Ikea. And Orsk, the fake Ikea store in Cleveland where this book takes place, has been experiencing strange events. Employees come in every morning to broken merchandise scattered across the floor. Amy, a clerk who’s getting crushed by the monotony of her retail job, is asked by her manager to stay one night to catch the culprit. And so this unique, humorous story devolves into horror, and the ikea-catalog-esque illustrations get scarier with each turn of the page. It’s particularly funny if you’ve ever worked in retail or customer service (a terrifying experience in its own right).
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
This one’s on the list for three reasons: Haymitch Abernathy, Caesar Flickerman, and Effie Trinket. It’s hard to pick a favorite of those characters, but the aggressively positive Caesar reminds me of so many reality television hosts I’ve watched over the years (I’m certain Chris Harrison unzips his skin every night and slithers into bed). Caesar interviews contestants as if they’re on The Price is Right, not about to enter the arena to fight to the death. Even though this takes place in a futuristic world, so much humor is drawn from the truth of these people—Effie’s vanity, Caesar’s devotion to his role, Haymitch’s inability to stay sober, or lie about the horrors that await tributes. Effie in particular is a testament to someone being both evil and hilarious at the same time.
Originally published January 2021.