James Gould-Bourn is the author of Bear Necessity, coming August 4, 2020, which Owen King (author of Double Feature) sums up perfectly: “a delightful story about fatherhood and childhood. And dancing bears.”
Books can make me smile, but it takes a lot for them to make me laugh. That’s why the following five novels have a very special place on my bookshelf.
I picked up this book last year because yes, you guessed it, I really liked the cover. It's about a 23-year-old cleaning lady named Mona who flees to New Mexico when her relationship with a man named Mr. Disgusting goes wrong (although how on earth a relationship with a man named Mr. Disgusting could possibly go wrong is anybody's guess). It's darkly funny and wholly original, and I can't wait to read the sequel (VACUUM IN THE DARK).
NAMED A BEST BOOK of the YEAR by O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE, REFINERY 29, and KIRKUS REVIEWS
SHORTLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE
A “wondrous,” (O, The Oprah Magazine) “scathingly funny” (Entertainment Weekly) debut from Whiting Award winner Jen Beagin about a cleaning lady named Mona and her quest for self-acceptance and belonging after her relationship with a loveable junkie goes awry.
Jen Beagin’s funny, moving, fearless debut novel introduces an unforgettable character, Mona—almost twenty-four, emotionally adrift, and cleaning houses to get by. Handing out clean needles to drug addicts, she falls for a recipient she calls Mr. Disgusting, who proceeds to break her heart in unimaginable ways.
Seeking a kind of healing, she decamps to Taos, New Mexico, for a fresh start, where she finds a community of seekers and cast-offs, all of whom have one or two things to teach her—the pajama-wearing, blissed-out New Agers, the slightly creepy client with peculiar tastes in controlled substances, the psychic who might really be psychic. But always lurking just beneath the surface are her memories of growing up in a chaotic, destructive family from which she’s trying to disentangle herself, and the larger legacy of the past she left behind.
The story of Mona’s quest for self-acceptance in this working class American world is at once hilarious and wonderfully strange, true to life and boldly human, and introduces a stunning, one-of-a-kind new voice in American fiction.
If you asked me to summarize this book in a sentence I would fail. I'd fail to summarize it in two, come to think of it. It's just one of those books that defies summary, although one review said that it “might just contain the secret of life” and I think that's as good a description as any. I randomly bought the book in a charity shop, but it's since become my comedy bible. I started out making notes of all the sentences I found funny, but I eventually gave up because comic brilliance lurks on almost every page, which is even more impressive when you consider that the book is over 700 pages long. I don't usually read long books—I'm such a slow reader that even a book half the length can take me weeks to get through—but I absolutely devoured this one. It's one of the only books I own two copies of—not so I can lend one out to friends and family, but so I have a spare copy in case my house burns down or something.
I have two confessions. The first is that I always judge a book by its cover, which is a terrible thing for a writer to admit, but there you go. The second is that I love squirrels, and I will happily abandon my writing midsentence if I happen to see one outside my window. When I recently stumbled upon a book with the silhouette of a squirrel on the front cover, I had no choice but to pick it up. And I'm glad that I did, because The Portable Veblen is one of the funniest books I've read in a while. Don't ask me to explain it because I can't (I'm obviously a big fan of books I can't explain. Either that or I'm just terrible at explaining things). All I know is that Veblen is a wonderful character, so rich and complex and weird in the nicest way possible. I've never read a book quite like it. Highly recommended for people who like quirky and original storytelling. And squirrels.
THE ASCENT OF RUM DOODLE is my go-to classic comedy novel. It's a hilarious spoof from 1956 about climbing a fictional 40,000- (and-a-half) foot mountain in the middle of the Himalayas. The doctor on the expedition is constantly ill, the navigator keeps getting lost, the diplomat can't stop arguing with people, and champagne seems to account for the vast majority of their rations. I recently bought a copy for my dad because he and his friends have been pretending to climb Everest by walking the equivalent number of steps up and down the stairs every day. I'd like to say this was because of the COVID lockdown, but honestly, it's the sort of thing he'd be doing anyway. It made him laugh a lot, although he might have just been suffering from altitude sickness.
This novel is about a dysfunctional family that meets to “sit Shiva” (a traditional Jewish weeklong period of mourning) after their father dies. It doesn't sound very funny I know, but it really is. There's a chapter in the book where Judd, the protagonist, walks in on his wife in bed with another man (don't worry, it's not a spoiler, it’s on the back cover description), and I laughed so hard that I'm glad I was at home and not in public because I would have either freaked out everybody around me or ruptured something vital by trying to hold it all in.