Posted by: jowanderer | January 15, 2008

The Sunday Times best books 2007: humour

December 2, 2007

The Sunday Times best books 2007: humour

Our reviewer picks the books that tickled his fancy in 2007

It goes without saying that, as a Sunday Times reader, you have highbrow tastes in comic writing. You enjoy a bit of Aristophanes now and again, and can’t get enough of the satires of Juvenal. So I hesitate to mention a title called Potty, Fartwell & Knob (Headline £9.99). The best jokes come at you unexpectedly, and so it is with this list of real people with extraordinary names. I can’t pretend this is something you will want to read again and again, but I defy you not to laugh. Some names are rather rude and would require lavish use of the asterisk, but I think I can mention Fanny Tickler (born 1836) and Nancy Boys (born 1842). And wouldn’t you like to know more about Mr William Tippen Useless, not to mention Thigh McKay, Herbert Sherbert and Mary Fairy?

You could always tuck it inside a copy of Alan Coren’s 69 for 1 (JR Books £14.99). This contains 69 pieces by the Times columnist and former Punch editor, who died this year. The irritating thing is that every one of them looks effortless. Coren’s great gift was judging the right tone, no matter what his subject. So when he describes a bout of necrotising fasciitis, he does it without self-indulgence or self-pity. While virtually every “comic” writer has done health and safety, Coren somehow does it better.

Peanuts has been a little out of fashion recently, but even from the first two volumes of The Complete Peanuts (Canongate £15 each) you can see that its creator Charles Schulz was ahead of his time in the matter of sexual politics. In the 1960s and 1970s, Snoopy the dog was unaccountably the star. But in these first volumes (1950-54), we can already see what will appeal to 21st-century readers.

It is the emerging duel between the downtrodden male, Charlie Brown, and the dynamic, confident Lucy Van Pelt (who will later juggle a career as a street psychiatrist with her absorbing hobby as America’s leading bossy boots). The plan is to republish the whole lot, from 1950 to 2000.

You’ll find a less subtle view of America in Borat (Boxtree £14.99), which is pretty much the book of the film. Posing as a tourist guide to America or Kazakhstan (depending which way round you hold it), it gives such advice as “how to get cage of your wife through airport”. If you haven’t seen the film, you probably won’t be interested in the book. If you’ve seen the film, well, it’s about as funny as that.

Don’t buy Borat if you are easily offended. You might be better off with Our Dumb World: Atlas of Planet Earth (Onion £16.99). At first glance, it looks like a proper atlas, but here’s how it sums up a couple of countries: Norway: Suppressing the Urge to Chop You in Half with an Axe; France: One Nation Above God. And on England it advises. “The English would like to dispute the stereotype that they are all overly polite, but refuse to bring up the subject for fear it would cause a stir.”

The Thick of It: The Scripts (Hodder £16.99) is not merely a compilation of the television series. It is a manual of how modern politics works. Yes Minister looked at the duel between ministers and their civil servants. By the time The Thick of It came out in 2005, civil servants no longer mattered. The real duel was between ministers, their advisers, and everybody else. Armando Iannucci, the creator of The Thick of It, puts it nicely in his introduction: “Yes Minister was about people trying to stop things from happening. Nowadays politics is about stopping things from being said.”

And finally, a social dilemma. I wish to mention a book by a colleague, but am worried about appearing too oleaginous. What better to advise me than Mrs Mills Solves All Your Problems (Mainstream £9.99)? For years, Sunday Times readers have consulted Mrs Mills about table manners, problems with neighbours and the correct way to wear a hat. And she has replied in a distinctive style that is best summed up by a letter quoted in the introduction. Somebody called JM from Cork complained: “You must be the most sarcastic, insensitive, stupid bitch around. Your answer to the poor woman who is worried about a hairy upper lip compelled me to write.” Mrs Mills replied simply: “I couldn’t help but notice that your house is called Sloe Cottage.”


1Don’t Stop Me Now by Jeremy Clarkson
(M Joseph) 99,520

2The Mums’ Bookby Alison Maloney
(M O’Mara) 39,145

3The Dads’ Bookby Michael Heatley
(M O’Mara) 33,935

4Ripley’s Believe It or Not by Robert Le Roy Ripley
(Random House) 27,405

5The Pub Landlord’s Book of British Common Sense by Al Murray
(Hodder) 25,525


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