Thursday, August 31, 2006

Humour Me...

As a bookseller there are some things I love being asked (Read anything good recently? Do you accept credit cards?) and other things that are more problematic (Do you have that book, you know, the sort of green one...)

Perhaps my least favourite thing to be asked is "Can you recommend a funny book? Something that will make me laugh?"

Why? Hardly ANYTHING that is supposed to be funny makes me laugh. (Even my infant son has a perma-frown after just two months!)

But this made me roar out loud. Then I cried with laughter reading it to my wife...

Fyodor is a Russian emigre living in Berlin. He dreams of being a writer and hangs around with other literary aspirants. The following takes place at an evening meeting where people read things they have written to an audience of their peers.

" the idiotic symbolism of the tragedy became ever deeper, more involved and less comprehensible, the painfully repressed, subterraneously raging hilarity more and more desperately needed an outlet, and many were already bending over, afraid to look, and when the Dance of the Maskers began in the square, someone - Getz it was - coughed, and together with the cough there issued a certain additional whoop, whereupon Getz covered his face with his hands and after a while emerged again with a senselessly bright countenance and humid, bald head, while on the couch Tamara had simply lain down and was rocking as if in the throes of labour, while Fyodor, who was deprived of protection, shed floods of tears, tortured by the forced noiselessness of what was going on inside him. Unexpectedly Vasiliev turned in his chair so ponderouusly that a leg collapsed with a crack and Vasiliev lurched forward with a changed expression, but did not fall, and this event, not funny in itself, served as a pretext for an elemental, orgiastic explosion to interrupt the reading, and while Vasiliev was transferring his bulk to another chair, Herman Ivanovich Busch, Knitting his magnificent but quite unfruitful brow, jotted something on the manuscript with a pencil stub, and in the relieved calm an unidentified woman uttered something in a separate final moan..."

I'll leave it there.

Did you laugh?

BTW Can you guess the author?


  1. No, not at all. I thought it was an accurate description of the situation but not funny in itself. But I think it's hard when you take something out of context like that, you don't have any of the build-up and it's tricky to go from 0 to hysterical in a few sentences.

    Funny books that I love include Catch 22, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Emma, Tales of the City, The Eyre Affair, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Bliss, The Rotters Club, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Once More With Feeling, Joe Queenan's America - I could go on and on. It is pretty easy to make me laugh.

  2. 'unfruitful brow' was funny.
    His Pnin is one of my top funny books.

    George Saunders.
    Nicholson Baker.

  3. The funniest book ever-written is Roger's Profanisaurus Rex, an ongoing cultural project of great significance and possibly one of the most important artifacts of our times.

  4. Nabokov indeed, well spotted.

    I have to confess I am quite new to his writing and though I've heard a lot about Pnin I have not read it yet...

    I'll add it to my list.