Four hilarious nonfiction books
Words to make you spit your tea out with laughter - plus an invitation
When was the last time you laughed out loud while reading? I have inhaled plenty of funny books in my time, but only a few have actually seen me audibly snorting. And it was only when I set out to tell you about these books that I realised the majority were nonfiction.
As for why that is, I think there must be something in my brain which registers a scenario as even funnier if it is a real-life one. Although some of the most hilarious books I have ever read have been novels (see In at the Deep End and Standard Deviation which I have raved about in previous editions of the newsletter), there’s something about funny essays and memoirs which really sets me off in a spit-your-tea-out kind of way. Here are four of my favourites - you have been warned!
Calypso by David Sedaris
I had never read a David Sedaris book until this summer, when I decided to pick up Calypso on a whim right before a long holiday. (I was worried I hadn’t packed enough books in my already very full suitcase: this slim paperback seemed a perfect solution.)
Now I’ve essentially ordered the humourist’s entire back catalogue, so giddily did I devour Calypso. It’s a collection of memoir-type essays which delve into all sorts: ageing, spare rooms, litter-picking, sisters, ill health, life as an American in a tiny English village, and more. I was frequently wiping tears from my face as I read - the good kind of tears.
The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood
Sophie Heawood is a British journalist who moved to Los Angeles, where she interspersed partying with interviewing celebrities (side note, her profiles are very good). Then she slept with an unnamed famous musician and wound up pregnant.
This is a wild and divine memoir about what happens when you become an accidental single mother. The Hungover Games is funny, sad, painful and fun, and I would very much like it to be made into a film by Lena Dunham.
Meaty by Samantha Irby
I love everything Samantha Irby writes but this collection is just pure gold. The essays delve into such a variety of topics - IBD, sex, chin hairs - that you truly never know what will come next, and this is precisely the thrill of reading it.
Not shy of a single taboo, Meaty is smart and snort-worthy and definitely as spiky as the hedgehog on the cover.
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
Nina Stibbe is excellent at writing comic fiction, but Love, Nina is easily my favourite of her books. It’s a memoir of when she moved to London as a 20-year-old to work as nanny, told in the letters she sent home to her sister in Leicester.
It’s warm and witty and nostalgic and sensationally unpredictable - playwright Alan Bennett even appears as a recurring character, along with a carousel of other literary figures who made up the neighbours and friends. It was later adapted into a TV series starring Helena Bonham Carter, but you can’t beat reading it.
Well Read is about to turn two! Last year, I invited four of my favourite novelists to contribute to a special birthday edition. This year, I’m inviting you. All you need to do is reply to this email telling me about a book you’ve enjoyed recently, and I’ll include as many of your recommendations as I can.