Three Funny Books [My Year in Lists]
Before getting into today’s lists, I want to draw your attention to Largehearted Boy’s List of ‘Best of 2015’ Book Lists.. This is just absurd—and it doesn’t even include all of these lists! Even if you eliminate all the entries on here that include Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (bad) and Franzen’s Purity (garbage), you’d still have enough book recommendations to stretch around the equator twice. Sometimes I feel like we live in an age of constant, all-consuming noise . . .
When I came up with the idea for today’s list—the funniest translations of 2015—I thought this would be easy. I was certain that I’d read a lot of humorous books over the past year, like . . . well, parts of Bellatin are funny, I guess, but I wouldn’t call his books funny. Maybe Vila-Matas? But not really. Those have a humorous tone at times, but are much more than that.
Looking through the list of everything published in 2015, I realized that most of us doing translations love to focus on the heavy, the important, the serious. Sure, there are things like The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which seems funny in a goofy sit-com sort of way, and there are dozens of Dalkey backlist titles that contain “darkly funny” on the back cover. But looking at just the past year, I had a difficult time coming up with books that I would read when I just wanted to laugh and enjoy myself. (If I do this again in 2016, Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo will definitely be on here.) I’m probably being too strict with this—not duplicating books from earlier lists, leaving off story collections that aren’t entirely funny, trying to figure out what most people would find funny instead of sticking with my own sick sense of humor—but I was able to find four that I could include for various reasons. So here goes.
The Indian by Jón Gnarr, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Deep Vellum)
Not all that surprising given that Gnarr made his name as a comedian, but of the people I asked about this, no one actually mentioned this book. But I can guarantee it would be at the top of my daughter’s list.
She read this before meeting Jón and his lovely family when they were in Rochester last spring and couldn’t stop talking about it. Every post-it note in Chloë’s copy of the book marks a passage that she thought was funny.
There’s a lot of juvenile humor in here (I mean, it is about a troubled kid with a proclivity for goofing off), so if you’re not into that, you might focus more on the awful way in which Jón was treated, but still, the overall tone of the book is really fun and enjoyable.
The Dirty Dust by Máirtín O Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Alan Titley (Yale University Press)
This is my personal pick for the funniest translation of 2015. Taking place in an Irish graveyard, in which all of the buried never shut up and never stop insulting everyone, it’s a vocal tour-de-force that washes over you, rant by rant.
Don’t know if I am in the Pound grave, or the Fifteen Shilling grave? Fuck them anyway if they plonked me in the Ten Shilling plot after all the warnings I gave them. The morning I died I calls Patrick in from the kitchen, “I’m begging you Patrick, I’m begging you, put me in the Pound grave, the Pound grave! I know some of us are buried in the Ten Shilling grave, but all the same . . . “
That’s how it opens, with Caitriona Paudeen flipping her shit about how everyone treated her in life and death—a rant that goes on and on, despite being interrupted by any number of other dead souls. This book is hysterical and definitely worth reading. Also, I highly recommend listening to the translator read a few chapters.
As a side note, there’s a second translation of it coming out from Yale next year. I haven’t seen it yet, but from the description is sounds a bit more academic and footnoted. Should be interesting to compare the two . . .
Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad (New Directions)
I don’t know too much about this book, but I saw Patrick Smith reference it in a tweet about how pleased he was to finally be reading a funny book. This was a book I had set aside, mostly because I hate the cover. Eyes are kind of gross when they’re disembodied, and dozens of them floating on a red background like a teenager’s photoshop project? Nope.
But after hearing about it from Patrick, I picked it up, and based on the few bits that I’ve read, it does have that sort of rambling, digressive humor that I really respond to. There are crazy section titles like “Wow! You Can’t Praise Enough This New Earthen Jar!” and “The Bad Fortunes of the Station, Lumber Market, and Red-Light District.”
I’m not finding any great quotes to illuminate the sort of joyous sense of humor that seems to underpin this book, but there is a quote on the back of the book from Wired (which is apparently a good source for information about literature?) referring to Yousufi’s “singularly elastic wit.” And Time Out New Delhi stated “Rarely have I encountered a book which made me laugh so freely.” So there’s that!
I’m sure I’ve skipped over a number of really funny, truly worthy books. So if you have any suggestions, please send them my way and maybe I’ll update this. I could use some more humor in my life, so I think I’m going on a personal quest to find more funny books to read . . .