Joanna Nadin’s favourite funny books by women

Joanna Nadin, author of The Talk of Pram Town and The Queen of Bloody Everything, on the joy of funny novels and her favourite funny books by women.

 Funny novels can be ‘just as worthwhile, and just as potentially life-changing’ as serious novels, argues Joanna Nadin. And as the author of the very funny The Queen of Bloody Everything and The Talk of Pram Town, she should know. Here Joanna tells us more about the importance of funny fiction books, from encouraging reluctant readers to recognising the funny side of our own difficult times. She also shares some of her favourite funny books by women. 

I have always ‘done’ funny. Both as a reader, and a writer. As a child, I snorted through every page of every Dr Seuss, laughed until I cried at Russell Hoban’s inspired creation Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong in her iron hat cooking mutton sog, and the mere mention of the East Pagwell Canal from Professor Branestawm was enough to render me insensible. As an adult I can’t get through anything featuring Marian Keyes’s Mammy Walsh without laughing so much I might pee myself. 

Laughter is a tonic; it’s therapy. Quite literally for me, as there is no greater closure for a writer than the revenge of turning the children who taunted you mercilessly for having hair like Leo Sayer and second-hand skirts, or the adults that persist in belittling you, into criminals and idiots in indelible black and white.

A few years ago, I was asked by The Guardian to write a piece on my favourite “funny” books. Of course I said yes. a) Because my self-esteem is sufficiently low and my ego sufficiently enormous that I am easily flattered. b) Because I like going through my bookshelves and ensuring they are still in excellent alphabetical order. And c) because I like thinking about funny things.

And so I did, think about them I mean, not just the books themselves (though that was a delight), but about the concept of “funny” and its place in fiction. Because I’ve found that funny is, oddly, frowned upon by certain people, and certain schools of thinking. These are the people who would have you believe that “issues” books – books that make you “feel”, that make you “think” (usually about grim things) are somehow more worthy of your time, and of praise, and prizes, than ones with jokes in.

People like my old O Level teacher who told me I’d never amount to anything when he caught me reading a funny book under the desk, instead of the syllabus text sat sullenly on top of it. It wasn’t so much the act of disobedience that riled him, I think, than the subject matter – my chosen tome was George’s Marvelous Medicine – so much more interesting than the turgid (or so it seemed to me at the time) Silas Marner.

But what these people – and there are many – fail to get is that funny books can be just as worthwhile, and just as potentially life-changing. They make you “think”, they make you “feel”. But they make you laugh while you’re doing it. And sometimes, that can make the drama all the greater, the truth all the starker.

Funny books are important – from engaging reluctant readers to keeping the attention of those with short attention spans; from simply making us feel clever when we get the joke to recognising our own daily hell and being able to laugh at it or else we’d likely cry. So, if you need cheering, uplifting, as well as educating a little on the way, I hugely recommend picking up copies of one or all of the following:

Bridget Jones's Diary (And Other Writing)

by Helen Fielding

 I worked in TV news when this was first published in weekly instalments. The paper would be in tatters by the time it had been passed around the entire newsroom’s grabby hands as we all clamoured for more hilarious exploits of pitiful Bridget, who seemed to know exactly how it felt to be single in the city, and surrounded by smug marrieds. 

The Morning Gift

by Eva Ibbotson

I had the honour of writing the introduction to one of Ibbotson’s brilliant reissues, A Company of Swans, but it is this novel that I find myself returning to time and time again. The plot is a classic mismatched romance, but it is swathed in pathos and peppered with her signature wit. 

Rachel's Holiday

by Marian Keyes

Book cover for Rachel's Holiday

Marian is the queen of the sucker punch that lurks behind every gag, hitting you just as you’ve finished crying with laughter. I could have picked any of her novels featuring the Walsh family, but this was the first I read, and I still reread it now. 

How to Build a Girl

by Caitlin Moran

Book cover for How to Build a Girl

Forget the film, this, the first of two almost-autobiographical novels following cub music journo Johanna Morrigan, is streaks ahead and laugh out loud funny. I have never felt as seen as in the somehow hilarious even as it’s agony episode with the cystitis (trust me on this). 

The Diary of a Provincial Lady

by E M Delafield

Book cover for The Diary of a Provincial Lady

The inspiration, surely for Bridget, and countless other witty but weary women, The Diary of a Provincial Lady chronicles the woes of the middle-class, married diarist, trying to keep up appearances while stranded in deepest Devon in the Great Depression. 

Discover Joanna's novel The Talk of Pram Town:

The Talk of Pram Town

by Joanna Nadin

This book from Joanna Nadin about mothers, daughters and second chances is perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s 1981, and eleven-year-old Sadie adores her mother Connie, who dreams of making it big as a singer. It’s always been the two of them, until the unthinkable happens . . . Jean hasn’t seen her good-for-nothing daughter Connie since she ran away from home as a pregnant seventeen-year-old. Then she gets a call asking her to come and collect the granddaughter she’s never met . . .