By Karin Gillespie
When I was in third grade, Linda Hammer, the most popular girl in school, unexpectedly anointed me as her best friend. Emboldened by a Nestle’s Quik buzz, I finally go the nerve to ask her, “Why me?’
I expected her to say something about my cool wardrobe (I was the first in my class to embrace gauchos) or my record collection. (I had all the Partridge family albums.) But instead she said, “You’re funny. Not funny weird, but funny ha-ha.”
Linda Hammer’s endorsement of me was powerful mojo. Later, when I decided to be a writer, my main goal was to make people laugh. My first three novels were funny (or at least that was my intention) and I was even asked to co-write a novel with the notoriously funny Sweet Potato Queen (called, appropriately enough, The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big Ass Novel).
Over the years I’ve experienced a love-hate relationship with my funny bone and occasionally I’d become too reliant on humor. I was like Kim Kardashian and her butt, flaunting my God-given assets at the expense of everything else. (Get it? Assets.)
Sorry. I can’t always help myself.
Sometimes, instead of writing hit-or miss ass jokes, I longed to be a writer who crafted swoon-worthy sentences about sunrises and old women’s weathered hands. The way I figured it, writing funny novels was a lesser art--a whoopee cushion pursuit in the rarefied world of serious prose. After all, when was the last time you read a review of a Pulitzer Prize- winning novel that said: “It was so funny it made Coke spew out of my nose?”
For a time I was so seduced by the literary siren call, I changed directions and tried to write important fiction. How did I fare? Well…. let’s just say my work was still laughable, but not necessarily in a good way.
That experience taught me something valuable. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “No one comes to Earth unarmed.” It’s the same with writing. All writers bring specific strengths to the craft, and sometimes people (like me) lose sight of the qualities that make their work unique. Eventually I came to my senses and gave up on being the next Zadie Smith. Now I’ve decided to be Karin Gillespie, the writer who has won the hearts of several—perhaps dozens of readers-- just for being her natural funny self.
And yes, there are rare days when I don’t feel funny (like today). But that’s when I page through my shelf of humorous books to remind me of the power of comic writing.
My favorite book is Bridget Jones’s Diary, a veritable textbook on how to be hysterical. But there are also scores of other books that make me laugh out loud. Here are a few:
Shelia Levine is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent -This was first published way back in 1972. (I read it when I was a gleam in my mother’s eye.) It was Chick Lit before anyone coined the term.
The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird—Hilarious send-up of romance writers. Made into a not-so-great movie. Steven Guttenberg starred if that gives you a clue, but the book’s amazing.
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott—Irreverent look at her son’s first year. When Lamott’s son cried too much, she had visions of “holding him by the ankles and whacking him against the wall, the way you cure an octopus on a dock.”
She was kidding, of course. The boy’s now twenty-two and has no discernable brain damage.
Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore-Darkly funny novel about a thirty-something woman, who, after years of dating, finally gets engaged. Remember those Harvard professors who once said women over 35 had a better chance of being abducted by terrorists than getting married? Here’s what Finnamore said about them: “May they fall into open manholes, where hard-body lesbians with blowtorches await them.”
How about you? Do you like funny books? What are some of your favorites? Please tell me. I need more material to steal from.