Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Eric Banks’ Favorite Comic Novel

By Eric Banks

Critical Mass readers will know we are now in our fourth year of “NBCC Reads.” This survey allows us to draw on the bookish expertise of our membership, along with former NBCC winners and finalists. This spring's question: What's your favorite comic novel? was inspired by this past year's awards in fiction– NBCC fiction award winner Jennifer Egan's at-times hilarious A Visit from the Goon Squad (which also won this year's Pulitzer and the Los Angeles Times book award in fiction) and Irish writer Paul Murray's darkly comic Skippy Dies, an NBCC fiction finalist. We heard from more than 100 of you (thanks!). We do not tabulate votes or rank the titles under discussion. Instead, we simply give an idea of the authors or particular titles that seem to be tickling out collective fancy. Here's the first of the series, and the most noted comic novel of the lot, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, first published in 1961. (We're including worthy second choices, as well.) Other favorites so far:  Vladimir Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Russo's “Straight Man,” Kingsley Amis's “Lucky Jim,” two by Flann O'Brien,  “Oldies but Goodies” like Henry Fielding's “Tom Jones” and Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice,” plus Charles Portis. Beginning today, we'll be posting “Long Tail” entries.


Eric Banks, NBCC President, suggests this comic classic:

“I'm not sure how I first heard about George and Weedon Grossmith's 'Diary of a Nobody,' but it's a book I find myself rereading at least once a year. As a novel, it's a bit thread-bare, but for satirical genius, the lo-jinks adventures of Charles Pooter, his theatrical son Lupin, and his horrible friends Cummings and Gowing stand up a century after their creation. The Grosssmiths' send-up of lower-middle-class snobbery and thwarted aspirations in the suburbs of Victorian England opens up the world of Pooter and Co.”