Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

More Favorite Comic Novels from Edward Nawotka, Katha Pollitt, Judith Podell, et al

By Jane Ciabattari

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. Today's posting is one of our “Long Tail” entries.

Edward Nawotka:

“My top comic novel is Brady Udall's 'The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.' It's an effervescent combination of black humor and tragedy, with an unforgettable protagonist in a distinctly American setting. The book combination of best features of Walter Kirn and Sherman Alexie, both fine comic writers as well.”

Dan Akst:

“Scott Spencer's 'Men in Black' is especially noteworthy in this department, since it's not only a comic novel, but it's about (among other things) literary culture. Along these lines of course there's also Steve Hely's 'How I Became a Famous Novelist.''Thank You for Smoking has got to have nod as well.'”


Katha Pollitt:

“Is Muriel Spark's 'Memento Mori' a comic novel? I love that one. Also, well, 'Pride and Prejudice' and other Austens. also 'Pictures from an Institution,' by Randall Jarrell.

Meganne Fabrega:

“I am a quiet reader, but Jonathan Tropper's 'This Is Where I Leave You' made me laugh out loud more times than I can count. From the first line to the last, Tropper hits the mark. I have recommended it to all of my friends looking for a book that makes their own dysfunctional families look better than ever.”

Judith Podell:

” 'Cold Comfort Farm' is a must-read for lovers of Jane Austen  and Monty Python fans. The supporting cast includes four cows named Aimless, Pointless, Feckless, and Graceless,  and the heroine  reminds me of Emma.”

Todd Michael Cox:

“Hands-down, my favorite comic novel is 'The Monkey Wrench Gang' by Edward Abbey.  (Although I've also had great fun with certain Tom Robbins works).  Abbey's novel is a masterpiece of rollicking good-times, measured and balanced by touches of seriousness and flashes of melodrama.  A broad, ragged, rompingly good goddamn time.”