Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Favorite Comic Novel? Three for “Confederacy of Dunces”

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.

Shaun Randol:

” 'A Confederacy of Dunces'  by John Kennedy Toole.  I found this book to be an elegant blend of comedy and philosophy, simultaneously poignant and downright funny.

“'Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog)' by Jerome K. Jerome was published in 1889, but great comedy never fades. For me, their antics represent the precursor to the three stooges. Hysterical.

Jim Delmont:

“'A Confederacy of Dunces,' Pulitzer winner by John Kennedy Toole – celebrating the eccentricities of New Orleans (where I lived for ten years) and in doing so, throwing light on universal human foibles.”

Anita Porterfield:

“My favorite is 'A Confederacy of Dunces' by John Kennedy Toole, first published in 1980 and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1981. It's a raucous tale of the bumbling Ignatius J. Reilly, a social misfit who wreaks havoc in the New Orleans French Quarter.”