Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Benjamin Moser’s Favorite Comic Novel

By Benjamin Moser

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.



Graham Greene's “Travels with My Aunt” is not only hilarious,  it even takes place in Paraguay, at least partly. Paraguay is  the only country where Chaco Indians speak a dialect of German and the Korean shopkeepers chat in Guaraní. “Yes, it's very peaceful,” my aunt said [in Asunción], “only an occasional gun-shot after dark.” 


Here's a panorama of Asunción that I bought in an auction in Brazil recently:


Benjamin Moser is a Contributing Editor to Harper’s Magazine and a regular contributor to publications in the United States, Brazil, and the Netherlands. He has published translations from the Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese and is the author of "Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector," a 2010 Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.