Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Brenda Wineapple’s Favorite Comic Novels

By Brenda Wineapple

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. The first of the series, and the most noted comic novel of the lot, was 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, which supports “Lucky Jim” as well as some oldies but goodies, is one of our “Long Tail” entries.

photo credit: Joyce RavidI

I love “Tristram Shandy” as a comic novel– and “Lucky Jim,” which encapsulates the academy. I'd also put “Moby-Dick,” not a novel known for its humor, though it should be.

Brenda Wineapple's "White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson" was a 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in biography. She is director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center, which is hosting a lecture by Hilary Spurling on Wednesday, September 21.