Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thurber Prize 2010

Thurber Prize Shortlist 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

How I Became a Famous Novelist

Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask

Jenny's favorite books »

The Thurber Prize is an annual prize awarded for humor in American writing. Three novels were nominated this year, see the links above for the titles. Well, really, one was a novel and two were memoirs, if we're being particular.

I don't know what to think. What does a book have to include to be considered funny? Am I looking for something that makes me laugh out loud? Is a chuckle sufficient? What if it is something so close to home, so accurate, that it makes me groan instead of laugh?

I recently asked one of my online book clubs what books they found funny. (See the Sword and Laser discussion, What Books Make you LOL). To be fair, it is a sci-fi/fantasy book club, so I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of recommendations for Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Wodehouse. I haven't tried Wodehouse, but the humor in Adams and Pratchett is the type that doesn't actually make me laugh. I understand *why* it is funny but it is more annoying than laughable. I just don't have a British-humor sensibility.

Let me pay more attention to the nominees for the Thurber Prize Award, which doesn't get awarded until November. I really enjoyed the Janzen book, although not because it was "funny" per se. She is a skilled storyteller, and between her husband leaving her for Bob from and her tales of growing up Mennonite, it was an interesting and personal read. It actually made me wonder if I grew up Mennonite without my knowledge, particularly in one moment where her Mom sings this song in the car that my mother always sang in the car. (You can see the lyrics here, it alone is worth a laugh!)

While I liked the Janzen the most, I would probably consider Hely's book, How I Became a Famous Novelist, the "funniest." It is about a writer, Pete Tarslaw, who decides to write a novel and become famous to get back at his college girlfriend. It is also somewhat of a commentary on the publishing industry and the world of readers and how there is no accounting for popularity! Strangely, the plot sounds strangely similar to another book I have on my to-read list, Thieves of Manhattan. They will be interesting to compare.

You may notice I'm not really talking about the Dunn book that was nominated. I had to force myself to finish it, despite its brevity. I didn't find it funny or clever or interesting. Not everyone should write a memoir! I think her biggest failing was to write about her crazy family and not separate herself from them. It would have been much more entertaining if there had been a contrast, but no! Instead she talks extensively about how she is just like them, which to me shows she lacks the perspective to tell the story from a humorous perspective. Since she worked at Rolling Stone and MTV but didn't seem to fit into that world, I think that would have been more interesting. Maybe for her second work.

What writing do you find funny?

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