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Funny Books about People Who Believe and the Things They Believe In
Humor derives its power from taking risks, from navigating the fine line between That’s what I think, too and Did he really say that? And nowhere is the line finer than when we joke about religious beliefs. (After all, one person’s ba-da-boom is another person’s blasphemy!) These funny books, both fiction and nonfiction, for adults and younger readers, are thoughtful, daring, and mostly respectful in their explorations of faith. You may agree, disagree, or be deeply offended, but if we’re going to argue about life-after-death issues, isn’t it better to do it after a cathartic burst of laughter?
The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still—American Style, by Dinty W. Moore
A lapsed Catholic intrigued by Buddhism’s growing Western popularity, Moore goes on retreats at Buddhist monasteries, attends sessions at zendos and meditation centers, and participates in all manner of Zen and Tibetan Buddhist events. His witty and candid take on these experiences, combined with his healthy sense of skepticism, is highly entertaining.
The Book of Dave, by Will Self
Self’s darkly funny satire of organized religion, especially fundamentalism, hinges on the rantings of a London cabbie named Dave, which he prints on metal pages and buries in his former backyard after his ex-wife cuts off visitations with his son. Unearthed centuries later, The Book of Dave has become the word of truth.
Breakfast with Buddha, by Roland MerulloWhen Otto Ringling’s New Agey sister, Cecilia, gives her half of the family farm to her guru, a maroon-robed Mongolian monk named Volya Rinpoche—and guilts her brother into driving him there—a grumbling Otto decides to give the rotund monk a taste of American fun en route. A low-key comedy and a moving story of spiritual awakening.
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Amal, an Australian-born Muslim Palestinian, loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even when it’s not popular to do so. Her first-person, present-tense narrative, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking, will connect with teens from all kinds of backgrounds.
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess
Riess means well but readily admits she’s a spiritual failure. She intends to devote an entire year to mastering 12 different spiritual challenges—but absolutely nothing turns out as planned. Although her spiritual quest falls far short, she still learns something in the process. Anyone who has failed to live up to their own expectations will find something to like about this sparkling and very funny memoir.
Hope: A Tragedy, by Shalom Auslander Auslander, author of an audaciously funny memoir (Foreskin’s Lament, 2007), has written a first novel of riotous and laceratingly irreverent satire. Solomon Kugel moves his family out of the city and into an old upstate farmhouse. All seems idyllic until Kugel discovers that a veritable Holocaust saint is living in his attic. As Kugel’s life takes a turn for the antic, this cunning, controversial novel poses profound questions about meaning, justice, truth, and responsibility.
Ladies and Gentleman, the Bible! Stories, by Jonathan Goldstein
The deeply religious might be offended by Goldstein’s often-raucous reimaginings of Old Testament tales, but the less devout may find themselves chuckling at the unholy hilarity of it all. Even God gets a dressing-down in a brave new biblical world that’s part parable, part vaudeville: “He was . . . tough, stubborn, and prone to yelling in your face for pretty much no reason.”
Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore
Jesus’ best pal, Biff, has been reincarnated by the Angel Raziel to write a true gospel—the real story, in which Jesus and Biff set out to find the three magi after the betrothal of Mary Magdalene (Maggie) to Jakan the jerk. Jesus (or Josh, as Biff calls him) and Biff head east. An equal-opportunity offender, this novel pokes fun at every major religious tradition that existed in the first century—in often sidesplitting fashion.
The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, by David Javerbaum
God, who sounds here a little bit like George Burns, has written best-sellers before, but this time he’s trying something new: a “telleth-all.” Writing in biblical form, God muses on many things, including biblical figures (Esau was “a by-the-scroll kind of guy”), biblical events (“The Ten Plagues were an exciting time”), and even contemporary celebrities ( “I have seen Nicole Kidman Botox her hair”). Javerbaum, God’s stenographer, displays both a dazzling knowledge of theology and solid comedy chops.
Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, by Eric Weiner
A bad bout of gas lands the agnostic author in the hospital, where a nurse asks, “Have you found your God yet?” He survives the health scare but, nagged by the question, embarks on an entertaining and spiritual journey in which he explores the practices and philosophies of Sufism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism, Wicca, and even a UFO-based religion. Smart and self-deprecating, Weiner manages to suspend disbelief in marvelously entertaining fashion.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen
After marrying an emotionally abusive atheist who leaves her for a man he met on Gay.com, Janzen finds herself back home with her parents, reliving her strict Mennonite childhood. In this lively, compelling memoir, Janzen chronicles the patience and strong sense of humor one needs to go home again; the result is both hilarious and touching.
The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West, by Imran AhmadAs a Pakistani Muslim in Britain, Imran has struggled to fit into a white Christian society since childhood. In a wry, self-deprecating narrative, he details sometimes hilarious misunderstandings and failures (he does not make medical school; he does not get the gorgeous girl) but also explores essential questions about religion and culture and what it means to fit in.
Sons of the 613, by Michael Rubens
In this raunchy, riotous first-person novel, Isaac’s bar mitzvah is fast approaching—and he’s freaked out. His hot-tempered big brother, Josh, decides to help Isaac really become a man with tests of strength, will, and courage that fill the intervening weeks with chaos. Although there’s something to offend almost everyone here, there’s plenty to think about—and laugh about—as well.
There Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff
Have you ever wondered why an omnipotent deity would let evil occur in the world? Well, in Rosoff’s novel, God is a teenage boy—which explains a lot. Wildly inventive and laugh-out-loud funny, the story is told from the points of view of various characters, just one of whom is God (actually a petulant, powerful pissant named Bob). In many ways, the book’s parts add up to more than its sum, but this novel, both arch and thoughtful, silly and smart, is unique in all creation.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A. J. Jacobs
Jacobs tries for a year to observe the Bible’s 700-odd rules for righteous behavior, from letting his beard grow to not shaking hands. Informally counseled throughout by a clatch of Jewish and Christian advisors, he also queries members of such strict sects as the Amish, Samaritans, and snake-handling Pentecostals. As the year progresses, he develops a serious conscience about such quotidian failings as self-centeredness, lying, swearing, and disparaging others.
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