Humor in Fiction – What is funny

I have been working my way reading through the twenty books which will be part of the Book Reviews topic in the December 2013/ January 2014 issue of School Librarian’s Workshop, and they have me thinking about what makes a book funny.  I chose Humor as the connecting topic for the reviews because it’s the holiday season and want to keep the mood light and joyful.  But it seems the authors I am reading have another view on what is funny.

While I enjoyed all the books I’m including, I’ve found that humor for older readers is strangely depressing. It seems nearly all humorous YA books are of the schadenfreude variety.  That is, the reader laughs or grins due to the misfortune in the main character’s life.  For example, in one of the books, the heroine has OCD and feels totally unlovable.  The humor comes from her extreme OCD behaviors and being the butt of some classmate cruelty.   Funny, but only in the relief the reader feels that he or she is not the one undergoing this humiliation.

An exception is What Boys Really Want by Peter Hautman which was truly laugh out loud funny as the two main characters deal with what each finds confusing about the other gender (and there’s a great message on plagiarism). It is a timeless challenge and the author handles the humor well. I wish there were more books like this.reading and laughing

There was an unexpected change when I began reading the books for Upper Middle Readers after finishing the ones for Older Readers. While many of the books are similar to the ones for higher grads with their, “I’m glad that’s not me” humor, most of them are also fantasy.  I am less surprised by the former than the latter.  It’s true that a high percentage of books being published are in this popular genre, but I wasn’t anticipating so many to be humorous.  In the Lower Middle Readers I also found humor mixed with fantasy, but for the most part, funnier (i.e.  Captain Underpants) than their “older” counterparts, truly showing the absurd and laughable in a joyful way.

I am wondering however, do students really prefer schadenfreude humor or do they really want to laugh?  Maybe, humor is harder to write than I realize.

What is your take on humorous books and which ones do you think are funny?

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