Blog, FBC Readathons

12 Books That Are Pure Joy—Because We Could All Use Some


12 Books That Are Pure Joy - Black woman with headphones on reading in bed and smiling, surrounded by colorful, vibrant, decorative circles

As I write this, the #FBCReadathon is coming in hot (April 22-24!) and I’m starting to think of ways in which I might get rid of my family for the long weekend. As a work-at-home mom whose husband and child are always up her butt, it’s tough to find quiet reading time.

This is a constant source of frustration for me.

In the past (pre-FBC), I avoided readathons. They only highlighted for me how impossible it was to lose myself in a book, let alone lose myself in multiple books for three days straight. I’ve since come to look at readathons differently: not as a directive to drop everything and read (which can oftentimes feel impossible), but as encouragement to make space for something I love. For something that brings me joy. To whatever extent I can.

Speaking of joy, a readathon seems like the perfect time to load up on books that spark it. As a sex writer, I often read titles on sexual violence and/or the GOP’s insistence on controlling every body. I have a side-niche in caregiving, so I also read a lot about grief and end-of-life care. But at a time when I find myself drowning in every terrible emotion, I also find myself unable to read many of these books. I need light. I need fluffy. I need joy.

I know that joy means something different for everyone, and that there are many different forms of it. For example, there is the joy that manifests as warm fuzzies, that sense of warmth and goodness that’s as comforting as a bowl of hot soup on a gloomy day. I love warm fuzzies.

But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to share a list of book recommendations that spark a different sort of joy. For your reading delight, here are 12 books that bring all the LOLs.

1. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day - book cover - photograph of Felicia Day in a geeky, tech-inspired dress

I read You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) a billion years ago (six… it was six years ago), but I still think back on it fondly. It was the first celebrity memoir I didn’t DNF and, from the very first page, I knew that Day and I had to be BFFs. In her book, Day—who I got to know through her web series The Guild—opens up about social anxiety, impostor syndrome, and one terrible bout of depression. Despite it all, she is able to find a supportive community in online and gaming culture, one in which she is able to thrive. And okay, these topics don’t sound all puppies and rainbows and, well, joy. But Day is a super funny lady and a mega-dork and I was laughing through it all while also hardcore relating to her experiences.

2. The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy

The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy - book cover - black, cursive text against a highly stylized image of a bridge leading into Queens

I saw Clancy speak on a panel at a book festival once upon a time—she spoke about using humor to tackle difficult topics—and she made me laugh so hard, my stomach hurt and tears were running down my face. She was able to go from hilarious to heartbreaking in an instant. As with Day, I immediately wanted to be Clancy’s BFF (I swear I have real BFFs), but I read her memoir, The Clancys of Queens, instead because I’ll take what I can get. It’s about growing up as a woman in working-class Queens, and reading it was like seeing her up on that stage all over again.

3. You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson - book cover - headshot of Robinson against a pale blue background, surrounded by bold red and pink text

A collection of personal essays that tackle issues of race and identity, You Can’t Touch My Hair gives readers a glimpse of racism as she has experienced it, in much the same way Claudia Rankine’s Citizen does. Except that, where Citizen was lyrical, a breathtaking work of prose poetry, Robinson’s book is knock-you-on-your-ass hysterical. This makes sense, though. Robinson is a stand-up comic with a resume that includes Late Night With Seth Meyers, Broad City, Portlandia, and her WNYC podcast 2 Dope Queens.

4. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson - book cover - illustration of Squirrel Girl imagining all the big-time superheroes celebrating her awesomeness

Moving on from memoir, I bring you one of my other obsessions: comics. At this point, I’m going to recommend a whole-ass series. You may not be able to get through 12 trade paperbacks and a standalone graphic novel in a single readathon weekend (actually, no: I believe in you), but it’s definitely worth trying. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of the first comic series in which I fell madly in love. In reading it, I went through a clear progression of what the hell…directly into this is odd…and finally landed squarely in NOTHING HAS EVER BEEN MORE AWESOME THAN THIS. This despite the fact that superhero comics are not my main jam. The basics? Squirrel Girl is a Marvel superhero with the powers of both squirrel and girl. She can totally kick butt, but she’s more likely to disarm her opponents with openness, empathy, and common sense. There are so many reasons to love this series, but its sense of humor is at the top.

5. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh - book cover - illustration of Allie and a dog upon a bright yellow background

Okay. Here’s one that rings two of my bells: graphic memoir (imagine me saying this while doing jazz hands). And it also does that thing where it tackles tough topics with laugh-out-loud humor. Hyperbole and a Half is a humor memoir that grew out of Brosh’s webcomic/blog. It tackles hard-hitting issues like laziness, adulting, and depression. This is a description that does not do the book justice, but just know that I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time I was reading it, even as I painfully related to it. I have since read this book…many times. It never stops being The Best.

6. The Adventure Zone series by Carey Pietsch, Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, and Travis McElroy

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins - book cover - illustration of wizard, dwarf, and fighter clustered together with a D&D dice bouncing off their heads

This graphic novel series is based upon The Adventure Zone, a popular comedy podcast that follows a D&D campaign made up of a family of gaming noobs. Listening to the podcast is certainly a hoot but, I’ll be honest here: my bandwidth for long-form podcasts is severely limited. The Adventure Zone in graphic novel form, however, is perfect for me, and I can’t get over how the banter from the podcast translates so well to the page. I swear I’m not lying when I say that I found myself literally LOL-ing on every page. At this point, I have the first four books in the series. The fact that the fifth one isn’t available for another year is driving me absolutely bonkers.

7. Shrill by Lindy West

Shrill by Lindy West - book cover - headshot of Lindy West against a spare grey background

Near the very beginning of Shrill, West writes that she “treated my reproductive system like it was The Nothing from The Neverending Story.” The Neverending Story was my favorite book as a child, at least until I started reading all horror, all the time, so this joke hit exactly right and I was immediately hooked. As I continued on, I never stopped loving this hilarious book, which tackles issues of body image, rape culture, online harassment, and more.

8. Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern - book cover - illustration of three main protagonists clustered together with their weapons drawn, ready to kick butt, beneath the blood-spattered title

This graphic novel—about a debutante desperate for adventure, a narcissistic poet, and a bounty hunter who team up against a vampire cult—was random and ridiculous in the best possible way. I loved how McGovern poked fun at romantic tropes and gender stereotypes throughout Bloodlust & Bonnets, letting the story spin out with a dry sense of humor that had me snort-laughing on every page. If you don’t know this book, you may be familiar with her web comic, My Life as a Background Slytherin. As I write this, I feel personally affronted that this is McGovern’s only book.

9. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling - book cover - photograph of Mindy Kaling peeking out from behind an open, baby blue door, against a baby blue background, alongside uppercase white and gold text

Is it weird that I get most of my LOLs from celebrity (and celebrity-adjacent) memoirs? I picked this one up after marathon-watching several seasons The Mindy Project on Hulu. Though Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? came first, reading Why Not Me? felt just like watching Kaling on TV. Which was satisfying as hell. And involved many belly laughs. So if you like belly laughs…

10. The Finlay Donovan series by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano - book cover - illustration of upper body of woman with sunglasses hiding inside her turtleneck against a pink background

Allow me to give you a quick rundown of the premise of Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, the first book in this series: A single mom/struggling novelist becomes an accidental contract killer. There. That’s the schtick. Not convinced yet? Cosimano writes in her very first line, “It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by 8:30 a.m. on any given morning.” YES. SOLD. This comedic thriller was recently followed up by a sequel, Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead. Please, Elle…may I have some more?

11. The Aunties series by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto - book cover - illustration of the protagonist and her mom and three aunties against a bright yellow background, along with some palm trees and a chandelier

You likely already know about Dial A for Aunties, as it was a previous Feminist Book Club pick (and one of my faves, though it’s hard to play favorites). For those who joined up later, Sutanto’s comic thriller-romance makes it super clear almost immediately that you are about to have the most fun of your life. In the book, leading lady Meddelin Chan accidentally kills her blind date. Understandably horrified, she doesn’t know what to do, but her Chinese-Indonesian aunties immediately step up, all while prepping for the grandest wedding they’ve ever worked before. Can they pull it off? Will Meddelin reunite with the one who got away while also getting away with murder? The sequel, Four Aunties and a Wedding, just came out and is just as much fun.

12. Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Dear Girls by Ali Wong - book cover - photograph of Ali Wong in a magenta-sequined evening gown napping in an easy chair in front of a green curtain

I’ll end with yet another celebrity memoir, which I happen to be reading at this very moment. I feel confident including it on this list because every time I pick it up, I can’t help laughing. Loudly. And obnoxiously. (Side note: Despite what this list may lead you to believe, my husband doesn’t often find me cracking up over the books I read. More often, I’m weeping. We can psychoanalyze this another time.) Anyway. The framework of Dear Girls is that Wong is writing letters to her young daughters, passing on wisdom they’ll be able to draw from as they grow up. Through her letters, however, we all learn about her experiences as a woman in comedy, her wild, youthful days before she became a professional stand-up comedian, the attempts she’s made to reconnect to her youth, and more.

As you start pulling together your readathon stacks, I hope this list helps you inject them with a bit more joy. In the meantime, I’d love to know what else you’d recommend in this realm. Because I could do with some more belly laughs in my life.

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more literary work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, VQR, and other publications. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. She is the founder of GuerrillaSexEd.org. Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

Comments:

  1. These are all so good. DEAR GIRLS is fantastic on audio, too. I would argue that Lindy West’s most recent book SHIT, ACTUALLY is her funniest work yet but definitely only for a very specific audience (the geriatric millennial obsessed with mid-2000s comedy aka me).

  2. Paulina

    Felicia Day’s memoir via audiobook was so so good! She narrates it herself and it is hysterical 🤣 I’ll need to check out The Adventure Zone! That sounds right up alley right now 😁

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