You look like you could use a laugh. Luckily, these books will help you do just that
According to author Moni Mohsin
You’ve seen old people doing it in your local park. In groups, under the open sky. Giggling and guffawing for no reason. Little did I know, I too would join the clan of determined laughers standing in one such circle. In a world overrun by a global pandemic, I tried to laugh from the depths of my belly for a full 15 minutes.
Fake it ’til you make it, according to laughter yoga instructor Rani Gandham. “The mind does not know that we’re faking it. It thinks we’re happy and joyful.” Author and humourist Moni Mohsin aka The Social Butterfly shares Gandham’s beliefs. “Humour helps us diffuse our anger by tricking us into lowering our defences and just being happy in each other’s company.” (Looking for ways to be happy? Let us give you 20 of them.)
Based in London, the British-Pakistani writer is famous for her biting wit. She writes the long-running satirical column, The Diary of a Social Butterfly, which has also been converted into a book series. Written from the perspective of Butterfly, who is “a most loveable yet silly socialite”, the series is rife with sharp observations on the state of world affairs. Be it racism, Brexit, feminism, Indo-Pak relations, or the confounding ways of British royalty in the times of Meghan Markle, Butterfly may be thought of as ignorant by many — though it is but a mask, you’ll realise, as you dive into the depths of Mohsin’s mind.
While writing the latest edition in the series, Between You, Me, and the Four Walls, Mohsin tells me what lifted her spirits was learning to poke fun at herself through the lens of Butterfly. “Wit is often at the expense of other people while humour is at your own, so learn how to make fun of yourself.”
Take a page from Mohsin’s book and learn to make light of your life too. If you need help, here are nine humourous books Mohsin swears by when she needs to find a silver lining in the clouds of chaos.
Escape into the pages of these humorous books Moni Mohsin swears by
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford is more famous for The Pursuit of Love but Mohsin’s all-time favourite is Love in a Cold Climate — and you’ll soon know why.
An eccentric family filled with oddball characters and a cynical narrator who talks of her family in strictly snarky terms, but is still fond of them. It’s how most of us feel about our own families. Based in English high society of the 1930s, the book is a wickedly funny satire on the rich aristocrats who never had to work for a living and so look down their noses at everyone who does. But even in the monstrosity and the arrogance of their characters, you will find their nature endearing and begin to fall in love with them as Mohsin did. “The art of Nancy’s writing in this book is turning these cruel characters into fallible human beings who are captivatingly enjoyable.”
Think of this book as an easily-gulped-down version of the literary masterpiece Pride and Prejudice, perfect for weekends spent lazing around on your sofa.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Calling Dear Committee Members “hysterically funny”, Mohsin proclaims everyone and their mothers should be reading this book.
Written as a sequence of letters of recommendation, Julie Schumacher’s book gives us insight into the world of academia through the eyes of a grumpy, middle-aged English professor whose career is in the doldrums as he careens towards a mid-life crisis.
For anyone who is abreast of the bureaucratic — and completely nonsensical, might I add — whims of modern academia and enjoys watching satires (think Sandra Oh’s comedy-drama The Chair on Netflix), this one is for you.
A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor
Talking about A View of the Harbour, Mohsin says this book by Elizabeth Taylor is not dramatic. Rather, “the humour in this book lies in the loneliness, the quiet desperation, the pain of not being understood, the lack of choices. And that is what makes it so funny.”
The book starts in a picturesque beach village in the years following World War II, where a retired naval officer named Bertram has been commissioned to paint its vistas. The inhabitants of this town frequently say things laden with a delicate wit that could take a few seconds to register but when it does, you feel like you’ve reached the pinnacle of intellect, obtaining access into a club of readers who have fully grasped what the author meant.
Without any exaggeration, the book will take you through emotional moments and life-changing epiphanies — even death. However exaggerated or farcical, you’ll still find yourself nodding along. Who hasn’t experienced these things in their own life and maybe even cracked a smile through the tears?
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
If you’re a fan of the works of Nora Ephron, Katherine Heiny’s Standard Deviation will be right up your alley. Mohsin loves Heiny as she writes about “finding love and yourself in the mess that is this world, with a big dollop of humour.”
I caught myself laughing out loud in the metro as I whipped through the pages, filled with a current of dry humour and wry observations about everyday family life. The characters in this book are flawed yet lovable, tragically hilarious and written with such precision, they will linger in your mind long after you’ve left them.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
For those of you reminiscing about the Queen and her corgis, Mohsin recommends The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.
Do you remember how you devoured all the books in your school library when you first started reading? Well, such is the fate of our newly-minted reader, Her Majesty, the Queen, who has recently discovered a mobile library that visits Buckingham Palace regularly.
A small book worth its weight in gold, The Uncommon Reader is an uncommon homage to the version of the Queen that it imagines.
Patras Kay Mazameen by Patras Bukhari
Patras Bukhari is a well-known Urdu writer and humourist, and — no surprise — also one of Mohsin’s beloveds. She recommends his short stories Kutte; Urdu ki Aakhri Kitaab; Maibal aur Main to everyone looking for light reads cut with dry humour.
Patras Ke Mazameen is a collection of his most famous essays with characters ranging from a dull student to a docile husband. The stories will remind you of the ones you read in the Hindi literature classes at school.
Don’t miss out on this if you’re on the lookout for books in Urdu.
Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Yusufi
Another favourite of Mohsin’s is Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Yusufi. Most of us have read tragic stories about the horrors of Partition, but few would know of this gem by Yusufi that perfectly balances hilarity and heartbreak as it tells the story of a family who was displaced in the conflict.
Capturing the irony and the tragedy of life in a mere four hundred pages is a task, but Yousufi manages. Mirages of the Mind paints an honest picture of life among Urdu speakers in South Asia, from a delightful existence in colonial north India to the grief and yearning of post-colonial life in Pakistan.
Meet Mr Mulliner by PG Wodehouse
For those who wish to escape into another world, Mohsin says nobody paints a world better than P.G. Wodehouse. “The amazing thing about his writing is that it creates a whole new world. And once you read his books, you become of that world.”
In the Wodehouse universe, Jeeves and Wooster may reign supreme but Mulliner is not far behind. One of his shorter series’, Meet Mr Mulliner is a collection of short stories about the different Mr Mulliners in the Mulliner family that will have you in stitches in no time. And as writer Stephen Fry has famously said of Wodehouse, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.”
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler may not be known for humour, says Mohsin, but Digging to America is filled with it, though slyly. “It is a humorous yet tender exploration of how immigrants negotiate their home country while keeping something of themselves, but also assimilating at the same time,” explains Mohsin.
The book tells the story of two families in America, one with Iranian roots and the other Anglo-Saxon, as they await the arrival of infant adopted daughters from Korea. Nothing out-of-the-world happens through the course of the book, but isn’t that how most of our lives are? Our defining moments sometimes happen in the most ordinary ways.
Everything may not be alright in these characters’ worlds’ but if it can be alright for even second in these books, why not in our own lives too? At least a good laugh will help you feel better, if the laughter yogis are to be believed.