Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Humorous Writing through the Ages, by Jess Lourey

I write a humorous mystery series based on the idea that a big city gal is trapped in a small town where a murder happens every month. Hahahaha! See? It’s funny. I’ve also just begun work on a young adult novel with a three-book arc. My desire to write it arose mainly out of the fact that I want a forever snapshot of this period in my kids’ lives (they’re 11 and 8), along with a mash-up of ideas percolated by reading The Magic Treehouse series, Inkheart, and three of the Percy Jackson books with my children.

Without giving too much away, my modern YA novel idea requiresimage me to read and research a lot of 1800s-era novels, starting with HG Wells’ The Time Machine and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. We’re all familiar with the plot of Wells’ novella, and I can unconditionally recommend it as a fun, short, and creepy summer read. A Tale of image Two Cities was a reread for me, but I loved it in high school and appreciate it even more now. And in reading these books, I found something amazing: the authors are funny. Dickens in particular is so dryly humorous that he actually makes me giggle while reading about the French Revolution. And in researching Wells and Dickens, I find that they were both progressive, intelligent, politically-active human beings who believed and worked hard for basic and universal human rights.

Maybe this is a newsflash to only me. (If so, thanks for keeping the eye rolling to a dull roar.) Anyhow, my first thought upon discovering this was, “I wonder how many other imageauthors in the canon were politically active and progressive, and what does this say about the mind and personality of a successful writer as a whole?” That was just a passing thought, though. Mostly, I’m happy that that there is an established history of nuanced, funny writing that not only entertains but can change the world.

What other bright and funny classic authors am I missing? I’m specifically looking for novels written in the 1800s by humanists, and I should warn you that I couldn’t get farther than the second paragraph of The Last of the Mohicans.

15 comments:

Jess Lourey said...

Well, Jess, I think you should read Treasure Island.

Jess Lourey said...

Great suggestion!

Jess Lourey said...

See what the lack of comments has forced me to do? Play with myself in public. Shame.

Beth Groundwater said...

I find Jane Austen to be absolutely hilarious, with her droll observations on the social manners of her day--and many of those observations still apply today!

Lois Winston said...

Jess, don't forget Mark Twain!

Jess Lourey said...

I remember loving Jane Austen in high school, Beth, but I don't remember her being funny, so thank you for the recommendation. My ability to pick up nuanced humor has hopefully improved in the last 20 years.

Doy, Lois, can't believe I didn't have Twain on my list. He's so obviously funny that I didn't even consider him!! Thank you.

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, what about L. Frank Baum (who barely misses the 19th century), Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle (whose protagonist tries so hard to be serious that he is funny), Jules Verne, Anthony Hope, Oscar Wilde (for sure), Anthony Trollope, George Eliot?

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've got nothing. But it sounds like a great idea - good luck with it!

G.M. Malliet said...

This is the book / series you've been wanting to write for a long time, am I right, Jess? I know it's going to be great. Sorry, I don't have any recommendations, except to avoid Mathew Arnold where possible.

Alan Orloff said...

Didn't Dave Barry begin writing in the 1800's?

Sorry, that's all I've got.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

That's what I get for being late to the party - all my answers have been taken. Mark Twain was at the top of my list, and I totally agree with Beth's comment about Jane Austen's observations on her time and gender.

Hey, Jess - how did the family road trip go? Did you return with the same number of participants you left with?

Darrell James said...

Jess- I read a lot of Jules Verne and Poe. Not much funy about giant squids and bodies beneath the floor boards. (I was something of a serious little kid.) Later moved on to Stephen King and the like.

Keith Raffel said...

Try Around the World in 80 Days for a little Vernian humor. When we meet our hero, Phileas Fogg has fired his manservant for bringing him shaving water that was 84 degrees rather than the specified 86. Isn't that a little funny as well as an insight into his punctilious character?

Jess Lourey said...

You all are fantastic. Keith, thank you for the specific and spot-on suggestions--I will absolutely use them, and you've helped me out. Kathleen, I'll take the luck, and Gin, this is the idea I've been working on for a while, and I hope it's "it," if you know what I mean.

Alan, all you've ever got is a smile for everyone else, and that's a pretty nice gift to bring to the party.

Sue Ann, the road trip ended four days early. Turns out tossing two kids in a car and throwing in a boyfriend and simmering for two and a half weeks is not a recipe for Joy. But we all still love each other and will do better next time (less travel time, more space). Thank you for caring enough to remember that I went on a trip and for asking how it went!

Darrell, I was not a serious kid but read everything Stephen King wrote until 1988 and LOVED it. Accidentally passed and subsequently visited the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, on the most recent road trip and was thrilled because it's where SK got the idea for The Shining, one of my favorite novels of all time.

Keith, that's exactly the kind of funny I'm looking for. You're working your way toward an honorable mention in this one. A character named Rafe Keitthel?

Cricket McRae said...

Late to the party, but I had to add Swift for dry, activist humor and wonderful satire.
Hearth Cricket