A good book is one that makes me laugh so hard, I embarrass myself on public transportation. I was sitting on an airplane when I read Laurie Notaro’s It Looked Better on the Model and was laughing so uncontrollably, I scared the poor young man sitting next to me.
“Are you okay” he asked, looking worried.
“It’s… just…so… funny!” I said, trying to stop myself from crying and convulsing.
I put the book down, wiped my face with a tissue and took a few deep breaths, trying to pull myself together. When I thought I had calmed down enough, I picked up the book and continued to read, determined to behave like a responsible adult. However, within ten seconds, I was doubled over in my seat again and laughing so hard, I risked having a hernia at 30,000 feet.
Word of advice: do not read anything by Bill Bryson or Dave Barry on an airplane, bus, or train unless you want to explain “happy tears” to strangers.
I also love sad books that make me cry. Travelers going through the San Antonio airport in May witnessed my complete undoing when I sat on a hard plastic seat and sobbed reading The Book Thief while waiting for my flight. Yes, it was a beautiful, earth-shattering book that will retain a special place in my heart and memory. No, I will not see the movie. My little Kleenex travel pack was barely sufficient to staunch the flow from every part of my face that could flow. I think the travelers in San Antonio suffered enough for everyone.
A GREAT book is one that can make me laugh and cry at the same time. Even the saddest story instantly becomes more poignant and memorable to me when the author inserts twists of humor into the plot, description or dialogue.
Author John Green is a master at this. Few things are less funny than a story about star-crossed kids with cancer who fall in love. I bawled my eyes out reading The Fault in Our Stars. But I also laughed heartily and read over and over particular passages that highlighted Green’s mastery at pointing out the goofy irony of living, even for a teenager who’s dying. In fact, I couldn’t even get past the first 2 pages without bursting into laughter, picturing the kids in the Support Group sitting in the literal Heart of Jesus (located in a church basement) led by ball-less cancer survivor, Patrick, who was “eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past…”
In literature, there’s a time for funny and a place for sad, but writers should always look for creative ways to combine them. Life is full of surprises. That’s why we love to read stories that aren’t what we expect. We love tough guys with soft hearts, nerds who kick a bully’s butt, bulldogs who ride skateboards, and crime-fighting grannies with superpowers. Readers love to laugh. And sometimes writers gift us with the ability to see a sad, hopeless situation in a very funny way. Those are the stories that live in our hearts forever.
Just make sure you have more than one Kleenex travel pack when you read them.