The first funny book I remember reading was James Thurber’s “My Life and Hard Times.” I read it over and over, and it never failed to make me laugh. (“The Night the Bed Fell.” “The Day the Dam Broke.” “The Night the Ghost Got In.” All hilarious.)
This has been a dire summer. The news is crushingly bad. We need to laugh.
Here, to the rescue, are recommendations from some of the critics who review for these pages. Prepare for belly laughs.
Muriel Spark’s “Loitering With Intent,” published in 1981 but set in 1949, is a sinister comedy in the mode of her 1959 “Memento Mori.” It’s drolly narrated by Fleur Talbot, a cash-strapped literary secretary and aspiring novelist whose plot points start coming to life. Like all of Spark’s best novels, it’s an ingeniously constructed book, unsentimental but not cold, hilarious but never frivolous. -- DYLAN HICKS
“The Dog of the South” by Charles Portis. Portis is best known for “True Grit,” but he also produced five other novels. “The Dog of the South” will propel you from melancholy to jubilation in exactly one page flat. Ray Midge’s wife, Norma, has run off with a sorry character called Guy Dupree, taking Ray’s beloved Ford Torino and leaving him Guy’s 1963 Buick Special “standing astride a red puddle of transmission fluid.” What follows is a road saga of exquisite deadpan humor and almost surreal bathos. --KATHERINE A. POWERS
“A Man Called Ove,” by Fredrik Backman, had me laughing out loud. Ove is a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, and the humor as he grumbles and judges his way through old age is dry but dead on. --MARDI JO LINK
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple. When the world seems insane, and depressingly so, it’s good to laugh and better yet to get away. “Family trip to Antarctica!” Fifteen-year-old Bee’s parents promise her anything if she aces her report card, and that’s what she wants. But first she takes us on a nightmarishly hilarious journey through the story of her disappearing mother, neighborhood intrigues, school politics and high-tech romance via e-mail, FBI reports, memos and letters. -- ELLEN AKINS
Jimmy Breslin’s “Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game?” is a wry look at the unsuccessful 1962 New York Mets, and it’s surely one of the funniest sports books ever written. “They lost an awful lot of games by one run, which is the mark of a bad team,” Breslin wrote. “They also lost innumerable games by 14 runs or so. This is the mark of a terrible team.” His most likable character is “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, the mistake-prone first baseman, who once hit what appeared to be a triple, only to be tagged out after missing not one but two bases on his way to third. Said Throneberry, “Things just sort of keep on happening to me.” -- KEVIN CANFIELD
In “My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store,” Ben Ryder Howe gives us a behind-the-scenes peek at the subculture that props up most New Yorkers, his time working at the Paris Review under George Plimpton, and what it’s like for a Caucasian guy to marry into a Korean family. Hilarious and heartwarming with lots of laugh-out-loud moments. -- MEGANNE FABREGA
A good antidote to the vitriol swirling around social media these days is the reliably funny prose of Lorna Landvik. There is no venom in her writing, just big-hearted observations by hilarious characters making their way in a world that is sometimes tragic but always hopeful. Landvik’s 1997 novel, “Patty Jane’s House of Curl,” about a hairstylist and her escapades around Minneapolis — particularly West River Road, Seward and the Chain of Lakes — is a great place to start. --CHRISTINE BRUNKHORST
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. email@example.com