Seriously Funny: Steve Cole on funny books
Published on: 31 March 2016 Author: Steve Cole
'BookTrust would like you to write a blog about funny boos', came the typo from my overworked publicist.
I wondered what would constitute an especially funny 'Boo!' - Pope Francis creeping up behind the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, perhaps, or someone dressed up as an 18th-century French peasant surprising random shoppers in Manchester Arndale.
But a typo is all it was, and of course, funny books are a far more serious subject.
Philosopher and writer Alain de Botton once described the agony of authorship thus:
'Writing a book is like telling a joke and having to wait two years to know whether or not it was funny.'
Fine. But now imagine writing a humorous book with loads of jokes in and having to wait ages to know if it's funny - talk about cranking up the tension! By this model's logic, the ultimate authorial ordeal is surely to write an actual JOKE BOOK with nothing BUT jokes in it and having to wait two years to know whether or not ANY of them were funny. Proving that humorous books are more agonizing to create than serious ones BY MILES (Nice one, Alain!').
The importance of funny books
It puzzles me, therefore, that so often it's serious books that attract literary criticism, while funny books are considered lowbrow and disposable. Rarely on school exam syllabuses will you find questio
ns concerning the author's use of toilet humour or elaborately contrived puns.
And yet the importance of funny books is undeniable. The comedic page-turner is a genre I love to operate in (and my first Astrosaurs book was published 11 years ago now), simply because I know how much funny books can mean to children. First of all, they provide the notion of a book as pure entertainment: for kids turned off by the literary weight of serious books, these books promise FUN.
'Don't study me,' they say. 'Laugh with me!' And when I perform at schools and festivals and meet parents who thank me for helping their child into reading, I honestly couldn't love my job more. (The most moving fan letter I ever received is still online, so I can peep at it on bad days.)
Funny books matter because a sense of humour is something we're born without, and must learn. We arrive on the planet mewling, baffled and screaming our rage. As we grow older we learn that humour is one of the ways we ward off the crushing, groaning seriousness of life - a vital survival tactic that funny books can hone and cultivate.
Ah, if only we were born roaring with laughter and took that emotional template through life with us! Whoever's in charge seriously messed up somewhere. I can only hope that right now, that selfsame Whoever is wryly relating their cock-up to some celestial colleague, who responds: 'Hey, you should put that in a book. LOL!'