Between studying for school, making money and attempting to squeeze in a social life, most college students have trouble finding the time to read for fun. Worrying about grades, papers, bills, obligations and responsibilities renders reading a luxury instead of a part of daily life, and luxuriating in a good piece of literature is something few people make time to do.
But, Artsweek has always been a big believer in that whole “reading is fun-damental” thing, and, in our not-so-humble opinion, few things can help someone shake off the stress of a day like cracking open a killer book – especially a comedic one. And, among the comedies, satires are by far the best way to get a laugh and learn a little something at the same time. It’s almost enough to make you feel like you’re relaxing reading time is a productive pastime, too.
When it comes to satiric novels, there are really only two names that reign supreme – the late Kurt Vonnegut and David Sedaris. Despite their very distinct voices, the two authors share a similar proclivity toward parody and a shared understanding of the way in which the nuances of daily life can be mined for conscientious, comedic gold.
Kurt Vonnegut may be a god among literati, but his true talent lies in his ability to be provocative while being populous, couching creatively complex observations about the contemporary world in ways that are as accessible as they are comical. He even complained in his most recent book about being alive in a world where the three most powerful people in the world are named Dick, Bush and Colon. He also presents issues on the concept of the end of the world in his novel, Cat’s Cradle. The story follows the family of an inventor and his eventual discovery of ice-nine, which provides plenty of opportunities for Vonnegut’s unique brand of silly but serious social satire.
Vonnegut begins Cat’s Cradle by describing the time frame in a decidedly nonsensical manner that sets the tone for the entire tome. He describes it by how many cigarettes were smoked, how many beers had been consumed, and how many presidents there have been to date. It is clear Vonnegut does not write conventionally, but he is consistently clever and always creative. And he is an easy read and always provides a fun book to pick up. His most recent book, A Man Without a Country is clever and funny and literally takes only an hour or two read. He claims that he is going to sue cigarette companies for failing to do the one thing that they promised to do – kill him.
However, if you are looking for something more focused on the foibles of daily life, then look no farther than the David Sedaris section of your local bookstore. Sedaris is a talented and hilarious writer who focuses on his own life, mining it for the kind of awe-inspiringly funny anecdotes all the great comedians are capable of capturing. Sedaris’ collection of short stories, Me Talk Pretty One Day, is one of my personal favorites and highlights experiences from his childhood in North Carolina and his adult life in Paris. Sedaris talks about his life as a child and his inability to pronounce the letter “s” in words. He laughs at his lisp and how, instead of trying to improve his speech, he used synonyms of words containing the letter “s” to circumvent his lisp. Of course, this is just one of Sedaris’ satirical masterpieces, and, in the end, it doesn’t matter which of his books you buy, since all of them are guaranteed to be funny.
Vonnegut and Sedaris are both masters at making the kind of books that are worth buying from the local bookstore – even at Borders’ prices. With solid satire at their core, these authors are almost capable of providing more amusement than an evening pursuing the other forms of entertainment Isla Vista has to offer. And the only walk of shame they’ll lead to is one from your couch to your bed when you realize you’ve spent the entire evening holed up with Kurt or David.