The world sometimes seems dark. Humor, mined from the absurd, can help us see another side of the pain. That sensibility animates the author Paul Auster’s memoir Hand to Mouth, which follows his early failures as a writer. It also powered work by Auster’s inspiration Samuel Beckett, who wrote the hilarious Watt while on the run from the Gestapo. The memoirist Sean Wilsey even remarked in a column for The Atlantic that good writers must find the funny side of the most painful situations after distance and reflection.
Many of the strongest humor writers tackle tough topics by balancing uncomfortable emotions with laughter. Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the showrunner for the ingenious and darkly comedic TV series BoJack Horseman, finds heart in even the silliest conceits in his short-story collection, Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory. Some Trick, a story collection by the writer Helen DeWitt, spins bizarre premises to fully realized, almost anguished conclusions. By fully inhabiting the minds of the protagonists of her book, Such a Fun Age, the novelist Kiley Reid shows deep empathy while also exposing ridiculousness. The result is a funny and insightful look at the complicated dynamics of race and class.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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