A friend of mine recently asked for book recommendations for her partner. Her partner greatly enjoys Kurt Vonnegut, but she’d love for him to try reading more books by women. She wondered…are there female authors who strike the same chord? Scratch the same itch? Hit the same nerve? Etcetcetc. When I asked further questions, she mentioned that she thought that what he loved most about Vonnegut was the humor.
This question kind of stumped me. As I wracked my brain to figure out who I could recommend to my dear friend that was both a woman and also a read-a-like for Vonnegut, I shorted out a bit. I haven’t yet read a lot of Vonnegut, so I’m working with a handicap. I decided to pull my resources and consult my boss, who is well-read, loves Vonnegut, and has an incredible sense of humor.
Here are both her and my suggestions for my friend’s partner:
Dorothy Parker: Parker’s writing is sharp, witty, and incredibly hilarious in the same cynical way as Vonnegut. Satire is absolutely her realm. She got her start as a theater critic and was one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table (along with Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood). Her writing stretches across so many different styles, including poetry, short stories, and screenplays to name a few. Fun Fact, she co-wrote the script for the ORIGINAL ORIGINAL A Star Is Born starring Judy Garland. I recommend perhaps starting with her Complete Short Stories. And if you want a taste of her wit, check out this delightful list of one-liners.
Nora Ephron: Ephron, like Parker, is known as a prolific writer with a lot in her toolbox. She’s a journalist, screenwriter, essayist, playwright, and novelist, among other things. Most, but not all, of her writing has a strong vein of humor running through it. She writes from a frank perspective with a sharp wit, and while she’s not quiet Vonnegut-esque, she is absolutely a big name talent in humor writing! I would tell my friend’s partner to start with Wallflower at the Orgy, a collection of Ephron’s magazine writings published in 1970 that take a witty and cynical look at American culture. Ephron lived an incredible life which includes being one of the only people to know the true identity of Deep Throat before it was revealed decades after the Watergate scandal. Her perspective and talent oozes from everything she writes. She is worth your time and attention!
Becky Chambers: Now we’re veering off a bit. I recently read the first installment of Chambers’ Wayfarers series and really enjoyed it!It was SUPER funny, smart, tender, and absolutely killed it as both a science fiction book and a story about found family. And if you like Firefly, Titan A.E., or Star Trek, you will probably enjoy these books. If my friend’s partner is into science fiction, I highly recommend starting there!
Sarah Vowell: Vowell is more of a read-a-like for John Hodgman if you enjoyed Hodgman’s recent Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches (which I did, IMMENSELY). She writes deep-dive quirky non-fiction in a really unique style that can, I admit, be hard to get used to at first. It stops just short of stream of consciousness, but man is it witty and fun! If I had to giver her humor style an official designation, I’d say it is in the vicinity of wise-crackin’. I read her Unfamiliar Fishes, which is about the history of Hawai’i and how the US basically stole it, but for for my friend’s partner I think I would recommend he try Assassination Vacation, wherein Vowell takes a roadtrip across the US to visit places where significant political assassination occurred throughout history. Fascinating!
Jenny Lawson: Lawson became a big name in humor when her hit memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir hit the scene in 2012. This book, which covers her childhood among other things, approaches the shit of life with humor and a big ol’ “Welp”. More appropriate for David Sedaris fans, I do think my friend’s partner will enjoy this first memoir from Lawson because it’s just so damn funny!
Samantha Irby: (Unfortunately the only woman of color I’ve included on this list…please send me your WOC Vonnegut read-a-likes!!) Irby is a comedian and blogger known for her humorous blog bitches gotta eat and her wry, sarcastic style. Her gut-splitting essay collection We Are Never Meeting In Real Life was released in 2017 to rave reviews. This is a great pick for my friend’s partner!
Shirley Jackson: UUUHHHH WHHAAATTT?? Did your eyes just explode out of your head? This was no mistake, my friends. Yes, Jackson is known best for her haunting gothic tales, and yes I am contractually obligated to write about her as often as humanly possible. But she also wrote about her family and what it was like to be a mother and the weirdness of life in a small community. Often these personal topics were treated with sarcastic wit. You can draw a direct line between this writing and her horror writing, but you will probably laugh more with her memoirs. I recommend my friend’s partner start with Life Among the Savages.
As you can see, many of these women write a lot in the “nonfiction” and “essay” genres. I find it interesting that some of the funniest writing I’ve ever read by women is, in some way, a truthful account of a situation or thought or experience or event. I think there is something to this–something that comments on the differences between how men and women interpret and experience the world. This was part of why my brain melted a bit when I first tried to contemplate this question.
My boss and I are still trying to think of additional authors who fit this bill (you thought I was out of them, ha!), so if you have any additional suggestions we would GREATLY appreciate you offering them up in the comments! It’s a difficult question because Vonnegut is so singular, and women are still fighting that ridiculous stigma put on them that they “aren’t funny”. That is incredibly false, of course, but it is still prevalent and blocks very funny women from getting their due. Let’s do our part to break it down!