Funny Books about Religion (Now with 50% More Hilarity!)


Funny Books about Religion

With the November 15 issue of Booklist, our Spotlight on Religion, in the mail, we thought it was the perfect time to revisit Booklist Executive Editor Keir Graff’s 2012 list, “When Religion IS a Laughing Matter: Funny Books about People Who Believe and the Things They Believe In.” We’ve added 8 titles to the original 15—that’s more than a 50% increase in hilarity!

Humor derives its power from taking risks, from navigating the fine line between That’s what I think, too and Did he really say that? And nowhere is the line finer than when we joke about religious beliefs. (After all, one person’s ba-da-boom is another person’s blasphemy!) These funny books, both fiction and nonfiction, for adults and younger readers, are thoughtful, daring, and mostly respectful in their explorations of faith. You may agree, disagree, or be deeply offended, but if we’re going to argue about life-after-death issues, isn’t it better to do it after a cathartic burst of laughter?

The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty W. MooreThe Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still—American Style, by Dinty W. Moore

A lapsed Catholic intrigued by Buddhism’s growing Western popularity, Moore goes on retreats at Buddhist monasteries, attends sessions at zendos and meditation centers, and participates in all manner of Zen and Tibetan Buddhist events. His witty and candid take on these experiences, combined with his healthy sense of skepticism, is highly entertaining.


The Book of Dave by Will SelfThe Book of Dave, by Will Self

Self’s darkly funny satire of organized religion, especially fundamentalism, hinges on the rantings of a London cabbie named Dave, which he prints on metal pages and buries in his former backyard after his ex-wife cuts off visitations with his son. Unearthed centuries later, The Book of Dave has become the word of truth.


Breakfast with Buddha by Roland MerulloBreakfast with Buddha, by Roland Merullo

When Otto Ringling’s New Agey sister, Cecilia, gives her half of the family farm to her guru, a maroon-robed Mongolian monk named Volya Rinpoche—and guilts her brother into driving him there—a grumbling Otto decides to give the rotund monk a taste of American fun en route. A low-key comedy and a moving story of spiritual awakening.


Does My Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-FattahDoes My Head Look Big in This? by Randa AbdelFattah

Sixteen-year-old Amal, an Australian-born Muslim Palestinian, loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even when it’s not popular to do so. Her first-person, present-tense narrative, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking, will connect with teens from all kinds of backgrounds.


Flunking Sainthood by Jana RiessFlunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess

Riess means well but readily admits she’s a spiritual failure. She intends to devote an entire year to mastering 12 different spiritual challenges—but absolutely nothing turns out as planned. Although her spiritual quest falls far short, she still learns something in the process. Anyone who has failed to live up to their own expectations will find something to like about this sparkling and very funny memoir.


Good Book by David PlotzGood Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible, by David Plotz

As he explores some of the bizarre, hilarious, and downright disturbing passages in the Good Book (i.e., the Hebrew Bible), Plotz compares Ezekiel to the bad parts of Portrait of a Lady, Madame Bovary, and Married with Children, all rolled up into a ball of rage. Deeply religious people might be offended by such observations, but for others there’s a laugh on every page.


Hope A Tragedy by Shalom AuslanderHope: A Tragedy, by Shalom Auslander

Auslander, author of an audaciously funny memoir (Foreskin’s Lament, 2007), has written a first novel of riotous and laceratingly irreverent satire. Solomon Kugel moves his family out of the city and into an old upstate farmhouse. All seems idyllic until Kugel discovers that a veritable Holocaust saint is living in his attic. As Kugel’s life takes a turn for the antic, this cunning, controversial novel poses profound questions about meaning, justice, truth, and responsibility.


Ladies and Gentleman the Bible by Jonathan GoldsteinLadies and Gentlemen, the Bible! by Jonathan Goldstein

The deeply religious might be offended by Goldstein’s often-raucous reimaginings of Old Testament tales, but the less devout may find themselves chuckling at the unholy hilarity of it all. Even God gets a dressing-down in a brave new biblical world that’s part parable, part vaudeville: “He was . . . tough, stubborn, and prone to yelling in your face for pretty much no reason.”


Lamb The Gospel according to Biff Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher MooreLamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

Jesus’ best pal, Biff, has been reincarnated by the Angel Raziel to write a true gospel—the real story, in which Jesus and Biff set out to find the three magi after the betrothal of Mary Magdalene (Maggie) to Jakan the jerk. Jesus (or Josh, as Biff calls him) and Biff head east. An equal-opportunity offender, this novel pokes fun at every major religious tradition that existed in the first century—in often sidesplitting fashion.


The Last Testament by David JaverbaumThe Last Testament: A Memoir by God, by David Javerbaum

God, who sounds here a little bit like George Burns, has written best-sellers before, but this time he’s trying something new: a “telleth-all.” Writing in biblical form, God muses on many things, including biblical figures (Esau was “a by-the-scroll kind of guy”), biblical events (“The Ten Plagues were an exciting time”), and even contemporary celebrities ( “I have seen Nicole Kidman Botox her hair”). Javerbaum, God’s stenographer, displays both a dazzling knowledge of theology and solid comedy chops.


Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, by Eric Weiner

A bad bout of gas lands the agnostic author in the hospital, where a nurse asks, “Have you found your God yet?” He survives the health scare but, nagged by the question, embarks on an entertaining and spiritual journey in which he explores the practices and philosophies of Sufism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism, Wicca, and even a UFO-based religion. Smart and self-deprecating, Weiner manages to suspend disbelief in marvelously entertaining fashion.


Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda JanzenMennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen

After marrying an emotionally abusive atheist who leaves her for a man he met on, Janzen finds herself back home with her parents, reliving her strict Mennonite childhood. In this lively, compelling memoir, Janzen chronicles the patience and strong sense of humor one needs to go home again; the result is both hilarious and touching.


My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus by Kelly BarthMy Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus, by Kelly Barth

Barth’s tale of growing up gay in the buckle of Missouri’s Bible Belt is one of the funniest and most endearing accounts of spiritual growth in the genre, judges our reviewer. Bemoaning her predictably Presbyterian parents, Barth ventures from church to church, accepting some tenets of Christian faith as literal while struggling with the notion that fully accepting herself as gay would be heresy. The merciful Jesus of Barth’s imagination provides support in a memoir that is alternately affecting and hilarious.


My Jewish Year by Abigail PogrebinMy Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew, by Abigail Pogrebin

Putting her own spin on a successful formula, Pogrebin charts her own course through a year of Jewish holidays. Each chapter not only features background information about the holiday and conversations with experts but also the author’s poignant and funny attempts to observe them well. Not a laugh riot, perhaps, but worth considering as a counterpart to such titles as A. J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically.


One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer FulwilerOne Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both, by Jennifer Fulwiler

An introverted former atheist, Catholic convert, and the mother of six children, Fulwiler chronicles her efforts to pursue a writing career while caring for her family and remaining open to God’s plans. Her funny, heartwarming musings will resonate with parents, from naps that end too early, to feeling guilty about taking a little me-time, to dealing with lots and lots of poop.


The Perfect Gentleman by Imran AhmadThe Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West, by Imran Ahmad

As a Pakistani Muslim in Britain, Imran has struggled to fit into a white Christian society since childhood. In a wry, self-deprecating narrative, he details sometimes hilarious misunderstandings and failures (he does not make medical school; he does not get the gorgeous girl) but also explores essential questions about religion and culture and what it means to fit in.


A Pilgrim’s Digress by John D SpaldingA Pilgrim’s Digress: My Perilous, Fumbling Quest for the Celestial City, by John D. Spalding

Humorist and former Harvard divinity student Spalding takes a modern-day crack at John Bunyan’s classic morality fable, The Pilgrim’s Progress, guiding readers on a true-life odyssey through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Valley of Humiliation, and the Celestial City. Whether interviewing a casino chaplain posing as a street preacher in Times Square, he stitches together a highly amusing crazy quilt of often eccentric, mostly sincere spiritual quests and philosophies.


Sex Mom and God by Frank SchaefferSex, Mom, and God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics—and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, by Frank Schaeffer

Schaeffer’s evangelical mother was very sweet and shockingly candid about sexual matters, discussing with her young son issues that many readers will find inappropriate, uncomfortable, and hilarious. It’s not all funny, though: in between discussing his unconventional upbringing, Schaeffer also chronicles the evolution of the right-wing movement and offers criticism of its increasingly politicized nature. Like many books with mature content, some readers may just skip to the dirty parts.


Sin Bravely by Maggie RoweSin Bravely: A Memoir of Spiritual Disobedience, by Maggie Rowe

Rowe grew up Christian, but instead of feeling secure in her eternal salvation, found herself besieged by anxiety, never really knowing if she was sincere enough. Readers who have wrestled with self-doubt over the strength of their own convictions will find a funny, frank companion in this frantically compelling memoir.


Sons of the 613 by Michael RubensSons of the 613, by Michael Rubens

In this raunchy, riotous first-person novel, Isaac’s bar mitzvah is fast approaching—and he’s freaked out. His hot-tempered big brother, Josh, decides to help Isaac really become a man with tests of strength, will, and courage that fill the intervening weeks with chaos. Although there’s something to offend almost everyone here, there’s plenty to think about—and laugh about—as well.


There Is No Dog by Meg RosoffThere Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff

Have you ever wondered why an omnipotent deity would let evil occur in the world? Well, in Rosoff’s novel, God is a teenage boy—which explains a lot. Wildly inventive and laugh-out-loud funny, the story is told from the points of view of various characters, just one of whom is God (actually a petulant, powerful pissant named Bob). In many ways, the book’s parts add up to more than its sum, but this novel, both arch and thoughtful, silly and smart, is unique in all creation.


The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie WrightThe Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever, by Jamie Wright

Raised Jewish, Christian convert Wright is the kind of person who doesn’t do things by half measures: it’s not enough to become deeply involved in church life, so she and her family become missionaries in Costa Rica. Dissatisfied with many aspects of the missionary system, she starts a blog, earning both irate and adoring readers along the way. Bluntly honest and very funny, Wright will be appreciated by open-minded readers and fans of Anne Lamott.


The Year of Living Biblically by A J JacobsThe Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A. J. Jacobs

Jacobs tries for a year to observe the Bible’s 700-odd rules for righteous behavior, from letting his beard grow to not shaking hands. Informally counseled throughout by a clatch of Jewish and Christian advisers, he also queries members of such strict sects as the Amish, Samaritans, and snake-handling Pentecostals. As the year progresses, he develops a serious conscience about such quotidian failings as self-centeredness, lying, swearing, and disparaging others.




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1 Comment on "Funny Books about Religion (Now with 50% More Hilarity!)"

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  1. MJ says:

    You failed to include “God is disappointed in you” by Mark Russell; cartoons by Shannon Wheeler.
    “You’d like to read the Bible– if only it would cut to the chase. Russell strips it of arcane language and interminable passes, so that each book of the Bible is condensed down to its core message, no more than a few pages each. His accurate retelling is a must-read for anyone who wants to see past the fog of religious agendas and cultural debates.”

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