Christmas book guide

Which stocking-fillers won't becomed landfill-fillers

Bookshops are heaving with ‘humour’ titles at this time of year: stocking-fillers that often stretch the definition of humour to breaking point. Here we chose five of the best that will have a life beyond Boxing Day – titles you’ll actually want to keep rather than putting in the first sack to the charity shop.

The Thick Of It: The Missing DoSAC Files
By Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Ian Martin and Tony Roche
Published by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £5.98

A TV tie-in that’s actually worthy of the original series, this book is designed as if it were a collection of vital government papers, emails and press cuttings left on the stage by fierce spin doctor Malcolm Tucker. It’s as expletive-smeared as you might expect from this most flamboyant bard of bad language, with such imaginative swearing you will laugh out loud.

All the characters’ voices come across loud and clear, not just the monstrous Malcolm, and it will evoke fond memories of the award-winning series. The obvious lack of narrative does mean you’ll get diminishing returns if you devour a large chunk in one go, and there are a few sections where the ideas feel a little thin – though it only takes an exquisitely funny turn of phrase redeem even these.

It’s also an addition to the TV programme, not a rehash of existing scripts, so a genuine treat for fans.

Livin The Dreem: A Year In My Life
By Harry Hill
Published by Faber & Faber, priced £18.99. Click here to but from Amazon for £8.93

It’s a difficult task to transfer Hill’s TV Burp-style anarchy to print, and initially this mock 2010 diary is frustrating in its surrealism. But once you come attuned to this heightened version of his life of a mild-mannered TV star living in Bexhill with his mother, his depressed dog and mail-order bride Lay Dee, Livin The Dreem proves an excellent example of creating an alternate world. Absurd storylines take on an internal logic and sometimes collide with the real world – or celebrity world, at least – as events unfold.

Sometimes it’s overly zany – the salacious exploits his gran living in Basra seem especially laboured – but the episodes which are only marginally exaggerated are both charming and amusing: the controversy surrounding Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Trees, or ITV’s thematically linked I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of My Tree If I Don't Like It.

Harry also shares his silly thoughts on some of the issues of the day, from coalition governments to Mock The Week – so it’s not all wacky narrative. Though it mostly is.

This is a hefty old tome – at 468 pages of text with only the occasional doddle, it’s no cheap cash-in, though the diary format makes it easy to read in small chunks.

The Pub Landlord’s Great British Pub Quiz Book
By Al Murray
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £12.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £6.37

These are genuine questions you could use in a genuine pub quiz, split into 100 categories of five brain-testers each. The twist is that the preambles, and often the answers, are all in the voice of the Pub Landlord himself.

For example in the first Pot Luck round, he asks: ‘In the Bible – which is in English, never forget that, which makes it all the more remarkable given that it was written 2,000 years ago in the Middle East by people who spoke Hebrew – what are the first five words of Psalm 23?’ Others are even more meandering.

There are also the odd pages explaining the etiquette of pub quizzes, from mobile phone cheating to why there’s always a Star Trek question.

Oh, and the answer is ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’

The Second Book Of General Ignorance
By John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
Published by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £6.49

And if you’re into your trivia, this is a must-buy. QI has become quite a publishing empire, with all sorts of spin-offs, but this is the follow-up to the tome that started it all – and went on to sell more than a million copies.

It’s the closest thing to the panel show, in which everything you know is proved to be wrong with a series of questions, then the genuine, if counterintuitive, truth being explained thereafter. It’s possibly more a quirky fact book than a comedy one, though a few choice exchanges from the TV series are included to justify its inclusion here.

QI have also produced an annual this year, but that’s rather gimmicky. This is the book that will tell you that octopuses have six legs, oranges aren’t orange and there is no such thing as fish – and explain exactly why.

TV Go Home
By Charlie Brooker
Published by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £6.24

Now he’s a bona fide comic star married to Konnie Huq, it’ll become increasingly hard to remember that Brooker was once a scabrous grouch writing made-up TV listings on the internet, prophetically berating the way the industry was heading.

That website, TV Go Home, has long been mothballed, and the spin-off book, first published in 2001 was going for up to £55 on the second-hand market. But now that volume has been reissued; and while Brooker’s name wasn’t on the cover at all for the first edition, now it’s in big type, along with his photo.

His fake shows, laid out like the Radio Times, vary from the obviously surreal to those that sound worryingly plausible – especially now that we have BBC Three – such as the Ainsley’s Last Suppers, about deathbed cuisine, or Britain’s Shakiest Dentists.

There are running jokes such as Cunt, the idea that spawned the underrated Nathan Barley TV series, and Daily Mail Island, the reality show in which volunteers were isolated from the outside world with only Middle England’s favourite newspaper to guide them. The hilariously blunt appeals from producers seeking viewers to appear on their exploitative offerings are a particular favourite.

Mock adverts and the odd spoof feature complete this brilliantly splenetic offering.

Published: 21 Dec 2010

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