#bookaday 13: Makes me laugh

Lots of contenders here - anything by David Sedaris, Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Good Omens by the fantasy genre dream team of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Coe's The Dwarves of Death ... I could go on. But I've decided to choose one of the books that consistently makes me laugh out loud, the discovery of which I still remember as an absolute joy.

1066 And All That by Walter Carruthers Sellar and Robert Julian Yeatman was published in 1930, and yet (despite being a book about history) seems so completely contemporary and modern in its style of  humour that I can't help thinking it must have been far ahead of its time.

It's a book based on the principle that 'History is not what you thought. It is what you remember. All other history defeats itself.' It is, the introduction says, 'the only Memorable History of England, because all the History that you can remember is in this book, which is the result of years of research in golf-clubs, gun-rooms, green rooms etc. For instance, 2 out of the 4 Dates originally included were eliminated at the last moment, a research done at the Eton and Harrow match having revealed that they are not memorable.'

It's actually quite hard to describe 1066 And All That, but essentially it's a part-satirical, part-absurdist, part-self-deprecating, wildly erroneous account of the history of England up to the point at which 'America was clearly Top Nation, and history came to a .' It reads rather like a series of essays by confused secondary school pupils, full of random half-truths, ludicrous factual misunderstandings and repeated use of meaningfully capped up phrases like 'a Good King' and 'Top Nation'. At the end of each chapter are mock exam papers with questions like:

5. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the Throne."
a) Suggest remedies, or
b) Imitate the action of a Tiger.

and

10. Describe in excessive detail
a) The advantages of the Black Death
b) The fate of the Duke of Clarence
c) A Surfeit.

(NB Candidates should write on at least one side of the paper.)

I certainly think it helps to have some knowledge of history, particularly of studying history at school, to find this book truly funny, but I would urge anyone to read it anyway. When I bought a copy (I say bought; I have a guilty suspicion that I stole it from my school library - it's a 1950s edition) I remember bringing it home and reading huge chunks of it aloud to my brother, and both of us genuinely weeping with laughter. I can't imagine a time when 1066 And All That wouldn't seem funny to me. I know absolutely nothing at all about its authors, but my god, I'm grateful to them.

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