This article is updated twice a year with our latest picks.
If you love entertainment that makes you laugh out loud while highlighting the absurdity in issues that are actually pretty serious, then you're probably a big fan of satirical fiction. Even if you aren't already, the reading list we compiled of the best 15 satirical books will definitely convert you. Think dark humor, plenty of irony, and exaggeration veering on fantasy, all in the name of critiquing problematic political structures, societal norms, and figures. The goal is to hyperbolize what we accept as normal and expose its underbelly, while also helping us keep our sense of humor (albeit a dark one) along the way.
Satire is a mode, a mood, a mockery, and so much more. Here are our picks for the best satirical books to add to your collection.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In The Sympathizer, A half-French, half-Vietnamese double agent relocates to America after the fall of Saigon, and betrayal, both personal and political, unfolds. At once a love story, spy novel, and period piece about the legacy and evils of colonialism, the Vietnam War, and ensuing refugee experience in the U.S., you won't be able to put down this Pulitzer Prize winner.
Aside from being satirical, sharp, suspenseful, and poignant, it's also a great way to study the history of the Vietnam War outside of a textbook. When he's not writing fiction, Nguyen is researching and teaching as a professor of English, American Studies and ethnicity, and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. If you like this book, pick up his nonfiction counterpart next, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Reading Infinite Jest is a life-changing experience, each page containing at least one sentence that'll teach you to a truly prophetic lesson. Finishing it, on the other hand, is arguably harder than running a marathon. It's about a dysfunctional but lovable family whose members are all in the pursuit of happiness. Classic, right? As to be expected from David Foster Wallace, it's hilarious, brilliant, and very, very long-winded.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
For a more science-fiction approach to satire, try Super Sad True Love Story. Gary Shteyngart takes us to the bleak United States of the near future, which is toiling in financial ruin. Given the rather somber content, the hilarious tone is a welcome surprise. It follows a Russian immigrant with "an absurdly low—and embarrassingly public—Male Hotness rating" as he falls in love with a Korean American woman. In short, take the title at face value, and expect what the title defines it as.
Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin
If you want something short, though not exactly very sweet, pick up Shoplifting from American Apparel. Tao Lin's novella is a semi-autobiographical, following a young writer with "a cultish following," though it's also about much larger issues, like class, culture, and art in the digital era. Like the rest of his work, this book features Lin's notoriously deadpan and dark, yet strangely seductive, voice. It's also about how the selling of a book (aka the cover and the title) has nothing to do with what it's actually about.
Homo Zapiens by Victor Pelevin
Do you like reading fiction that's straight-up weird? Victor Pelevin's novel about life in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union will definitely do the trick. Here's a hint: the protagonist is Che Guevara's ghost. It'll also make you think about marketing and consumerism with a much more discerning eye, and consider the ways in which we define our own culture by distinguishing it from another.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
This classic satire book explores the different representations and expectations around American masculinity, and it's also just a really fun book to read if you love humor, action, and feel like venting about consumerism. It's also a great window into the mindset of the mid-1990s and the frustration with the monotony of conventional life, as well as the futility of pop culture.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Part period piece, part comedic masterpiece, The Sellout is about a young man who reinstates slavery and segregation in schools when his town is removed from the map since it only brings the state embarrassment. At times disturbing and dark, it'll also make you laugh at least once a page with its biting observations about our culture's depravity.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
A serial-killing yuppie with a dry sense of humor is definitely not a winning combo in real life, but if you'd like to step inside the mind of one without actually getting too close, here's your chance. Patrick Bateman will make you cry, scream, and analyze consumer culture like never before as he unabashedly confesses his violent tirades and crimes against women. You'll love to hate him.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This dystopic classic was written in the 1930s, though it still feels extremely topical today. It takes place in a future iteration of the world, where humans are genetically bred and medicated to be docile, and prop up a totalitarian regime. Though it sounds far-fetched, it's very much rooted in familiar places and narratives around the absence of free will, originality, and personhood.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Each short story in Her Body and other Parties is a modern reinterpretation of a scary legend, iconic pop culture product, or a scarily realistic sci-fi experiment. And though that's interesting enough on its own, they're also written with such beauty that you'll find yourself hungry for more on the last page of each one. Some are eerie and some are erotic, while some teeter on the absurd and satirical, but each of them is an emotionally impactful feminist feat.
Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous
The Diary of an Oxygen Thief spotlights another deeply misogynistic narrator you'll love to hate. He's so hideous a character, indeed, you might even wonder if you're reading some alternative horror novel. And interestingly enough, the author remains anonymous, even 12 years after it was published. The most infuriating part is that he's smart and wry, forcing the reader to see their own role in the dynamic of "hurt people hurt people." If that doesn't convince you, the Amazon review compares it a theoretical "novel in which Holden Caulfield was an alcoholic and Lolita was a photographer's assistant, and somehow they met in Bright Lights, Big City." What a treat.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
If you didn't already have to read this growing up, definitely give it a chance now. Kurt Vonnegut is a master novelist, and this science-fiction book is one of his best. At once full of funny, touching, and eye-opening, Slaughterhouse-Five is also a disturbing war story full of time travel and alien interference when a veteran re-experiences his life out of chronological order and sometimes simultaneously.
Boomsday by Christopher Buckley
Our 29-year-old protagonist is nothing but likable and charming. That is, until she ever-so-politely proposes the idea that Baby Boomers over the age of 75 kill themselves in the name of reallocating funds. What starts out as a totally absurd idea starts to gain more momentum in this dystopic satirical novel.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Though you had to or will have had to read this for an eight or ninth grade humanities class, it'll always be a fun, classic read. Published in 1945, this allegorical and satiric fable about "society's blind march toward totalitarianism" and the Russian Revolution is still just as relevant today.
1984 by George Orwell
Another Orwell classic, this one takes place in the totalitarian state of Oceania, where someone is always watching you and the Thought Police can read your mind. It's Big Brother at it's most terrifying, and shows a fantasy of a political future that was meant to magnify and examine the present.