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.
One might even say reading a satire book is like shooting the breeze and bantering with your charmingly intellectual and jaded uncle about the state of the world. Indeed, satire is a mode, a mood, a mockery, and so much more. Read on to get a sense of our 15 favorite satirical books to read if you love literature, history, and cultural critiques with a funny edge.
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 researcher and teaching as 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.
Tone Teaser: "She cursed me at such length and with such inventiveness I had to check both my watch and my dictionary."
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.
Tone Teaser: "You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do."
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.
Tone Teaser: "That's what tyrants do, I guess. They make you covet their attention; they make you confuse attention for mercy."
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. And another distinctly Lin feature, it's about how the selling of a book (aka the cover and the title), has nothing to do with what it's actually about.
Tone Teaser: "Sam looked at the sky to see if there were a lot of stars. There seemed to be a normal amount of stars."
Do you like reading fiction that's straight-up weird? Victor Pelevin's novel about life in Russia after the collapse of the Societ 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.
Tone Teaser: It's about the bleak state of activism and slackitivism. "In the area of radical youth culture nothing sells as well as well-packaged and politically correct rebellion against a world that is ruled by political correctness and in which everything is packaged to be sold."
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 and the futility of pop culture.
Tone Teaser: "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?"
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.
Tone Teaser: "If New York is the City That Never Sleeps, then Los Angeles is the City That’s Always Passed Out on the Couch."
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 in real life, here's your chance. Patrick Bateman will make you laugh, 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.
Tone Teaser: "I laugh maniacally, then take a deep breath and touch my chest—expecting a heart to be thumping quickly, impatiently, but there's nothing there, not even a beat."
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.
Tone Teaser: "One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them."
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.
The Tone: "The lack of color is to show off the dresses. It terrifies our patrons into an existential crisis and then, a purchase. This is what Gizzy tells me, anyway. 'The black,' she says, 'reminds us that we are mortal and that youth is fleeting. Also, nothing makes pink taffeta pop like a dark void.'"
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 interesting, 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.
Tone Teaser: "Hurt people hurt people more skillfully. An expert heartbreaker knows the effect of each incision. The blade slips in barely noticed, the pain and the apology delivered at the same time."
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 reexperiences his life out of chronological order and sometimes simultaneously.
Tone Teaser: "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."
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.
Tone Teaser: "The corporal's morale is excellent verging on sublime, sir."
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.
The Tone: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."