Last week, Mike M. sent us an email asking us for help. He wrote,

I’ve been reading a lot of technical literature recently, but I need a break. Can you recommend a book that uses puns or word plays. Something light.

Of course, there’s only one way to answer this question: ask everybody! We put the query about what books to read next out on Twitter, our Facebook group, our Facebook page, our discussion forum, and on Google+.

Far out in front, for fun and pun, is science-fiction and fantasy writer Piers Anthony. Just to get an idea of the kind of fans the man has, listen to this recent, rich episode of This American Life about two men who were fans when they were boys.

Below, we’ve collected and collated all the answers and rank them here by order of popularity. I’ve also included remarks from some of the submitters. I’ve thrown in a few notes of my own, too.

Piers Anthony Xanth series. Ron Draney: “An unrelenting punfest.” David Phillips: “Almost entirely puns and word play … first few are best.” Anita Kendall: “I personally don’t like Xanth but many many people love it, and it is certainly punny; I prefer Incarnations of Immortality but much less wordplay in those.” Barry Wallis: “My favorite title from the series is Crewel Lye: A Caustic Yarn.”

Norton Juster Phantom Tollbooth. Not long ago, Martha celebrated the book on the occasion of its 50th anniversary

Terry Pratchett Discworld series or anything. Paul Baker: “Rather light reading with clever use of language.”

P.G. Wodehouse, light, very British novels. Thaths T.: “Not pun-heavy.” Lee Shackleford: “Particularly the Jeeves stories, since Bertie Wooster’s narrations are full of funny turns of phrase.” David Martin: “I like Wodehouse’s Jeeves Books. Light, fun, and they play with the language.”

Jasper Fforde Thursday Next series, Nursery Crimes series, The Eyre Affair John Cordier: “Nice concept and many puns and word plays.” Jenny Zhang: “Pretty much all about wordplay and literary allusion.”

Douglas Adams, anything but especially Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Thaths T.: “Not pun-heavy.”

Lynne Truss Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Marcia Claesson: “Not quite puns, but fun with punctuation.”

Bill Bryson anything but especially Mother Tongue. Be wary of some of the facts in this book. Although it’s definitely a fun read, it used outdated secondary and tertiary sources to start with and is now an additional 20 years out of date. So, some dates, details, and tales in this book don’t hold up.

Robert Asprin Myth series.

Mark Dunn Ella Minnow Pea.

Richard Lederer any, but especially Crazy English, The Cunning Linguist, and Get Thee to a Punnery. Glenn Atkinson: “A treasure trove.” Hey! We know Richard! He’s a former co-host of this very show.

Spider Robinson Callahan’s series Grammar Hulk: “One pun after another.” Or rather, “ONE PUN AFTER ANOTHER.” Grammar Hulk only shouts. And smashes.

Ogden Nash, anything but especially I’m a Stranger Here Myself.

Isaac Asimov short stories. Anita Kendall: “Wrote a lot of short stories that end with a pun — look for his mysteries.”

Jane Powell home restoration series. This is strict home-decor porn: how-tos, ideas, plans, etc.

Alexander McCall Smith, any. Try The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, then anything from his other series.

Frank L. Baum Oz series. Les Beery: “Light, indeed, and full of word play. Works if you are a kid at heart.” These are all now public domain and can be had at no cost by instant download to your computer, phone, tablet, or e-reader.

John Swartzwelder The Time Machine Did It

China Miéville Un Lun Dun. Chiu-Ki Chan: “Filled with delightful puns.”

Peggy Parish, et al. Amelia Bedelia series. Many modern additions to this series are overly didactic, almost absent of real content, and so derivative as to be valueless, but the original books are still very entertaining for children.

Bil Keane Jest in Pun

Steve Rushin The Pint Man Paul Feyer: “A delightful book about a man who falls into wordplay-inspired reveries. A gem.”

Roald Dahl The Vicar of Nibbleswicke

Katie MacAlister: bodice-rippers and romance novels.

Janet Evanovich: mystery novels, detective fiction, and thrillers. I’ve read a few of these. You can tear through them in a short sitting.

Janice Davidson: paranormal chick lit.

Leland Gregory The Stupid Crook Book and What’s The Number for 911 Again

Don Marquis archy and mehitabel

John Pollack The Pun Also Rises

Robertson Davies, a Canadian novelist.

Polly M. Law The Word Project: Odd & Obscure Words – Illustrated

Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series. Debra Gregory: “The most elegant prose ever, ever … plus puns, malapropisms, humor high and low … Matchless drama, poignancy, warmth, science … No equal, anywhere.”

Vladimir Nabokov, novels and short stories. Steve Levine: “A master at playing with words. Generally not light reading, though. Lolita is easy to read, although I needed to read elsewhere to find out about all the wordplay that I had missed.”

EL James Shades of Grey. A series of books that’s easy to hate, but one that’s sold millions and millions of copies.

Photo by Peter Kaminski. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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  1. Depends on the novel, I guess. I find myself completely unable to finish things others devour, and vice versa. Kind of like dating: some matches are better than others.

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