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A Collection of Bookish Humor

By Matt Reimann. Mar 7, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

In need of a laugh today? You're in luck--we've compiled a list of some of our favorite literary jokes and puns. Peruse witticisms by such greats as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and even Flannery O'Connor. We hope that you'll be amused by our selection of literary humor and then, perhaps, share your own favorites in the comments below. Enjoy!

Mark_Twain_PD-1Mark Twain's Take

  • “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
    ― Mark Twain
  • “Be careful of medical books, you may die of a misprint”
    ― Mark Twain
  • "'Classic': A book which people praise but don't read."
    ― Mark Twain

 Good for a Laugh

  • -- What’s the difference between a Greek comedy and a Greek tragedy?
    -- In a comedy, one person survives.
  • Frankenstein's monster receives a parcel from the postman marked "Frankenstein."
    "It's the house next door," explains the monster. "Common mistake."
  • A student, when asked if she would like to write her paper on Bartleby the Scrivener, says "I would prefer not to."
  • "Every time I read Langston Hughes I am amazed all over again by his genuine gifts--and depressed that he has done so little with them."
    ― James Baldwin

On your mark, get set, go!

  • “Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.
     Jarod Kintz
  • “I quote others only in order to better to express myself.”  
     Michel de Montaigne
  • “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” 
     Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • “I just got out of the hospital. I was in a speed reading accident. I hit a book mark and flew across the room.” 
    ― Steven Wright
  • "All books are different combinations of the same 26 letters.”
    – Shelby Fero
  • “A literary academic can no more pass a bookstore than an alcoholic can pass a bar.” 
    ― Carolyn G. Heilbrun

Oscar Wilde, Of Course

  • Oscar_Wilde_pd"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."
    Oscar Wilde
  • "Biography lends to death a new terror"
    Oscar Wilde
  • "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."
    Oscar Wilde
  • "The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."
    ―Oscar Wilde

Wodehouse's Wit

  • "Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty." 
    P.G. Wodehouse
  • "It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can’t help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet."
    ― P.G. Wodehouse
  • "I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose." 
    ― P.G. Wodehouse

Groucho's Corner

  • "From the moment I picked your book up until I put it down I was convulsed with laughter.  Some day I intend reading it." 
    Groucho Marx
  • “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” 
    ― Groucho Marx
  • “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” 
    ― Groucho Marx 

Calvino Breaks It Down

  • Old_Books_PD“Sections in the bookstore:
    - Books You Haven't Read
    - Books You Needn't Read
    - Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
    - Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
    - Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
    - Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
    - Books Too Expensive Now and You'll Wait 'Til They're Remaindered
    - Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
    - Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
    - Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too
    - Books You've Been Planning to Read for Ages
    - Books You've Been Hunting for Years Without Success
    - Books Dealing with Something You're Working on at the Moment
    - Books You Want to Own So They'll Be Handy Just in Case
    - Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
    - Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
    - Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
    - Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time to Re-read
    - Books You've Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It's Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them” 
     Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

 A Few More Favorites

  • steve_martin"I can't understand why a person will take a year to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars." 
    Fred Allen
  • “Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way.” 
    Steve Martin
  • “Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” 
    ― Flannery O'Connor
  • “Books are to me as homemade tattoos are to an inmate. Can't get enough of them.” 
    ― Laurie Notaro
  • While browsing in a second-hand bookshop one day, George Bernard Shaw was amused to find a copy of one of his own works which he himself had inscribed for a friend: "To ----, with esteem, George Bernard Shaw." He immediately purchased the book and returned it to the friend with a second inscription: "With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw."

View our Comedy Selection

Matt Reimann
Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.


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