My essay A Serious Look at Humor in Romance Books was included in this column at AAR in 1998.
I have said for many years that one of my preferences in selecting books to read is to look for romances with humor. This is not limited to rom-coms (romantic comedies or comedic romances), since many stories with serious plots can also include humor. As a recently read book reminded me, this also is not stories in which the characters are described as having a sense of humor or as laughing a lot. This is stories that contain humor that provokes me, as a reader, to laugh.
Fairly soon after I started reading genre romances in the 1990s, I started recording humor scores based on my reading—for authors at first, then for individual books. My humor scale is from -1 (beyond humorless to unpleasant) to +5, with 3 stars as the lowest level at which I will recommend a book for readers looking for humor.
I reread a lot (though less in recent years as the tbr mountain has grown), and I have revised humor ratings after rereading in a small number of cases, but most ratings are from first readings (in most cases, the only reading). This means ratings reflect whatever effects my mood, energy level, circumstances, etc. at the time of reading have on my ability to see and enjoy humor.
As long as this list might look, it is from over two decades of reading. Just the top tier of my waiting to be read list (which I keep in a spreadsheet) has almost 1,000 romances, which will take me several years to get through at my current reading rate. There is probably as good a chance that a book isn’t on my high humor list because I haven’t read it as that I read it but didn’t find it funny.
I have read science fiction and fantasy for decades longer than I have read genre romances, and humor is only occasionally one of my selection criteria for SF&F books. When I started tracking romance humor I decided not to try to remember and record humor levels in my SF&F reading. Due to blurry genre boundaries, a few SF&F books ended up in my romances book list and I went ahead and recorded humor scores for them when I read them. I also recorded humor scores for a VERY small number of mysteries.
Humor is very individual. To see if my humor ratings are of any use to you, compare your memory of the humor level of books in my list to my humor ratings. If they seem reasonably similar, our senses of humor are probably similar enough for my list to be useful to you. If I had a list from someone else, I wouldn’t insist on an exact match, with the same scores for the same books—I would count seeing several of the same books by the same authors recommended as a close enough match to use the list.
My list of books with 3 or more stars is here.