Daily Show and Simpsons-watching, Wag the Dog and Spaceballs-loving, Onion-perusing sarcastic and mildly cynical jerk, good satire is one of the main reasons I drag myself out of bed each morning. I mean, who doesn't love a good satire? Nerds with no sense of humor, that's who!
Satire in literature's tricky though — lay it on too thick, and the book reads like you're just angry and have an axe to grind (The Devil Wears Prada...but, yes, I realize grinding the axe was part of the point), but lay it on too lightly, and folks may not get it (Ian McEwan's Solar, for some people). Of course, there are plenty of good literary satires out there — from American Psycho to Animal Farm to just about any Vonnegut or Tom Robbins, to Catch-22, to the greatest satirical novel of all time (in my view), A Confederacy of Dunces. (I maintain — though this may not be an original sentiment — that Ignatius Reilly is the basis for The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy.)
The key to good satire is wit. Slapstick satire is fine and well, but it doesn't have the same impact as smart satire. It's probably not a coincidence that the word "biting" is often used to preface both words when they're done particularly well. Satire must be marked by biting wit and biting wit is how satire moves from only decent to biting. Additionally, when times are tough and people are ticked off (i.e. times of total silly ridiculousness or when something is going horribly wrong) satire is often the richest. The financial crisis yielded one my favorite novels (satirical or otherwise) of last year, The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter. And The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live (Tina Fey as Palin, or if you prefer, Carvey as Ross Perot) and The Onion are at their finest during the run-up to any election.
The Thieves of Manhattan (my review) and Steve Hely's How I Became A Famous Novelist (with which I'm almost finished — review later this week. Preview: read it!) — take great pleasure in lampooning, with majestic cynicism, how novels are produced and published. Now, I realize two little-read novels does not a trend make, but it's at least interesting that these two novels similar novels came out about the same time. It's also interesting, as well as a tad ironic, that these novels about the dumbassedness of the publishing industry are being published by, well, publishers.
Anyway, the point here is rather simple and not exactly controversial: Satire is good and fun. I like it, and you should too. What are your favorite satirical novels? Why do you like satire?