"There is nothing so powerful as the truth—and often nothing so strange." —Daniel Webster

We do live in a strange, mad world. At times, our world seems to grow darker and stranger with each passing day. There are wars and rumors of war, famine, disease, murder and heartache everywhere I look. I am ever trying to stretch my worldview, to keep learning about the things happening around the globe. However, I agree with Anne Lamott when she says that “laughter is carbonated holiness,” and sometimes I need laughter for my soul to rest and heal. The following books have been wonderful respites from the turmoil of life. Reading these books has been like finding a group of intelligent, yet highly eccentric, friends. The kind of friends that can make you laugh so hard that your caramel mocha latte comes spewing out your nose as you sit and dish on life at the local Starbucks. The kind of friend you know you could trust with your most embarrassing stories, because their stories are even more embarrassing than yours. So, if you’ve heard that the truth is stranger than fiction, but have your doubts as to whether that is true, read on …

strong>TRAVELING MERCIES: SOME THOUGHTS ON FAITH ANNE LAMOTT (RANDOM HOUSE 2000)

I have never heard anyone discuss their faith and their absolute love for Jesus in such an irreverent way. She says the things that we all think but are too self-righteous to say out loud. This book is the story of how Lamott came reluctantly to faith and how her faith in Christ helps her through the banalities of daily life. She says that the two best prayers she knows are “help me, help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.” I would not recommend this book for anyone who has life and faith all figured out. But if you still struggle, question, whine and laugh, you will love this book.

strong>A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS DAVE EGGERS (KNOPF 2000)

The tongue-in-cheek title pokes fun at more traditional memoirs. The book is Egger’s story of how both his parents died within months of each other when he was 22, leaving him with the responsibility of raising his eight-year-old brother. If that sounds sad, well, it is. But because of Eggers’ highly original, somewhat stream-of-consciousness writing style, it never comes close to touching maudlin. Eggers highly encourages his readers to skip the first 30 pages of the book, the “preface,” which is probably why I read it and found it highly entertaining.

strong>THE ORCHID THIEF SUSAN ORLEAN (RANDOM HOUSE 1998)

Never judge a book by its movie. If you’ve seen Adaptation (which I loved), you’ll have only a vague idea of what this book is about—which is a lot more than orchids. The book will catch you off guard with the first sentence and continue to surprise you on nearly every page. Read it for the beauty of the language, the fascinating and unbelievably strange history of orchid-obsession and the juicy characters Orlean found in the Sunshine State.

strong>CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: THE AMAZING TRUE STORY OF THE YOUNGEST AND MOST DARING CON MAN IN THE HISTORY OF FUN AND PROFIT FRANK W. ABAGNALE (BROADWAY BOOKS 2000)

Cynics might say that Frank Abagnale had the makings of a great politician. After all, he has written $2.5 million in bad checks, posed successfully as a physician, a lawyer, a bank deposit collector and a CEO, taught in colleges without any real credentials and convinced people that he was an FBI agent—all of which he did before he was 21. This is a strangely exhilarating story that goes into more detail than the movie did about what happened after he was caught and served jail time.

strong>MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL JOHN BERENDT (KNOPF 1999)

It’s difficult to categorize this book. It’s part travelogue, part true crime tale, reading like a novel although it’s nonfiction. (The author does admit that he took a few storytelling liberties, however.) Eccentric characters seem to come out of the woodwork at every turn: the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the ‘soul of pampered self-absorption’; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

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