The best books about haunted minds

The Books I Picked & Why

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

This is often called the greatest haunted house story ever written. And, my friends—it is. It really is. What Shirley Jackson grasps so completely is that all good haunted house stories have something deeper crawling around underneath their pages. A simple story of a spooky ghost might get boring after a few hundred pages. There needs to be a question, a mystery, something gritty to grab at. Did that really just happen? What is going on? Is this real or imagined—or both? Is the house haunted or is Eleanor haunted? Or…both?

The gentle, lilting prose crescendos gradually to a dizzying ending. I recommend finding a friend to buddy read this with, because you’re definitely going to want to talk about it with someone.

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The Shining

By Stephen King

Book cover of The Shining

Why this book?

This is probably the first book I actually threw across the room in fear, just needing to get it away from me as quickly as possible. It’s that scary, and it’s that good. King drew on many of his own personal demons for this one, and I think that personal relationship to the material is key here. Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is brutal and jarring and as much a dialogue about addiction as it is a dialogue about ghosts. 

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In the Dream House: A Memoir

By Carmen Maria Machado

Book cover of In the Dream House: A Memoir

Why this book?

This raw and heartbreaking memoir is told in prose that is sometimes stark, sometimes lush, and always riveting. It is a story of domestic abuse that especially highlights the way an abuser can affect so much more than your physical health. The dream house Machado speaks of is a haunted house in and of itself, a metaphorical place that the abuser has infiltrated, its unwelcome and ever-present guest. This is not an easy read, but it has stayed with me long after I finished its last page. 

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The Bell Jar

By Sylvia Plath

Book cover of The Bell Jar

Why this book?

While a beautiful novel on its own, The Bell Jar becomes heartbreaking when compared to the life of its writer, Sylvia Plath, who took her own life in 1963, a month after the novel’s publication. It is considered semi-autobiographical and follows a young woman experiencing a mental breakdown. Through the journey of Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar’s protagonist, we look at New York in the 1950s, and we follow one woman’s discovery that the life she had always imagined for herself is not at all what she expected it to be. 

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We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart

Book cover of We Were Liars

Why this book?

It is hard to talk much about this book without giving too much away. It’s one of those rare works that is best to dive into completely unaware. What I will say is that Cadence Sinclair Eastman, the protagonist, comes from a family that is outwardly perfect. But Cadence herself is struggling. Why? How could a member of the Sinclair family be anything but blessed? Does it have anything to do with the head injury she suffered two years ago? 

This novel contains the most shocking and heartbreaking twist I think I’ve ever come across before. And it holds up—I’ve read it since, and even when you know the mystery, it is a beautiful and haunting story.

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