The best books not just about ghosts but what it means to be haunted

Who am I?

I'm an author living in northeastern Massachusetts. I've always been fascinated and delighted by ghosts and ghost stories, whether in books or the sharing of personal experiences. Ghosts are so utterly human, and yet … not. We're unnerved by the idea that we can stand in a seemingly safe place, e.g. home, not knowing that in a different time, some unexplained, traumatic event occurred there. A ghost is a bridge between people, times, and places, a memory with form and shape, a ready-made mystery, many times without a satisfying explanation. But sometimes the most powerful ghosts are the ones we hold inside. Sometimes the place contains a ghost because we ourselves brought the haunting. 

I wrote...

The Ocean in Winter

By Elizabeth de Veer,

Book cover of The Ocean in Winter

What is my book about?

The three Emery sisters’ lives changed forever when their mother drowned herself in the bathtub of their home in northeastern Massachusetts. Now the sisters are adults and each one is at a crossroads: oldest sister, Alex, rushes home from roaming in India to inherit an old house – which seems to be haunted; middle sister, Colleen, is coping with her failing marriage. The youngest sister, Riley, seems to be living the dream as a model in New York, but the truth is she’s an addict and her career is on the edge. She keeps many painful secrets from her sisters, but she’s cut herself off from the family. Will Alex and Colleen find Riley in time to keep her from reliving their mothers’ fate? 

The books I picked & why

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The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

This might be the all-time best ever book about a haunted house that infects its visitors with unexplained grief and vitriol even before they walk inside. In the name of science, a scholar invites a group to stay in a haunted house. The story that follows is told with classic horror elements including bloody writing on the wall; but in the end, it’s the subtle way that the house is simply strange: badly designed, peculiar characters who fade inexplicably in and out, and the odd, off-kilter way the characters interact. So much is just off, leaving the reader feeling thoroughly unsettled. And in the end? Well, the house always wins. 

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Why this book?

The main character, a baby, survives when his family is murdered by a shadowy man. The baby makes his way to a graveyard where he is adopted by a kind, childless ghost couple and given the name Nobody, or Bod, for short. From there, he is enveloped into the community of ghosts and ghouls who inhabit the graveyard, many of whom become a caring, protective, supportive family to Bod, some of whom are frightening and other-worldly. But the character who causes the most trouble in the story is abjectly human, a killer with an extraordinary sense of smell referred to as “the man Jack.” In the end, Bod is haunted by his family’s murder and the human who perpetrated this crime, not by the ghosts. 

The Shining

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Shining

Why this book?

Jack Torrance is an alcoholic who is abusive toward children, including his own young son who is sensitive, psychic, and clairvoyant. But since this is another masterful work from Stephen King, the details are pulled and pushed until all the elements crash together in a terrible fever dream. Jack accepts a job caring for a giant man-eating hotel in the middle of an unending blizzard. The ghosts in this story are real, physical, and out for blood. 


By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of Rebecca

Why this book?

The outside of the story is a cliché – older, handsome, wealthy man meets young, penniless, (ahem, nameless and orphaned) girl and, after a whirlwind romance, marries her and brings her to his mansion in England. But the good part is inside, gooey, messy, and sharp like the cherry inside a chocolate. It’s death by subtlety: man’s first wife – the aforementioned Rebecca (she gets a name) – haunts the mansion, not as a specter, but as an indelible memory to all who knew her. We never encounter Rebecca in any direct way, but the shape of her character, who was loved, worshipped, and reviled, comes into sharp relief, standing over our heroine, making conditions impossible. Best absentee ghost story ever written. 


By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Beloved

Why this book?

Sometimes the ghost takes physical shape and stands up to force us to reckon with the many and varied horrors of a profoundly traumatic past. This is what the ghost of the child, who goes by the name Beloved, for it was all her mother could afford to have carved in her headstone, does. Beloved is not an easy read, partly because it focuses on one of the ugliest, most horrific chapters of American history, and partly due to the intricate literary style that intermingles past and present plus quickly shifting points of view. In the end, there is redemption, but even after the book is done, ghosts of racism and the legacy of slavery will continue to haunt the reader, as well they should. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ghosts, romantic love, and Ohio?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about ghosts, romantic love, and Ohio.

Ghosts Explore 107 books about ghosts
Romantic Love Explore 414 books about romantic love
Ohio Explore 41 books about Ohio

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Invisible Cities, Sing, Unburied, Sing, and The Quiet American if you like this list.