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

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 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. 

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The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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