Ghost stories are as universal as death itself, so it makes sense that they make for popular reading. There’s a lot of them, though, and finding a place to start can be difficult. If you’re looking for a sampling of some of the best that the ghost story genre has to offer, you’ve come to the right place.
Henry James; Introduction and Notes by Susie Boyt; General Editor Philip Horne
You’ll find Henry James’ 1899 novella “The Turn of the Screw” on just about every ghost story round-up, and with good reason: It is a chillingly effective tale. The story of a governess hired to care for two children, the “Turn of the Screw” combines ambiguous supernatural horror with deep psychological insight for a story that you’re not likely to forget.
A parapsychologist looking for proof of the paranormal and a group of young students get more than they bargain for when they step through the threshold of Hill House: a famously haunted mansion. They find what they came for but will live to regret it — at least some of them will. Others are destined never to leave the house again. Stephen King, a writer who very clearly knows his horror, described The Haunting of Hill House as one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century. The book was twice adapted for the movies, and is now a Netflix television series.
Stephen King took a stab at telling a ghost story of his own with The Shining. An alcoholic writer who hopes to find a little peace and quiet by working as a caretaker at an old hotel learns that it has other plans for him and his family. The hotel, an evil entity all its own, will stop at nothing to end their lives and claim their souls for eternity. The Shining is a great place to start if you’re new to King’s fiction, and the book is different enough from its various film adaptations to warrant reading it on its own.
When four old men gather together to share old stories, they learn that the past can come back to haunt you — literally. They did something terrible in their youth, and now there’s no escaping the consequences. Readers might best know Straub as a sometimes-collaborator with Stephen King, but he’s a fine writer in his own right. Ghost Story is one of his best, and was adapted for film in 1981.
A Ghost Story
An unsuspecting attorney who travels to a small English village to settle the affairs of a deceased client learns that the residents have been terrorized by a mysterious specter: the Woman in Black. An old mansion on the moors could provide answers, but uncovering the past can be a dangerous business. You might have already seen the film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this modern classic.
A Story by the Author of Gone Girl
Here’s a great novella about a house that might be haunted. Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, turns the classic ghost story into a contemporary tale of skepticism and the limits of human perception. In The grownup, a “psychic” fraudster receives an invite to a troubled client’s home. What she experiences there will challenge her understanding of this world and the one beyond.
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Curious about other sci-fi/fantasy subgenres? Check out all of our So You Want To Read lists – we’re adding new ones all the time!
Shirley Jackson; Introduction by Laura Miller; Series Editor Guillermo del Toro