Whether you’re getting into the spooky season, or you just live the spooky life year-round, nothing says cozy like curling up with a comfy blanket and reading a scary book that frightens the bejeebers out of you. (They’re like hiccups, but worse.)
From Gothic classics that built the genre to modern ghost stories that transform it, here are 13 scary reads about ghosts, haunted houses, and other things that go bump in the night. They’ll keep you up all night with the lights on. Whether it’s because you can’t put the book down, or you’re too afraid to sleep.
13 Ghost Books to Totally Freak You Out
1. The Ultimate Collection: Edgar Allan Poe
Poe — the original American master of Gothic horror — is best known for his chilling short stories. Start with The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of Red Death, or The Tell-Tale Heart.
Think of this collection of stories as a charcuterie board of horror. You’d never commit to eating a whole block of cheese in one sitting, but chop it up and serve it with some crackers, and you’re all in.
2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Henry James’ Gothic horror novella tells the anxiety-inducing suspenseful story of a governess charged with caring for two orphans in a huge manor. She quickly realizes there’s a dark secret surrounding the children, and the house. And it’s not just that she bought somewhere too far away from a Trader Joe’s.
3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is the quintessential evil manor story. Four strangers stay at the haunted Hill House to document the supernatural, only to find more than they bargained for.
Even after you put the book down, it leaves you with a subtle terror that leaves you feeling unsettled and uneasy, similar to the feeling you get when your mom texts you “call me asap.” Mom, is someone in the hospital or did you see a funny dog at the park? Why are you being so cryptic?!
4. The Shining by Stephen King
The Shining is terrifying as both a film and a book. The book is told mostly from Jack Torrance’s point of view, which gives you a much more personal look at how his isolation in a haunted hotel causes him to slowly lose his grip on reality. After 2020, we can’t relate at all.
There are many dread-filled paranormal moments that didn’t make it into the Kubrick film, but remain in the scarred minds of readers. Thanks, brain, for always remembering the important stuff! What would we do if we ever forgot the disconnected number of our childhood home phone?
5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gothic book is sometimes left off of horror lists and categorized as historical fiction. But with a malevolent spirit looming throughout the novel and many haunting, horrifying moments, it has to make the list for best ghost stories.
It takes place decade after the Civil War, and centers around a formerly enslaved woman and her family who are haunted by a violent spirit. When they’re visited by a mysterious, strange woman who calls herself Beloved, it becomes clear how the family’s past continues to haunt them.
6. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
There are two types of people who read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as kids: People who are still haunted by at least one of those stories to this day and liars.
This anthology of scary stories is a true smorgasbord of ghostly apparitions and ghouls and might be the reason why Millennials have so many collective fears. Scarecrows, mysterious stews, talking on the phone, answering the door, headlights shining into your car, and zits. Pro-tip: if you have a pimple that looks like a giant red spot, do not touch it.
7. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Much like pumpkin spice lattes, when it comes to House of Leaves, you either love it or you hate it. At a basic level, it’s a pretty standard haunted house plot, with the added layer of a story within a story. The book follows a family as they begin to explore the haunted depths of their house, while a tattoo parlor clerk reads documentary notes about the family and the house.
The book stands apart because of its meandering and confusing writing, with purposely dense, footnoted prose, and text that is often rotated, backwards, crossed out and even divided across pages. The text mirrors the labyrinthine void of the house, and the characters’ slow descent into madness. Our English teacher gave it a F.
8. The Good House by Tananarive Due
The Good House tells the story of a woman returning to her family home, years after her son committed suicide there, to find answers and rebuild her life. She must contend with an evil force and her own family history. The Good House has been compared to The Shining and Pet Sematary, but Due’s character-driven writing makes this suspenseful, creepy story all her own.
9. Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
If you love ghost stories so much you just want to marry them, start here, with a book in which a woman literally marries a ghost. Inspired by Chinese/Malaysian folklore, Ghost Bride follows a young woman who agrees to become bride to the recently deceased heir of a rich family, in order to placate his restless spirit. She soon finds herself torn between reality and the shadowy ghost world she’s pulled into at night.
10. The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Think The Ring meets Dexter. This re-imagined Japanese ghost story follows the spirit of a murdered girl who roams the world avenging her own death, killing murderers and child abusers. When a peculiar boy enters her afterlife, she soon learns she’ll have to exorcise the evil that haunts him. Google maps really bungled those directions.
11. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s anthology of scary stories is a powerful and creepy collection of stories about women. From the story of a woman who refuses to remove the green ribbon around her neck to a ghostly re-imagining of Law and Order: SVU, you won’t be able to get these tales out of your head. Unless you remove the ribbon.
12. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
The tagline of Gideon the Ninth is “Lesbian Necromancers in Space,” and it’s essentially a haunted house murder mystery with attitude. The main character is an aviator-wearing swordswoman who’s just trying to escape. Add in a bunch of sorcerers who can raise the dead and speak to ghosts, and it’s got more creepers and ghouls than the Twitter mentions of a woman who just posted a personal opinion. Who knew “I like pancakes” was such a hot take?
13. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This Gothic tale set in 1950s Mexico is often described as part Crimson Peak and part Rebecca, with a dollop of colonizer criticism. In it, a young socialite from Mexico City goes to the countryside to visit her cousin after receiving disturbing letters. There, she finds a decaying mansion, visions of a faceless woman, and perhaps most terrifying, her cousin’s creepy English in-laws.