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The Most Haunting Books: A List

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Dear Kay,
Well THAT was fascinating.
I have long known that the comments on this blog are more interesting than the entries. This is particularly obvious when you look through the response to the question posed in our previous entry: “What’s the most haunting book you’ve read?” Thank you ALL for taking time to share your thoughts.
I’ve collected all the haunting books into an easy-to-use clip ‘n’ save PDF download right here. (Be sure to spend some time with all the great comments, too. Such a bunch of smartypantses!)
I love this list so much. Most striking is the way the definition of haunting varies from reader to reader. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir. Physics to genetics. Children in jeopardy and war are huge, but so are wild fantasy and the most realistic of novels. I see so many titles here that make me go “YES! HAUNTING!” and books I’d long forgotten. Surprises too: The Giving Tree is haunting? You know, Susan, you’re so right.
Our contest winner, chosen via random number generator, is Dr. Karen, who tells us her most haunting book: “Henry James’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW that I read on an overnight train ride from London to Edinburgh 25 years ago has to count as the creepiest full goose bozo kids book for me.” A copy of Alma Katsu’s THE TAKER will be heading your way soon.
Many thanks to Alma Katsu for inspiring a juicy book conversation. Now it’s time to grab a book for the weekend.
Love,
Ann

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43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Of those listed, I had read 48. Some I wouldn’t call ‘haunted’, but all of the ones I had read were excellent reads. The list included two of my all time favorites, To Kill A Mockingbird and Sophie’s Choice. It was a great walk through the list and I’ve seen the names of some that I always wanted to get around to reading.

  2. Mmmmm, The Turn of the Screw. That’s my 2nd most haunting. Quite, quite creepy, but the vampire wins out for me.
    So glad your bookshelves look like ours, with random piles of books and ‘other stuff’. Makes me feel much better! x x x

  3. How very kind (and industrious! and organized!) of you to make a lovely printable PDF copy of the list. I was so fascinated by everyone’s comments I want to dive right in and start reading. What a great result to a fun little contest: A new reading list for the new year.

  4. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon. The first 100 pages or so are a bit of a slog, but well worth it. On Sept. 10, 2001 I got to the point in the novel where the action was taking place on Dec. 6, 1941. After 9/11, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the book for several months.
    This book won the National Book Award. “Yiddish Policeman’s Union” is also very good.

  5. What a list! Thanks for making the downloadable copy. So many outstanding choices, and as you said it’s great to be reminded of so many beloved books from the past.
    Two I didn’t see on your PDF:
    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Words can’t do it justice, and it does include actual haunting.
    The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston, also has literal and figurative ghosts. Unforgettable.

  6. Good-bye to All That–oh, yes. I wish I had added that one. And I think I should have also listed everything by Willa Cather. Can’t think of anything of hers that doesn’t have a wisp of a haunt about it. And Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres.

  7. Thank you sooo much for the PDF list of books. I was thinking about taking notes on the titles as I scanned the comments; you’ve been so kind to do it for all of us!!
    Happy reading!

  8. Thanks for compiling that list, Ann. It’s marvelous! I am so stopping my local second-hand book store on the way home tonight.

  9. I love looking at bookshelves. It is one of the things that makes me happiest about our house is the room that is only marginally more than a library (there is also a computer desk in there) for the scanner/printer). I really should reshelve and shift my books. It’s been months and there are volumes I can never find because of it!

  10. Thank you, Ann, for the eclectic, inspiring and overall pretty classy reading list. “Turn of the Screw” is a perfect winner, even more so as an audio-book.

  11. Thank you thank you thank you, Anne! This warms my (librarian) heart and I am sending it to my reading/knitting loving (but not blog-reading) mother-in-law right now.
    Please keep posting your books so we can keep up the conversation.

  12. Ann, you missed “Instuments of Night” by Thomas H.Cook. you may remember giving it to me from the trunk of your car. you were about throw it away. it is pure horror and terror, three stories in one. Strongly recommend it. Dad

  13. As if I didn’t have enough books on my “to read” list! Agh! PS – when are you going to talk about “Downton Abbey”? Are you watching it? And if not, why not? :)

  14. I am both glad and sorry that the “most haunting book” contest is over. Glad that now I can add another comment, and sorry that there aren’t any more new suggestions!
    Many many thanks for this contest. It ranks right up there with Kay’s contest from last year: “favorite one-pot weeknight recipe that you can vouch for.” Knitting, books, and soup. Things to help you get through life, and especially through the winter!
    Oh, and here are some more books that have haunted me, that I didn’t mention the first time. Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of was by Helen Zenna Smith (real name Evadne Price)a novel about women ambulance drivers in the first world war, published in 1930. A Match to the Heart: One Woman’s Story of Being Struck by Lightning, by Gretel Ehrlich, published in 1995. Finally, a set of novels about young women in the near (post world-wide disaster) future. Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, set in Northern California, and How I Live Now, set in England with an American protagonist.

  15. That was supposed to be Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of WAR.

  16. Forgot one – Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

  17. Love coming by here (which I do so embarassingly often! Like another reader pointed out: I hang out, get ideas for supper, see what projects or trips are on the go, discover (and get to view!) small documentaries bout Latvia, and can now go to the Sutton liberry armed with a LIST. So much more than *just* a knitting blog. xoxo

  18. Ann, your book shelves definitely need to see this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKVcQnyEIT8

  19. Thank you for the list. Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry Caudill though is non-fiction, and yes, truly haunting.

  20. Kavalier and Clay, yes indeed!
    I am just now reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which I thought would be a country house romance, sorta, and now strange things are happening and it is becoming spooky. Wooooo.

  21. adding to the chorus of thanks for the pdf, and also adding to the list addendum, with Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.” I read it in high school, and I still think about it. oh, man.

  22. Wow, thank you so much for that awesome & scrumptious pdf! Just looked it over, and was pleased to see that someone else also thinks Black & Blue Magic belonged on that list. I read it in 4th grade & still reflect on that book. It’s really, really wonderful! Again, great thanks for the reading suggestions. This is why yours is a fantastically great blog!!

  23. Sorry I missed this yesterday, and I love the list! Thanks for putting it together. I see favorites on there and others I’d like to know.
    I know it’s late but I wanted to add that I am haunted not by vampires and Stephen King (I do enjoy them) but by Edgar and Almondine in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and by Miriam in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  24. Ooh, yes, The Giving Tree is totally haunting.
    I’ve been thinking about it lately, too.
    I did not comment because I couldn’t come up with one, and life flowed on and I forgot. Thanks so much for making the list available all handy-like.

  25. Oh, dear – I am so very late to this party, but if you are compelled to offer Haunting Books, the PDF Part Deux, I wish to put forward “A Candle in Her Room,” by Ruth M. Arthur.
    It is a children’s book, and the first horror novel I ever read. (Some people count “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin” as their first horror novel, but I didn’t read that until I had children of my own, sadly.) It’s going for terrific sums on Amazon, but the library might still have a copy.
    And it’s got wonderful scratchy 60s-style illustrations by the incomparable Margery Gill.
    Thank you so much for compiling these recommendations! It is every bit as important to have haunting-read lists in the winter as it is to get sexy beach fluff recs in the summer.

  26. Sorry to miss your last post but I am reading a fantastic book and highly recommend to everyone-
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This is not fiction altho sometimes it seems like it but a true story of a woman who died of cervical cancer over 50 years ago and her cells live on. It’s a fascinating read into our culture and I’m learning a lot of science too.

  27. When I was a teenager, there were a number of books with which I was fascinated by day:: and couldn’t stand the thought of them in my room with me while I slept. So they had to go out in the hall. Books can have a powerful spell over us, yes?
    Here’s a link to a stop-motion film, The Joy of Books .
    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/01/11/the-joy-of-books/

  28. What an interesting post! And what book shelves!! It tells a lot about a person isn’it? ha ha ha!!! Have a great week-end of reading!

  29. I can’t believe I forgot to post mine! (My job sorta ‘splodified last week. I’ve also forgotten grocery shopping, changing my sheets and turning the compost. Gonna be a busy saturday!)
    Okay, here are two that are most haunting..
    Looking for Alaska by John Green. The whole time you’re reading, you’re waiting for IT to happen. About 2/3rds of the way from the end, IT happens. But IT’s not what you think it’s going to be…. No, so not what you thought… It still haunts me.
    Also, the Book of Lights by Chaim Potok. It haunts me more than Davita’s Harp. Two rabbinical students end up in Korea as Army chaplains in the aftermath of the Korean War. The exploration of the mysticism of light and dark will make you think. One of the themes running through the book is the question of what will arise from the fragments of the WW2 generation. Our recent past (well, since 1999 to the present)holds some of the answers to this. It’s interesting that I’ve read this book to pieces; I’m on my second battered copy, but this is the first time I’ve read it since 2001. This is the first time I’ve cried, though it’s quite sobering all the way through.
    Anyhoo, that’s whats haunting me lately.

  30. Thanks for putting the list together – so many are favorites!

  31. It’s my own fault for not commenting on the previous post, but I’m really surprised no one suggested any Nabokov novels. His books immediately came to mind for me, but I couldn’t decide which one I found most “haunting,” so I didn’t comment. “Bend Sinister,” “Invitation to a Beheading,” and “Laughter in the Dark” haunt me, as does the ever popular “Lolita.” As far as autobiography, Nabokov’s “Speak, Memory” is hauntingly beautiful, and is one of my favorite books. Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog” is another favorite of mine, and I find most of Chekhov’s stories haunting.

  32. Sorry I missed the chance to comment before, but this book must be noted: A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines. It is positively haunting; it remains in my head years after reading.
    Happy to see another favorite, A Fine Balance (Mistry) on the list.
    Thanks for sharing everyone’s contribution.

  33. Yes, yes, THe LITTLE STRANGER by Sarah Waters. In fact, anything by Sarah Waters.
    Thanks, Ann, for the list. I’ll be carrying it to the library . . .

  34. Fascinating list – I have read quite a few of them which I would not agree are haunting per se. This led to a discussion with my husband about what makes a book “haunting.” It’s interesting that this is always meant as a compliment, even though it implies discomfort or a bit of a negative quality to the mood.
    He pointed out that it can’t be haunting unless it’s well-written.
    He also wishes to add The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a collection of stories by Daniyal Muennuddin.
    Thanks for the provocation of thought :)

  35. I was hoping to be reminded of a book I read that was about twins who are in desperate need of separation from their house and each other. They move to a flat in England, from American, and get caught up in mysterious goings on with the family crypt located in the cemetery next door. And a neighbor who has a fear of leaving his apartment. Definitely haunting. Off to the library.

  36. How timely – I was just on the hunt for a new book – I will puruse the list! thanks for compiling!
    Pam

  37. A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton- I think of this book often. Her style of writing is superb. It’s attraction survives many reading. Can’t miss.

  38. (Oh yeah, “Speak, Memory,” also one of my favorites.) I woke this morning thinking of another haunter, a short story which appeared in The New Yorker some years ago. Can’t remember the name or author, but it involved a man who stops by a strange old couple’s home and stays the night in a room where the bureau drawers are full of potatoes. Whatever you do, don’t read that story. In our house, when you encounter a family member who is all pale and shaken, the diagnosis is, “You made the mistake of reading this week’s New Yorker fiction, didn’t you!”

  39. I’m enjoying the list of haunting books, but to persist on my theme, a third book by y’all, I hope you’ll also include the cute ball band tea cozy, which strikes just the right note of winsome homeliness that is so important in British tea cozies.

  40. Wow, I’m pleased that I’ve read so many of these (some I never thought of as haunting at the time, but I can see it now) and a lovely PDF guide for my book group!!
    Thanks!!

  41. Love the list!!! I added mine before I went through everyone’s. It would have been much harder to pick two if I had read everyone else’s picks. So many favorites to revisit, and so many new ones. My Kindle account is on fire!

  42. Haunting books? Not many. I stopped in the early pages of S. King’s “Misery”, when I read ahead and found out what that cukoo cukoo lady did. I read no further.
    I will tell you, though, that the most haunting movie I ever saw was “Sleepers” with Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman and Anthony DeNiro. That movie haunted me for at least a year.
    LoveDiane

  43. My nominations are “Nowhere Else on Earth,” by Josephine Humphreys; and “The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse,” by Louise Erdrich. Thanks for the list!