I’m a big fan of gothic fiction, horror, and all things creepy, and this summer I’ve read some really wonderful spooky books. If you’re looking for a good, creepy read, I highly recommend any of the following. After all, the end of August is the perfect time to curl up with a ghost story, listen to the wind shaking the leaves outside, and wonder what might happen if that shadow in the corner of the room suddenly were to take shape and step into the light.
Early in June I read Dan Chaon’s most recent book, Stay Awake, and fell in love with it. Every story in this collection is original, emotionally charged, and masterfully written. The book is primarily a work of literary fiction, but all the stories share a sort of gleeful enjoyment of the cosmic dark and the things that lurk there. And some are genuinely scary. The last story in the collection, “The Farm. The Gold. The Lilly-White Hands.,” is tremendous—it instantly became one of my all-time favorite ghost stories.
Recently, I spent one glorious evening reading True Irish Ghost Stories cover to cover. This delightful 1926 book is a collection of firsthand accounts of otherworldly encounters, compiled by the author and priest John Seymour.
I also finally got around to reading 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short stories by horror heir Joe Hill (he’s Stephen King’s son). I didn’t think every story in the collection was a winner, but “Best New Horror” was haunting and powerful, and it was the first story in a long time to actually keep me up at night. It is a disturbing, violent, and unsettling narrative that masterfully raises the question of why people seek out disturbing, violent, and unsettling narratives. Without getting obnoxiously meta, the story turns the magnifying glass on the reader in a way that is alarming and insightful. “Black Phone,” “Abraham’s Boys,” and “20th Century Ghost” were also standouts that I really enjoyed.
I also read and loved Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. It was a classic can’t-put-it-down-until-you’re-done page turner for me, and I was so impressed with the well-handled frame narrative and the wonderful gothic setting and undertones. If you want a (very) smart beach read, complete with crumbling castles and secret, underground tunnels, this is your book.
One of the highlights of my summer, literary or otherwise, was reading a collection of HP Lovecraft’s stories on a beach in Marblehead, MA. Lovecraft’s fictional Massachusetts landscape is spread out across the northern coast of the state, and it was a joy to think that I might have been able to see the distant shoreline of Arkham across the bay, if that haunted town actually existed. And further up the coast in Newburyport, I’d be able to catch the rickety bus to mysterious, decaying Innsmouth.
I’m currently reading Haunted Legends, an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas. The editors solicited some of the most successful horror and fantasy writers to compile a collection of contemporary ghost stories that incorporate the folklore and legends of specific places. Laird Barron’s sad, unsettling, and unforgettable story “The Redford Girls” is included.
If you’re not so inclined towards horror, here are my favorite non-creepy books from my summer reading: Charles Portis’ True Grit, Amy Bloom’s Come to Me, Louise Erdrich’s Four Souls (though, I would recommend reading Tracks first), and John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. And although I didn’t love all of Thisbe Nissen’s Out of the Girls Room and Into the Night, her story “Way Back When in the Now Before Now” completely blew me away and brought me to tears.
Happy reading, friends.