5 Ways to Choose Good Books about Ghosts

Ghost books are always popular. Though many people enjoy ghost stories around Halloween, ghost enthusiasts are always interested in a good, chilling ghost book.

Here are 5 things to look for when choosing a ghost book.

1. Is the story believable?

When you’re reading a paranormal novel or a true ghost story, it’s important to believe it, at least while you’re reading it. If you’re not afraid to turn off the light after you read the last page of the story, it probably wasn’t scary enough.

That may be the single most important decision for you, when you choose a ghost book: Do you believe it?

Authors have to be more informed than ever before. Today’s fan of ghost books has probably watched episodes of TV shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab, Haunted Collector, or Paranormal State. They know what’s real and what’s probably fake.

So, if a story or a book describes something that’s been exposed as a hoax, the author’s credibility is at risk. Since the 19th century, ghost hoaxes have included things like theatrical seances, figured dressed up in sheets, effects with mirrors, and ghosts that actually kill people.

Readers may be willing to suspend disbelief while they’re reading a well-crafted ghost story, but that limit shouldn’t be pushed too far.

When a haunting is described, or if ghost hunters are involved in the ghost story, the details should be as accurate as possible.

On the other hand, a well-crafted story doesn’t have to include many details. Henry James’ classic novel, The Turn of the Screw, didn’t need to feature high-tech ghost hunting tools. Read in one sitting, it’s one of the most terrifying ghost stories, ever.

Also, author Edgar Allan Poe masterfully terrified readers with casual understatement in his story, The Tell-Tale Heart. He practically shrugged off the ease of the violence that triggered the tale. That made the story more chilling.

2. Is the author respected as an expert on ghosts and haunted places?

If the author hasn’t written about ghosts in the past, check reviews of the book. Sometimes, an author might be a fan of ghost TV shows. Or, he might have done a lot of research before attempting a ghost novel.

In other cases, the author was only trying to expand her audience to include ghost enthusiasts. Perhaps her editor said, “Write a story with ghosts in it. We need more ghost stories.”

Reviews are a good way to tell. In addition, the description of the book may help you decide whether that ghost book is worth reading.

3. Is the story fresh or overworked?

Many paranormal ghost stories are set in the same old locations. There’s nothing wrong with yet another spooky story about a deserted mental hospital, but the author needs to bring something fresh to the tale.

When a ghost book is set in a named, familiar location, the story must include something new and fascinating. In addition, the details must be accurate or the suspense is broken.

Any ghost story about the Bell Witch must add information the reader didn’t know before. Also, it must be written in a compelling style. The language can reference the early 1800s when the Bell Witch plagued the Red River region of Tennessee. The actual story should use a modern, but not trendy, vocabulary.

“The Myrtles Plantation: The True Story of America’s Most Haunted House” is an example of a good story that suffers from dated language. It’s also hurt by a rambling, amateurish writing style. However, the latter also increases the credibility of the story.

When you choose a good ghost books, you expect a book that’s a page-turner from start to finish. Though it’s possible to rewrite a familiar ghost story in a compelling way, most readers are looking for new ghost stories, well told.

The phrase “instant classic” is overused. Despite that, readers should look for books that are written to be as fascinating in 100 years as they are today.

4. Is it scary enough?

Ghost stories can be suspenseful or they can delve into horror. You should be very clear about what you want, before you select the best ghost books for you.

Often, you can judge a ghost book by its cover. If it’s black and white with lots of blood red, the ghost story is likely to include elements of horror. If anything Satanic is on the cover, that’s another cue that the story may be lurid.

For example, the first edition of Jay Anson’s book, The Amityville Horror, featured over-sized houseflies and a symbol of the devil’s tail. Though the history of the house included gruesome murders, most of the book was simply scary.

The original Amityville book included the subtitle, “A True Story.” That’s something else to look for, if you want some real chills. A story that’s genuinely true will be less deliberately scary and, as a result, be more frightening than an over-the-top novel that’s clearly made-up.

5. Do you want a happy ending, and how happy should it be?

The Canterville Ghost is a fictional ghost story with a happy ending. The ghosts “cross over” and everyone lives happily ever after.

The first Amityville book left us uncertain about the house and if it would attract other unsuspecting buyers. And, as movie after movie showed us, the story did continue. That’s a good, medium-scary conclusion reached by many ghost books.

And then there are books like Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” which has a very tidy ending. About 10 minutes after you turn the lights out for the night, that ending will come back to haunt you. I’ve known people who couldn’t sleep with the lights out for two or three months after reading that book, even though it’s fiction.

If you have a low scare threshold, be sure to read reviews before you start reading any ghost book.

No ghost book will be perfect for every reader. It’s important to understand what you’re looking for, when you shop for ghost stories. Check for a believable story, a good author, a premise you’ll enjoy, story elements that are fresh, and the right level of chills.

Reviews can help. So can familiarity with the author’s other work.

Good ghost books aren’t just for Halloween. They’re ideal for chilly nights, reading under the covers, and for beach or poolside reading when the temperatures climb.


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