Refreshing Ghost Stories for Hot Days

When it’s hot and you have no air conditioning, I recommend four things: cold showers, oscillating fans, liquor in the freezer, and ghost stories, the kind where people are constantly exhaling clouds of icy vapor. Not aliens, vampires, serial killers, werewolves, or plagues–it’s got to be ghost stories. If it isn’t common wisdom yet, it ought to be: nothing cools you off like a refreshing encounter with the other side! In that vein, here’s a roundup of books to pour over your brain like the Ice Bucket Challenge of Doom.

Classic Stories

I’m going to skip right over Hamlet and “A Christmas Story,” but I don’t want to neglect the classics entirely. Here’s a selection from the masters to chill your bones and your whatnot.

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James9780486266848
If you’re writing a paper for your sophomore English class, you can interpret this as a mental breakdown on the part of the nanny. Otherwise, let’s get real: it’s ghosts.

The Empty House and Other Stories, Algernon Blackwood
That link takes you to a free Kindle version, sweet.

A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories, M.R. James
I also highly recommend “Casting the Runes,” a short story that can be found at that link.

The Shunned House, H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft is the best xenophobe bigot writer of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. For this list, I’m going to steer away from inbreeding, space monsters, and fish people (just this once) and recommend the story “The Shunned House.” The great thing about this link is here you will find no less than four stories with titles that begin, “The Horror…”, so really your day just got a lot better.

Carnacki, The Ghost Finder, William Hope Hodgson9781587155710
This is the solution if Ghostbusters did not satisfy you, though personally I cannot imagine why it wouldn’t.

And if you feel like like I’m under-representing white men in this list, god help us, check out this site, which has some Edgar Allen Poe, Irving Washington, and Edward Bulwer Lytton to soothe and terrify you.


Moving on from short stories, here are some chunkier novels to sink your teeth into if you have a penchant for scaring yourself repeatedly over the course of a few days.

Ghost Story, Peter Straub9780671685638
What, too easy? But the climatic night actually takes place in a blizzard, so it’s kind of the ultimate cooling ghost story.

The Woman in Black and The Man in the Picture, Susan Hill
Spooky gold, and the movie for Woman in Black is nice and dank and cooling, as well.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson9780140071085
Another story that dares to ask, “Is she crazy or is she haunted?” To which I reply, with no ambivalence whatsoever, “HAUNTED.” Duh.

Contemporary Ghostliness

Why should old-timey folks get all the death? New books about ghosts are being published all the time!

The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters9781594484469
Christ, another one that’s got a psychological twist. HAUNTED, that’s my final word.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Cherie Priest
This book is the first in a series about a heroine who can communicate with ghosts. I’ve recommended Priest before and she is always a good bet.

She Walks These Hills, Sharyn McCrumb
One of a lovely series that uses folk songs as titles and central concepts. This is more of a mystery than a ghost story, but McCrumb gracefully blends the lingering power of the past with a wisp of the supernatural. If you enjoy this kind of updated Gothic flavor, Barbara Michaels is also a lot of fun. Michaels can occasionally be hit or miss (I’m sorry! I love you!), but The Dancing Floor is one of my favorites.

The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo9780062227331
Gorgeous, mythical, and from the point of view of the ghost!

If none of these suggestions adequately freeze your soul, try reading Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, which will remind you why no sane person should ever, ever vote Libertarian.