What to Read Next (No. 247): 👻 A Couple More Haunted Classics
Featuring "Jane Eyre" and "The Haunting of Hill House"
Happy Friday, readers!
I’ve been bingeing more classic spooky reads and I couldn’t resist sharing them with you all ASAP. This week features a couple books starring haunted houses.
I have a bonus book recommendation too, so let’s get right to it!
Don’t forget to join The Big Read — my online book club where we read classic books, together.
This month we’re digging into Frankenstein. In November and December we’ll be getting chilly with Alfred Lansing’s Endurance.
Bonus Book Rec: Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam
The first book of Laura’s that I read was 168 Hours (2010), which, at its core, is about how the simple idea of tracking your time can change your life. And ya know what? I’ve never looked at time the same way — I can guarantee you’ll find more time in your days and weeks than you ever thought possible.
Since then, I’ve been a loyal fan of her books on time management, productivity, and generally just living a better, more fulfilling life.
Vanderkam’s newest book, published this week, builds on her other work by presenting 9 rules for adding more calm to your life. We all feel the chaos, right? We all bemoan how little time there is for the things we enjoy and how rushed everything feels. The wheels are never gonna stop spinning on their own — at some point you have to take control. Which is exactly what Laura helps readers do in Tranquility by Tuesday.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
From the very first paragraph, Shirley Jackson paints a moody, haunting atmosphere in which Hill House itself is a sinister character to be reckoned with:
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
(For what it’s worth, famed editor Benjamin Dreyer calls this one of his favorite paragraphs in all of literature.)
After that intro we quickly learn the premise of the story. Dr. John Montague has heard rumors of strange, occult experiences at Hill House and wants to investigate. He gathers three other folks — two women and the fellow in line to inherit the property someday — to spend a week at the house with him and see what happens.
After we get the framing of the story, the narrative actually slows down a bit and takes time to develop. At first, I was a little annoyed that it was taking a while to get to the spooks, but I quickly realized that the slow start, in which Jackson really builds out the main characters, makes those spooky parts all the scarier. Since we know the people in the story, we feel those spine-tingling scenes to our core (or least I did!).
This is the type of horror that isn’t graphic at all, but rather leans on the psychological aspects of fear. As with many books in the haunted house niche, you’re left wondering if the phantoms are real or in the characters’ heads — and you never quite know which voices you can trust.
I didn’t love every part of this book, but I sure enjoyed the vast majority of it. It was engaging, tense, and, delightfully layered. I’m still thinking about it and replaying some of the scenes in my head.
It’s easy to see Jackson’s influence on the entire genre, including Stephen King in particular (who counts Jackson as one of his favorite and most influential authors). If you’re a fan of being spooked, The Haunting of Hill House is a must, and definitely worth a re-read if it’s been a while.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This is one of those books that everyone has heard of, but perhaps has a smaller legion of real readers than you might expect — anecdotally, I just don’t hear about it nearly as much as other classics. When it comes to 19th century women authors, it’s all Jane Austen all the time. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte don’t get the same fanfare.
After reading Jane Eyre, though, I can pretty easily say that Charlotte Bronte has crafted the great heroine of English literature.
For the longest time, I figured the Bronte sisters’ books would be just like Austen’s, which I don’t really enjoy. But Jane Eyre is totally different. The setting is moodier than I expected (there are absolutely some spooky and mysterious elements to the story), it’s surprisingly readable, and Jane is a witty, bad-ass, trouble-making woman.
I knew nothing about the plot before diving in, which made it all the more enjoyable. If you haven’t read it yet, try to avoid any back-cover descriptions. So I won’t say much here other than that it’s about a young orphan growing up and finding her own way in the world as she becomes a woman.
Back when I wrote about Middlemarch, I talked about how there was plenty of wisdom contained within, but you had to wade through 900 dense pages to find it. Jane Eyre conveys nearly as much wisdom — on romance, work, independence, even philosophy and religion — in a much more accessible package (though it is still long, with most editions running over 500 pages).
Charlotte Bronte’s famous book gets an easy 5-star rating from me and I’m definitely going to add it to the list of eventual Big Read books.
That’s all for me this week. Thanks so much for the time and inbox space — I deeply appreciate it!