Books That Go Bump in the Night

How many of you have been haunted? Was it a good experience or a bad one?

Okay, just so you know, I’m not talking about spooks or ghostly apparitions, ghouls or even goblins. I’m talking about books and characters, and those haunting stories you just can’t seem to shake. It’s not about horror or Stephen King, or any specific genre. A book capable of haunting you can be a book of any genre because it’s not the genre, it’s the book itself. You know what I mean, those characters brought to life on the page by their thoughts and actions, leaving you wondering just how the author was able to create such believable, and memorable characters.

Characters who live on after the story has expired, who leave us wondering and thinking about their actions, especially if it’s a character we’ve grown fond of, is not always an unpleasant experience. As a matter of fact it can be kind of fun as we speculate what might have happened had the story continued on. Sometimes we replay our favourite scenes one more time or relish a particular phrase or sentence. Have you been there, done that? I sure have.

This weekend we made a trip to New Brunswick. It is a four-hour drive so I took along a book to help pass the time. The book is one of those stories that haunted me from the very beginning. I was immediately drawn in. The main character wouldn’t leave me alone.

I feel sympathy for him. He’s the underdog. He’s being bullied and it’s horrible. I want him to do something to retaliate, to get back at those who are bullying him. But he takes matters into his own hands because he can’t think of a better way to deal with his situation and emotions. I don’t want him to, in fact I’m appalled at the action he does take, but it does little to change the fact that this book, this character haunted me on the trip home even after I laid the book down. He’s still the underdog and I’m still sympathetic. I’m entering Part Two, my feelings toward this character may change. My feelings should change, I even want them to, but I’m not so certain they will. Is there something wrong with me?

I’m a bit curious about my own emotions concerning this book.
As I read through the story, I’m reminded that for every criminal act we hear about in the news, there is a real person who committed this act, someone who has their own story to tell, who may be trying to deal with life the only way they can. There are things we don’t know, and aren’t privy to. That’s the way life is. We can’t be everywhere, know all things. It’s impossible. Life isn’t a book, a small sliver shaved off a few people’s lives and presented to us. Even if it were, it still wouldn’t make their criminal actions right. It would only inject a bit of understanding and reasoning to it. The book I’m reading does just that, and maybe that’s why it’s haunting me. The main character is so believable. He could be someone I’ve met or have known about. Perhaps he is even me, if I were in that same situation at that age. I can’t be sure.

I’m not certain what my best line of attack is, how best to deal with this haunting. Do I plough through the story just to get to the end, face whatever is awaiting me, get it over with? Or do I read a bit here and a bit there, let the story settle a little at a time, find ways to distract myself in the meantime, stretch it our for a week or more, and hope my main character atones for his actions?

How many of you have been haunted by a book you’ve read, by characters you just can’t shake, characters who get inside your head and don’t want to leave? And how did you tackle the book, a little at a time or in one big smash?

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  1. The most haunting story I have ever read, I think it was by Sir Stephen but I am not certain, was about the boogeyman. It was a story of growing terror of a man who has all his children killed by this evil thing that is living in the closets of his house. It was very chilling. I can never forget it.

    • Sounds haunting, Tim. These stories are the ones that we remember for the emotions they stirred within us even after we;ve forgotten all the plot twists and turns.

  2. I think that is a mark of a great book! The character’s shouldn’t be easily forgotten. They should get into your head and captivate you.

    I plow through in one big smash.

    Love the photo, as usual!

    • *characters ;)

      • One big smash, you say. Not sure I’m that brave.. Hopefully, A good book will do just that—stay with us for a long while…

        I was going to comment on the typo of course since you pointed it out, but thought I’d just let it slide..Oops! Guess I just mentioned it.. Sorry kid!

  3. As a history teacher for 33 years plus a BA and two MA’s, I understand your concept. The span of 8,000 years of history is with me all the time and many people of history I feel as though they have been my neighbors or at least contemporaries. They live in my present all the time. Some people will say therefore that history studiers are crazy and delusional but cannot understand the additional dimension we carry. As far as novels go, yes I am disappointed when some end because the character has been in my life and thoughts for a week or two and now that the character is gone, there is an emptiness. I miss them so in that way they are haunting.

  4. I’ve certainly felt that emptiness from time to time. Emptiness is a very good word, Carl. I sometimes wonder if we don’t feel that emptiness more profoundly if we rush through that great read too quickly.

  5. I felt that way reading “Gone With the Wind.” Scarlett’s attitude troubled me to no end. I read it in 45-60 minute increments on my exercise bike.

    • Reading while on the exercise bike. I haven’t tried that. “Gone With the Wind”–I’ve seen the movie but have not read the book.

  6. When a book haunts me, I tend to read it as fast as I can and get to the end; otherwise, I get too distracted thinking about it!

    • I suppose racing through to the end keeps one from thinking about it all those other times in between. I’m not sure I have the time to do that unless I wait until the evening. Even though it’s a very easy read it still has the ability to haunt.

  7. “Fraid I gotta rush thru to the end – Recently finished a book ( a month ago?) in the wee hours of the morning & when I got to the very end I said “Wow” – out loud – to an empty room. Then I stayed awake for a while thinking the story through again (& thinking how I could probably never write anything that spellbinding). Then I fell asleep, & showed up for work 2 hours late.

    • Never say never, Dave. Hard to say what that next book you write will do for readers. It must have been quite a haunting to keep you awake AND late for work.

  8. “Gone with the Wind”. This one I read as a teenager. It stays in my mind even to this day as though Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler, Ashley, and Melanie, and many others were real people. My heart ached for Scarlet and I wanted to shake her by the shoulders. She was a character you could dislike and love at the same time. Rhett, too.

    Yes, I guess I’ve been haunted, Laura. I hope you like the end of the book you are reading. I was fighting mad at the end of “Gone with the Wind”, yet how could it have ended any other way? I see that my friend Patti found this book puzzling, too. Blessings to you…

    • Great to see you, Carol Ann. You’ve been in my thoughts and prayers, as you know…

      I hope I like the ending as well. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the main character, what changes he will go through as the book progresses..

  9. Dracula is probably the most haunting book I’ve ever read. Not because its filled with spooky fog and a vampire, but because the journal entries of the main characters made me feel like I was right there beside them. They were all so real to me and so were their experiences.

    Jane Eyre is another one that has haunted me since the day I first met her. When I first read that book, it was the first time I really connected to a character. I understood her and could identify with her vulnerabilities. She remains my favorite character of all time and Bronte’s book is among the most battered on my shelf, (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it!).

    • A battered book is a book that has been well read and loved. There are not many books I have read for a second time, let alone past that. The fact that you’ve read them so many times that you’ve lost track speaks volumes.

      I haven’t read “Dracula” or “Jane Eyre.” Maybe it’s time I did…Oh, and “Gone With the Wind.” Perhaps I do enjoy being haunted…

  10. A lot of true crime often haunts me. So often, there’s one little thing that could have made all the difference. If she’d only told people she was being followed…if she’d only locked that window…if that felon had just taken the money and walked away….

    In terms of fiction, I can think of two books that really haunted me. One was “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold. Susie Salmon seems so real, and what happened to her has happened to far too many other kids. I so desperately wanted to turn back the clock and save her. The other was “The Green Mile” by Stephen King. Another sad story of an innocent victim. Those are the books that haunt me…the ones where you wish you could change the circumstances of a character so badly.

    Any book that is well written is read voraciously until it is finished. I literally cannot put it down.

    • “The Lovely Bones” looked interesting when the movie came out and I saw it advertised on tv, but I never considered reading the book. It seemed to me that it would be one of those books that would haunt me afterward. I agree with you on “The Green Mile,” Holli. That book, which for me, was so much like the movie, left a lasting imprint. It would be difficult for it not to have.

      • The Lovely Bones woke me up to how much I missed by reading *only* within my fiction comfort zones. It also made me realize how important character(s) is(are) to every single story that has haunted / touched / affected me during my lifetime.

        I went back through some of my faves, like C.B., mine are quite obvious as the battered copies on the shelf, and discovered the power of a character to hook you into the story, no matter its genre, and pull you through to the end, even in unfamiliar territories. Cool stuff.

  11. John Katzenbach’s The Travellor stayed with me in that way. So did Marilyn French’s Bleeding Heart. And Heaven’s Prisoners. Most recently it was Martha Engber’s The Wind Thief. All beautifully written compelling stories that still haunt me and probably will for a long time to come. I want to write those types of stories.

    • I haven’t read any of these books, Joylene. Creating memorable characters is something all writers hope to accomplish. Some writers do it so well. Leaves me a bit in awe.

  12. There have been many, many haunting stories and characters throughout the years but I’ll share the most recent: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The only reason I found out about the book is the 2010 film based on it. The movie mesmerized me with its characters and themes and plot – I thought about it for days. I wanted more, had to have more, so I went looking on the Net. And found A BOOK, yay! The next trip to the library I picked up a copy and read it in two sittings. The book made me wonder and think even more than the film. (It even made me cry!) And I’ve daydreamed / thought about Kathy and Tommy (and even Ruth, who I very much loathed) every day since.

    • Nice to have you visit, Leah. I was actually thinking about you earlier today….And wondering how you’re writing is going for you. Wow, must be ESP or something, seriously…

      I haven’t heard of this book before but it sounds like a good one. Sometimes, after seeing a movie that we really loved, the book doesn’t quite do it for us. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. That, in itself, says a lot. I might have to ad that one to my reading list. :)


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