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6 Must-Read Shirley Jackson Books: The Ultimate Guide

We recommend starting with one of these six excellent books.

Last Updated on April 19, 2024 by BiblioLifestyle

Best Shirley Jackson Books Where To Start Reading

Shirley Jackson, an eminent figure in the realm of 20th-century literature, left behind a powerful legacy through her thrilling short stories and novels.  Known primarily for her prowess in crafting psychological horror and mystery, Jackson’s works continue to captivate readers with their gripping narratives and complex character explorations.  If you’re new to her work, you might be wondering where to start.  This guide provides a comprehensive starting point for beginners before delving into a list of must-read Shirley Jackson books, each accompanied by a succinct summary.

About Shirley Jackson

Who is Shirley Jackson?

Shirley Jackson was an American writer born on December 14, 1916, in San Francisco, California.  She was famous for her unique style of psychological horror and mystery.  Jackson’s writing journey began in her teenage years, but it was her publication of “The Lottery” in 1948 that catapulted her to fame.  This controversial story, known for its shocking ending, made her a prominent name in the literary world.  Jackson went on to write six novels, scores of short stories, and several children’s books.  She spent most of her adult life in North Bennington, Vermont, where she lived with her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, and their four children.  Jackson’s influential works continue to be celebrated for their profound exploration of humanity’s darker side.  She passed away prematurely at the age of 48 of heart failure in 1965, leaving a lasting legacy in the genre of horror and mystery literature.

What is Shirley Jackson’s most famous story?

Shirley Jackson’s most famous story is undoubtedly “The Lottery,” first published in The New Yorker in June 1948.  This chilling tale, set in a small town, follows the disturbing tradition of a public lottery.  Its shocking and violent conclusion, a stark commentary on the dangers of blind conformity and unexamined traditions, caused considerable controversy upon its initial publication.  Despite—or perhaps because of—its unsettling themes, “The Lottery” remains one of the most anthologized stories in American literature, solidifying Jackson’s position as a master of psychological horror.

Get a copy of “The Lottery” on Amazon or Bookshop.

What is Shirley Jackson’s scariest book?

While opinions on what constitutes “scary” can be highly subjective, many readers and critics alike agree that Shirley Jackson’s scariest book is “The Haunting of Hill House” (Amazon or Bookshop.)  The novel, first published in 1959, is a masterclass in psychological horror, following a group of individuals participating in a paranormal investigation of a reputedly haunted mansion.  With its gripping narrative and terrifying atmosphere, “The Haunting of Hill House” is often cited as one of the best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century.  Its exploration of the thin line between supernatural horror and the terror of the mind gives it an enduring, chilling impact.

Get a copy of “The Haunting of Hill House” Amazon or Bookshop.

What is Shirley Jackson’s best-selling book?

Shirley Jackson’s best-selling book is “The Haunting of Hill House.”  Since its initial publication in 1959, this novel has been reprinted numerous times and translated into multiple languages, reaching a broad international readership.  The book’s enduring popularity was further bolstered by different television adaptations, ensuring its status as one of Jackson’s most commercially successful works.  Its chilling narrative and psychological depth continue to captivate readers, affirming Jackson’s proficiency in the realm of horror and mystery.

Get a copy of “The Haunting of Hill House” Amazon or Bookshop.

What Shirley Jackson book should beginners read first?

For those new to Shirley Jackson’s work, a great place to start is her short story collection, “The Lottery and Other Stories.”  This compilation includes her most famous story, “The Lottery”, along with 24 other tales, offering a comprehensive introduction to her unique style of psychological horror and mystery.  The stories, though each unique in their narrative, collectively showcase Jackson’s ability to explore humanity’s darker sides within the confines of ordinary events and characters.  Engaging with this collection will equip beginners with an understanding of Jackson’s thematic preoccupations and narrative style, providing a solid foundation for delving into her longer and more complex works.

Get a copy of “The Lottery and Other Stories” on Amazon or Bookshop.

6 Must-Read Shirley Jackson Books

For readers looking to explore Shirley Jackson’s works, here is a list of six must-read books:

  • The Lottery and Other Stories
  • The Haunting of Hill House
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  • Hangsaman
  • The Sundial
  • The Bird’s Nest
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

A collection of 25 stories that explore the sinister underbelly of everyday life.  The titular story, ‘The Lottery,’ is Jackson’s most famous work and provides a chilling depiction of a small town’s annual tradition.  Other stories explore the power of fear, faith, and superstition in unexpected ways.


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Arguably Jackson’s most terrifying novel, this story follows four individuals as they investigate a notoriously haunted mansion.  The novel expertly blurs the line between supernatural horror and psychological thriller, making for a chilling read.


We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

In this novel, Jackson tells the eerie story of the Blackwood sisters, the last survivors of a well-to-do family living in isolation after a tragic event.  Their peaceful existence is disturbed by the arrival of a cousin who threatens to unearth their dark secrets.


Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

This novel revolves around Natalie, a lonely college freshman navigating the challenges of adulthood.  As she struggles with her personal demons, Natalie’s grip on reality starts to dwindle, leading to a chilling climax.


The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

A lesser-known but equally captivating novel, ‘The Sundial’ tells the story of the Halloran family, who, convinced that the end of the world is near, seclude themselves in their ancestral home.  Enclosed within the mansion’s walls, family tensions rise, and the narrative takes several dark turns.


The Bird's Nest by Shirley Jackson

The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson

In this psychological thriller, Jackson weaves the story of Elizabeth Richmond, a seemingly normal young woman who is suffering from psychogenic fugues—a condition that causes her to forget identity and assume new personalities. With its gripping narrative, ‘The Bird’s Nest’ effectively explores themes of personal identity and mental illness.


What do you think about these Shirley Jackson books?

Have you read any books by Shirley Jackson?  Are any of these books or her other works on your TBR?   What book by Shirley Jackson is your favorite?  What Shirley Jackson books would you add to this list?  Let us talk about it in the comments below.


The Best Shirley Jackson Books

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