This reading group guide for Ghostly includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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Edited, illustrated, and introduced by the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife
and Her Fearful Symmetry,
this is a unique and haunting anthology of some of the best ghost stories ever written. From Edgar Allan Poe to Kelly Link, Edith Wharton to Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury to Audrey Niffenegger herself, Ghostly
spans from the nineteenth century to the modern era, ranging across styles from Gothic horror to Victorian sentiment, with a particular appreciation for haunting—haunted children, lovers, pets, homes. Each story, introduced by Niffenegger, has been chosen with an eye for the deliciously uncanny. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In her introduction, Niffenegger says, “Dead is the most alone you can be” (p. vii). Why is aloneness so central to ghost stories?
2. What makes “houses, lovers, children, cats,” these “things that are frequently haunted” (p. viii), so ripe for possession?
3. Which cat or group of cats is most terrifying in this collection—Poe’s black cat (p. 3) or Niffenegger’s basement cats (p. 21)? Which do you sympathize with the most?
4. In “The Beckoning Fair One,” Paul Oleron thinks that “each of us knows that point beyond which we stand alone” (p. 105), and he prides himself on having more discernment than Elsie Bengough, though this is arguable. Why does he shut Elsie out, essentially choosing
to be alone?
5. Consider “Honeysuckle Cottage” (p. 205) from Rose Maynard’s point of view. Is it a romance? A tragedy? Is William a hero or a villain in Rose’s version?
6. Think back: When did you first suspect the boy in “Click-Clack the Rattelbag” (p. 241)? Did he sneak up on you, too?
7. The man in “The July Ghost” (p. 323) says, “Please, let me go. What are we, in this house? A man and a woman and a child, and none of us can get through. You can’t want that?” and then the boy smiles, closing the story (pp. 345–46). Do you think the man stays, or does he leave?
8. “Nerves” often plague characters in gothic stories, and we see them at play in “The Open Window” (p. 359) and “Playmates” (p. 285). How do the affects of these nervous conditions on Mr. Nuttel and Stephen Everton play into each man’s reaction to the (seemingly) supernatural?
9. Twins are never alone, in a way, yet they often appear in ghost stories, as they do in “The Specialist’s Hat” (p. 367). Babysitters, too, tend to pop up in horror, seen here in both “The Specialist’s Hat” and “Click-Clack the Rattlebag.” Why are twins and babysitters so popular in scary tales?
10. Why is Jane Eyre
Angie’s favorite book in “Tiny Ghosts” (p. 389)?
11. Niffenegger says, “Perhaps this is not a ghost story at all, but I like to think it is” of Ray Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” (p. 441). Do you think it is? How so? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch the film Rebecca,
starring Joan Fontaine and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and compare it to Edith Wharton’s “The Pomegranate Seed.” How are Charlotte Ashby and Mrs. de Winter alike? Where do they differ?
2. Niffenegger writes that she enjoys reading “The Mezzotint” by M. R. James (p. 185) aloud to her students. Host a book club challenge: each member chooses a favorite ghost story, from this collection or elsewhere, and reads it aloud. Don’t be shy; extra credit for dramatic voice performances and the giving of shivers.
3. Read M. R. James’s essay “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories” from the December 1929 issue of The Bookman.
James asserts that a ghost story must have five elements: the pretense of truth; a “pleasing terror”; no gratuitous violence, bloodshed, or sex; it allows “us to be just a little in the dark as to the working of [its] machinery”; and is set in the “writer’s own day.” Discuss these elements. Are there any you would add or remove for a successful ghost story? Where are they present in the stories in Ghostly