It’s Friday the 13th! Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia?* If so, you’re not alone. The late Dr. Donald Dossey, a phobia and disaster expert who coined the term, estimated that between 17 and 21 million people have some form of the condition. Symptoms, Dossey said in a 2008 interview with NPR, “range from mild anxiety to a nagging sense of doom. Some people will actually not get out of bed.”
According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute (founded by Dossey), hundreds of millions of dollars are lost each Friday the 13th because of paraskevidekatriaphobics choosing to forgo activities such as work, shopping, dining out, or basically anything else that could result in an inauspicious encounter.
After much research,** our CLiF team of experts has determined that one of the best methods of distracting oneself from irrational fears is by reading to or with a child. In honor of this day historically linked with unluckiness, we’ve rounded up a selection of books with protagonists prone to misfortune and misadventure. Reading about their perils will make virtually any reader feel lucky by comparison!***
*Fear of Friday the 13th
**Research not conducted in scientific fashion
***Results not guaranteed
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst
A classic for good reason. Absolutely nothing goes right for Alexander on this ominous day, from waking up with gum in his hair, to being denied his preferred style of sneakers at the shoe store, to being served lima beans for dinner, and even being forced to suffer through kissing on TV. Oh the humanity of this ill-fated boy!
A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
Talk about unlucky! The Baudelaire siblings lose their parents in a house fire and are subsequently handed over to the murderous Count Olaf, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on their fortune. Over the course of the 13-book series, the orphans must weather one disaster after another as they flee Count Olaf and his henchmen, with no support or understanding from the adults in their lives.
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
James’ parents get eaten by a rhino on the very first page of the book, and as a result, he’s shipped off to live with a pair of repellent and abusive aunts. Sure, things get better (and weirder) for James as the story progresses, but I think we can all agree that’s some pretty rotten luck.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls, by John Bellairs
Lewis Barnavelt, a recent orphan (sensing a theme here), is sent to live with a mysterious uncle, who he soon finds out is a warlock. Turns out the uncle’s house was [spoiler alert!] previously inhabited by a couple devoted to black magic, who, prior to their deaths, implanted a nefarious magic timepiece somewhere in the walls as part of a plot to bring about the end of the world. Ultimately, it falls to Lewis, an unwitting hero at best, to thwart the plan. Poor Lewis. To lose your parents, and then wind up living in the most evil haunted house ever…terrible luck, to say the least.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig
At first, it seems like Sylvester might be the luckiest donkey ever, when he finds a magic wishing pebble! But then he gets spooked by a lion, wishes to become a rock, and is subsequently unable to wish himself back to being a donkey. Stuck in rock form, he can do nothing as his heartbroken and frantic parents search for him fruitlessly. Things turn out okay for Sylvester in the end, but not before he endures years as a rock. An wretched twist of fate, to be sure.
Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish
Amelia Bedelia is a housekeeper who’s horrendous at her job because of her tendency to take everything literally. As a result, she constantly ruins her employers’ belongings, spoils their meals, and generally wastes massive amounts of time while on the clock by doing senseless tasks like hanging light bulbs on a clothesline. To her credit, she rarely, if ever, lets her constant blunders get her down, and somehow she never gets fired. Hmm, maybe Amelia Bedelia actually has good luck?! Debatable.
Holes, by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats is plagued by bad luck due to a multi-generational family curse that originated with his pig-stealing great-great-grandfather and has now been passed down to him. Wrongly convicted of stealing sneakers, Stanley gets shipped off to juvenile detention camp, where he and his fellow campers are forced to dig holes five feet wide and five feet deep, all day, every day. The unfairness of it all! So very unlucky.