This book fascinated and terrified me when I was a child. I loved reading it and re-reading it, but I knew the stories would unnerve me enough that I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night.
Looking back at it now, I wonder why that was. The stories aren’t that scary, and the storyteller, C.B. Colby, didn’t even claim that most of them were true. Many are drawn from urban legend (there are two “vanishing hitchhiker” stories in the book), folk tales, or local history, and a few are simply speculation—could there be flying saucers? Could aliens somewhere in space be watching our TV shows—or could scientists be picking up theirs?
Perhaps because I was so terrified by it, Strangely Enough has wedged itself into my memory in many odd ways. Mention Yonkers to me, for instance, and the mental picture that name conjures up is a flying saucer. David Lockhart’s matter-of-fact line drawings somehow made this book seem even more sinister than it already was.
There are more pictures from the book at the end of this article.
The stories are good stuff. In “The Light in the Window,” a man buys a painting of a castle with a single lighted window—which goes dark one night, on the anniversary of the death of the man imprisoned there. In “The Doctor’s Visitor,” a young girl travels through a snowstorm, at night, to fetch a doctor for her sick mother—only it turns out the girl died a month before. There was the unlucky guy in “The Balls of Clay” who found some odd balls of clay on the beach and chucked them back into the ocean, learning only afterwards that they concealed stolen jewels. And on it goes—mysteriously empty ships, haunted houses, trees that strangle themselves with their own roots, all thrown together in one- or two-page stories. It’s the literary equivalent of potato chips—they go fast, and you can’t stop with just one.
I later found out that my book was an abriged version of a bigger, more adult-oriented book, but I’d say Colby found his greatest fame with the Scholastic edition that I had. When I Googled it, I found lots of folks writing about it, and I also learned that a later edition had a much creepier cover image. Colby wrote a number of children’s books about guns and other weapons as well, but the oddest thing about him is his literary afterlife:
Over the past few days, an essay by Paul Maliszewski in the latest issue of Bookforum has stirred up a discussion that has been sometimes passionate, if seldom particularly well-informed.
In it, Maliszewski, who teaches creative writing at George Washington University, takes a close look at a lecture that Michael Chabon has given several times in which the Pulitzer-winning novelist recounts his childhood friendship with C.B. Colby, the author of Strangely Enough! and similar works of paranormal hokum, and also (Chabon says) the author of a Holocaust memoir called The Book of Hell, published under his real name, Joseph Adler. Only that, too, was a pseudonum. In fact, “Adler” was Viktor Fischer – a Nazi journalist who, after the war, concealed his identity, even to the extent of having a concentration-camp serial number tattooed on his arm.
This story doesn’t check out at all: There is no such book as The Book of Hell, there is no Joseph Adler, and there is no Viktor Fischer. There’s an interesting interview with Maliszewski here, in which he speculates on the reasons for Chabon’s apparent hoax. It’s very odd—and exactly the sort of story Colby himself would have gotten a chuckle out of.
He also would have enjoyed the fact that, like many other dead celebrities, he has a Facebook.