• Saturday, January 01st, 2011

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.

The effect Strangely Enough had on the eight-year-old me

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.

The unabridged edition

C.B. Colby

Category: Books, South Bend
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9 Responses

  1. 1
    Gentron 

    Ah, the books that used to scare me as a kid! The one that stands out most in my mind, though, is the Dare to Be Scared series. If you haven’t heard of them, they were basically what C.B. Colby wrote: lots of short stories, although these were longer. I still own the second book on my shelf and occaisionally flip through it. I think the books scared me so much because they could take a harmless little subject (like laughing, as I believe was a subject of one story) and turn it into a horrific nightmare. It didn’t help that none of the stories had a good ending: every one ended with someone about to die or suffering some horrific fate. The art, while very simple, is also very macabre: it is composed entirely of black and white lines, even the covers. Somehow this made the books even scarier.

    Normally I could zoom through books about alien abductions, strange happenings, and unexplained mysteries without a problem but there was something about the Dare to Be Scared series that really freaked me out.

  2. 2
    Len Vanna 

    What a trip down memory lane! I was cleaning my attic, and found 1 hardback and 2 paperback editions of ‘Strangely Enough’. One of the paperbacks is like brand new. When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, about 40 years ago, I ordered the book through our school book club. There was an extra, so I bought it! That’s how much I was drawn to this book! The hardback was found at a used book store.

    I browsed the net to see if anyone else was as fascinated by this book as I was \ am. I must say, (as a book collector) that even though the book is probably 95% bullshit, it STILL has a vibe that really intrigues me. It affected my mind young mind as it did yours.

  3. 3
    Jeanne Cunningham 

    I’m sorry, are you me? I guess that’s the power of the web, that you discover another person out ther haunted by strangely enough and also an affinity for the Betty Crocker cookbooks. Who knew?

  4. 4
    brigidalverson 

    @Jeanne Great minds think alike! I’m so glad there is someone else out there like me! Thanks for dropping by.

  5. 5
    Alonzo 

    Great. Now I have another reason to let Chabon get on my nerves.

  6. I haven’t seen that dark blue cover in years! there was a copy in my grade school library, and I read it when I was ten, back in ’66.

    “The Whistle” scared me green.

  7. 7
    Mark 

    Wow, this is a flashback for me. I got my hands on this book as a kid and some of the stories still haunt me. The two that I especially remember is the disappearing scenery replaced with “devil’s paintbrush” flowers and the man dragging the coffin in the dark outside a woman’s window.

    There was something about his writing style that got to this otherwise hard to perturb boy.

  8. 8
    Doug 

    I have memories of that book from when I got the blue cover copy from the bookmobile when I was in elementary school. I did get a hard copy from Amazon, similar one like the one at the top of the page. It is like the cover artwork that went with each story. Some of my favorite stories were Swamp Pirate,The Barbados Vault, Phantom Brig, and Antique Saucer. My only wish is finding the dark blue cover copy of the book. That would bring that little kid of me and remembering good times of my childhood.

  9. Great post! I’m trying to write an article for my blog about Colby at the moment I was just wondering where you got his picture? was it from one of his books? Keep up the good work. Regards Kevin

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