The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister

the cabinet of curiosities
the cabinet of curiosities

I am alone as a near-strictly literary reader in this sea of Denver Publishing Institute students. In the basement level of a book store, I announced that I don't read much YA and no less than 12 people grabbed books from the surrounding shelves and thrust them in my face. "I love this author! Read this book!" I was bombarded, overwhelmed. I bought one book (Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater) and left the store.

During Children's Publishing day, this book was featured as a hard cover. It sat innocuously on the piano in the front of the auditorium, and the cover is what caught my eye. I asked if I could check it out, and once given permission, I sat on the stage and read the first three stories. What sold me: 1) fairies portrayed as the truly terrifying creatures from Celtic lore that they are. 2) short story collection 3) YA authors my classmates seemed to know and recognize. I didn't get this book as a give-away item, so I went down to Tattered Cover and bought the paperback edition.

This book? The content reminds me of these books:

 scary stories to tell in the dark

scary stories to tell in the dark

These books TERRIFIED me as a child. And I LOVED IT.

Not only does The Cabinet of Curiosities offer, as the subtitle says, 36 Tales Brief & Sinister, it offers dark artwork to accompany several of the stories...similarly to the Scary Stories series. The Cabinet of Curiosities' artwork isn't necessarily as terrifying or weird as the original art of the Scary Stories series (because they've since been re-released with new artwork, which is a whole different post)...

 art comparison

art comparison

...but it's certainly dark. The image on the left is from The Cabinet. The image on the right is from Scary Stories. Scary Stories' art was creepy because it was dark, gruesome, weird, freaky. But there's something to be said about the smooth lines of what could easily be a children's comic depicting a hanged man. It's creepy in a different way--makes you question the darkness behind the seemingly child-friendly presentation.

The stories in The Cabinet of Curiosities vary in subject matter, and some stories are more jarring and horrifying than others. Some are just strange. But it's a collection of short stories reminiscent of the short scary stories I used to read as a child. My favorites were Fairy Cakes, where fairies are terrifying monsters, and The Garden Full of Bad Things, which seemed to be a different spin on Alice in Wonderland. Mirror, Mirror, The Sandman Cometh, and Jack Shadow were also really good.

Most short story collections--from what I understand--are only about 10 to 12 stories, give or take. This collection was 36, so it was actually really tough for me to get through. And the sheer number of short stories kinda...defeated the reason of why I enjoy short story collections. Even though the stories and characters were different, the subject matter of each story was different, the voice and writing styles were different, I did get a bit bored toward the end. Perhaps it has more to do with the overabundance of stories--even if they're all different, they were all strange or scary or creepy, so there was only so much variation.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this collection for the fact that it's short stories, and I wouldn't recommend reading through all 36 in a single sitting (that is, don't have this book be the only thing you're reading at one time), because it's taxing. But I would recommend this book for something spooky, for something strange, for something different. It's a YA or middle-grade book, so the language isn't complicated. Some of the pieces address the reader specifically, so there's that aspect to the eeriness of it as well.

The stories that were good were GREAT. The others were..."meh," though they had their merits. I don't intend to review all 36 works, but suffice to say that I don't regret the time I took to read it, or the money I spent on it. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but I wasn't entirely disappointed either.