Book Launch: Sleeping Funny by Miranda Hill

I asked Random House for a review copy of Sleeping Funny for the most ignoble of reasons–I figured my neighborhood would appear in the book. Miranda Hill lives a few streets away from me. I once saw her at my local Shoppers Drug Mart.  If you live in the sort of city Hollywood would pick for the alien invasion, you’re probably inured to this particular thrill, but seeing as I don’t, I do request books based on the recognition factor. But when I began reading, I realized that I had it all wrong. Yes, my hood was indeed portrayed in sumptuous detail, in a most illuminating light, but reading this book for those reasons was like visiting the Taj Mahal because I was looking for some shade.

Sleeping Funny is a collection of nine stories, one of which won the Journey Prize (Canada’s top prize for short stories) last year. Hill essentially examines how people react when confronted with the unexpected, but the latter précis does little justice to the wondrous variety of events and characters in this book. A smug middle-class neighborhood of professional women is shaken when a beautiful, bohemian artist moves in.  A teen girl attends sex-ed class to find herself witnessing the conception scenes of all her classmates. A young widow plants a garden to deal with the death of her pilot husband in World War II. A woman maintains a hospital vigil for a man who jumped off a high-rise rooftop.

I was perhaps most struck by Hill’s generosity as a writer in giving the reader many points of entry for each story– through character, through humor, through story titles with multiple interpretations, and most importantly, through the truths lurking on each page.  A character recalls the first time her husband hit her. “I couldn’t even remember Cy’s fist on me. It was as if something had pushed its way out from the inside like a latent cancer. ‘This is how I look as a beaten woman,’ I said. I tried it on like a uniform, and felt it settle on me like something I was always meant to wear.” Hill writes with uncanny perceptiveness, and she knows just how to inject the telling detail that’ll infuse a scene with depth and texture.  Here’s a woman at neighbor’s house, serving plastic glasses of wine “as if they were her mother-in-law’s good crystal.”  A child is so neglected that “his nails developed a rim of grime until, despairing of ever being told to clean them, he did it himself.”

So there was no way I’d miss the official release of this book or the chance to meet the writer. The launch, on Monday night, was hosted in inimitable style by Kerry of Bryan Prince Books, a store whose virtues I have long lauded on this blog.  The room was packed, but my friend and I came early, and besides, we strategically deposited our  handbags onto the good seats. (Men, I guess, slough off their jackets?) Hill read excerpts from three stories, and answered questions from Jeanie Macfarlane on her choice of form and her genesis as a writer. And yes, about her (our?) neighborhood. She also kindly signed my book with a personal inscription. In green ink. Given this book, I expected nothing less.

And here are pictures from that night, courtesy writer Ania Szado (check out her work, do).

Miranda Hill

Miranda Hill interviewed by Jeanie Macfarlane

Mother’s Day at the library

Okay. I hate that the complicated, intense emotions  surrounding motherhood have been co-opted by corporations on the principle that every occasion can be leveraged to flog stuff. Surely there’s a way to celebrate  Mother’s Day without diminishing it to a jackpot for Hallmark? Well, trust libraries to figure out an answer.  Actually, I believe libraries are the answer (to just about everything). So: when my local library marked Mother’s Day by inviting kids to plant a flower for their moms in their community garden, we joined in gladly.

The flower just above the trowel was planted by my son FOR ME.

Some eager young planters with their moms. I’m the one back in the right in the blue T-shirt and ill-fitting green pants, busily eating a muffin. Because librarians understand that you can’t survive motherhood without caffeine and sugar —>

Coffee and eats were provided by local businesses, as were the plants. The library staff came prepared with a bucket of soapy water for washing little muddy hands, paper towels to dry off and even Toy Story bandages for those yet to develop fine motor skills. And when we finished planting our flower, we went in for storytime, where my son learnt about visual disabilities and treating differently-abled people with respect.

This is why we need libraries–to reaffirm the importance of civility and restraint and generosity, to demonstrate to impressionable young minds that the good things in life aren’t the most expensive, and to understand the value of community. And for a new mother, libraries are  safe spaces, they are panic rooms, they are sanctuaries. When I moved to my current city, my son was a year old, and I didn’t know a single person; the first friends I made were at library storytimes with other neophyte moms. And my son turned five last week, and he made me a card and a jewelry box and a necklace in candy colors for Mother’s Day, and then we celebrated some more at the library. If I haven’t said it often enough to librarians in my past and present: Thank you. You are all awesome.

(All pictures courtesy Caitlin Fralick of the Westdale library.)