Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

The Life Room - discussion starts today!

Originally posted in the Big Tent.... view comments for full conversation.

Today we start discussing ‘The Life Room’. I encourage everyone to visit the MMBC Blog to read the Q&A with Jill Bialosky. Her answers may spark a discussion topic for you, or maybe another question to ask everyone. This dialog is meant to be a discussion between friends – Let’s keep the discussion causal and hopefully we learning something new about each other along the way.

A few of the questions below were sent to me from other readers, thank you for your questions! Feel free to answer any all of the questions below:

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?

3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?

4. The author mentions that she grew to like Eleanor as she wrote her. How did you feel about Eleanor as a person?

5. Steven and Eleanor keep getting together then splitting up. Is this because Steven is running away from Eleanor or is she actually pushing him away?

6. Eleanor keeps picking lovers that are very much like her father. Why, then, did she choose to marry Michael, someone who is so different?

7. Did you believe that Eleanor was really concerned with her husband and children as she traveled abroad? How about when she returned home?

Jill Bialosky answers our questions

Thank you Jill for answering our questions!Our discussion begins Weds under the Big Tent – I will post questions for us to discuss Wednesday morning. In talking with many of you offline, I expect we will have a lot to share/discuss.Check back Wednesday!

I would like to know how the author came up with the storyline. Did she start with Eleanor as a character and the book evolved from there or did she want to write about art/Anna K/lectures (given her writing background) and the character developed along the way? The idea for the novel grew out of my character, Eleanor Cahn. I wanted to explore the nature of our erotic selves. Are they a compilation of the various intimate relationships we have been involved in? Does one relationship inform or predict the next? How do our past relationships inform our present relationships? And I also wanted to explore the idea of passion and responsibility. Are they mutually exclusive? Once I settled on my character and her vocation as an academic, I decided she would be writing a paper on Anna Karenina, and wrestling with some of the themes in that great Russian novel.

Where did the idea for the "life room" come from? The “life room” is a room where a painter paints from a live model. Once I began working on Eleanor’s relationship with Adam and the scenes where Adam paints her, the idea of the “life room”— an intimate room sealed off from the rest of reality—became more interesting for me. It is a very intimate space—and so is the relationship between artist and model. As I began to explore that conceit further, I found that the “life room” also served as a kind of metaphor for Eleanor and her exploration of her many selves, as mother, wife, academic, thinker, and lover.

Eleanor seems very confused in her head and with her life path, was it challenging writing her as a character? I see her as being more complicated than confused. It was challenging in a good way to write her into being. I grew to like her enormously and it was hard, by the end of the book, to finally let her go. She’s struggling with important questions and concerns and at the heart she is struggling to be a good person in the best sense—to know and accept herself.

Did the author have to research a lot to write this book? The paintings, art references, writing etc… how did she decide upon the paintings to include in the book? I did some research for the book. I read a lot about art and about the artistic process. As part of the research, I sat for an artist while he drew me. Some of the paintings in the book were paintings that have moved me over the years.

What was the connection to Stephen’s obsession with fire? Did Stephen start the fire at the house in Colorado and the club in New York? When I was working on Stephen as a character, I wanted to find some kind of exterior action that would convey his internal self. He’s a deeply conflicted character, like Eleanor in some ways, at war with his many selves. And he’s also angry. Starting fires is his attempt to control his inner chaos. His fatal flaw is his narcissism—his inability to see how his own actions impact others. I’m not sure he knows it, but he’s dangerous to others because he’s dangerous to himself. In that way, I think he differs from Eleanor. She is certainly self-involved in her quest to understand herself—yet she is aware, perhaps all too aware, of how her actions will impact others, including her family.

Steven, William and Michael are so different from each other. Was it fun writing these characters? Are they completely fictional or did you draw on past relationships/friendships to help create them? Was this challenging? Yes, they are different. They are completely fictional, but they have aspects I see in people—including myself—from all walks of life. Steven, William, and Adam are all artists of one type or another to a certain degree. And Michael, a doctor, represents the rational, scientific being. Creating character is complicated and eerie; the way a character suddenly comes to life and announces his or her self. Actions inform who characters are. Otherwise they are inert.

All of the men are so different. Was there a conscious decision to make each of Eleanor's loves so different or did that just evolve organically? To some degree, they evolved organically, though I had some ideas of who I wanted them to be.

How did the author's own romantic relationships impact Eleanor's relationships or the inherent struggles b/w the roles many of us juggle (wife, mother, employee) and our "true" selves? The book is a fiction, as are the characters. Of course, many of the concerns of the book are concerns many women have about the demands of being a wife, mother, and having a career or vocation, and also being a passionate person. When I was young many of the heroines I loved in literature ended up killing themselves when passion was at stake. That was a head-scratcher. I thought, let’s see what happens when a thoughtful woman considers saving herself.

Near the end of the book, I found myself really frustrated with the dance between Eleanor and Stephen. I wanted her to either do it (cheat) to end the curiosity or find the resolve to stay faithful to her family. Did you intend to have the reader feel that way in the end to get a sense of what Eleanor must have been feeling? I did want to create tension. The tension is whether Eleanor will transgress or not. I wasn’t quite sure all the way through the writing what she would do. I suppose that kept me interested in her and her plight. One of the early readers of the book said she got tired of Stephen. I thought to myself, well I suppose Eleanor is tired of him too! And yet, we all have had people in our lives we can’t shake for one reason or another. Why would Eleanor be any different?

Does Eleanor come to some peace when Steven leaves the city, after they sleep together? Given her character, I half expect her to have a breakdown. She doesn’t sleep with him! Only a kiss. I find her to be a strong character, though everyone I suppose is capable of breaking down. It’s what makes us human. I think Eleanor finds a certain amount of peace, but as she says, she doesn’t want the quest to ever end, and I suppose part of the quest is to remain vulnerable to a certain degree, otherwise we are dead inside, incapable of evolving.

Whose voice was "talking" to Eleanor in the restroom at then end, God's, or her own, which she has been seeking to nurture throughout the novel, or someone else? I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pole. I like your many interpretations!

Do you see Eleanor and Michael staying together after the book ends? I think that is for the reader to decide.

Did you know how the story was going to end when you started? Did you ever think that Eleanor might end up with Stephen? As I said earlier, I did not know what was going to happen to Eleanor and Stephen. It was the not knowing that kept the book alive for me. I hoped only to capture the struggle.

MMBC 5: Eating Heaven

Note: Book giveaway closed April 17th, you can still read along with us. Watch for details next month

Eating Heaven is our fifth selection for the MMBC. We will begin discussing the book on Wednesday, June 24th. The author has generously donated 24 books. If you are interested in participating please send me an email with your address and ‘Eating Heaven’ in the subject line.

Click here for details and an author interview.

MMBC4: The Local News (May 20)

The Local News, written by Miriam Gershow, is our fourth selection. We will be discussing ‘The Local News’ May 20. Miriam generously donated 24 copies of her book to the MMBC, all copies have been sent to the readers. You can still participate in the MMBC if you didn’t receive a copy of this book. You can purchase the book at nearly all book stores (or online), you may also be able to find a copy at your local library.

Below you will find an author Q&A below to learn a little more about the author, enjoy the book everyone!

Even a decade later, the memories of the year Lydia Pasternak turned sixteen continue to haunt her. As a teenager, Lydia lived in her older brother's shadow. While Danny's athletic skills and good looks established his place with the popular set at school, Lydia's smarts relegated her to the sidelines, where she rolled her eyes at her brother and his meathead friends and suffered his casual cruelty with resigned bewilderment. Though a part of her secretly wished for a return of the easy friendship she and Danny shared as children, another part of her wished Danny would just vanish. And then, one night, he did.

In the year following Danny Pasternak's disappearance, his parents go off the rails, his town buzzes with self-indulgent mourning, and his little sister Lydia finds herself thrust into unwanted celebrity, forced to negotiate her ambivalent--often grudging--grief for a brother she did not particularly like. Suddenly embraced by Danny's old crowd, forgotten by her parents, and drawn into the missing person investigation by her family's intriguing private eye, Lydia both blossoms and struggles to find herself during Danny's absence. But when a trail of clues leads to a shocking outcome in her brother's case, the teenaged Lydia and the adult she will become are irrevocably changed, even now as she reluctantly prepares to return to her hometown.

Relentlessly gripping, often funny, and profoundly moving, The Local News is a powerful exploration of the fraught relationship between a brother and sister and how our siblings define who we are.

Praise for ‘The Local News’:
Miriam Gershow is a novelist, short story writer and teacher. Her debut novel, The Local News, has been called “deftly heartbreaking” with “urgency and heft” by The New York Times, as well as “an accomplished debut” (Publisher’s Weekly) with a “disarmingly unsentimental narrative voice,” (Kirkus Reviews).

"The Local News is the story of a life created around loss. Gershow's book is deeply sympathetic, often painful, and always utterly believable. Not a book you're likely to put down once started, nor to forget once finished, a remarkable achievement." - Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club and Wit's End

Miriam answers a few questions:

Tell us a little about yourself (biography): I grew up in Michigan, spending most of my childhood in a suburb not unlike Fairfield in The Local News. In 1994, I got on an Amtrak train and checked out the west coast, moving to Oregon shortly after. I've lived here ever since - 6 years in Portland, the rest in Eugene, where I still live now, except I've added a husband and an extremely spoiled cat to my household. For my day job, I'm an instructor at the University of Oregon.

Do you write daily? When I'm working on a project, yes. The nice thing about a day job at a university, is that my teaching schedule is only two or three days a week, and even on those days, I can usually squeeze some time in before or between classes. Between projects I tend to take a stretch of time off, up to several months.

Are you working on a new book or have an idea for one? I am, but I'm superstitious about talking about projects too early. So I'll just say it's very different in tone and style from The Local News, though I once again - and not intentionally - find myself back in the realm of sibling relationships.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think anything that helps people to read books or helps make books more popular and accessible is excellent. I know people who swear by their Kindle, and I have several friends who've bought my book via Kindle. Great. Personally, I don't think I'll ever buy one, though. I love the sensory experience of holding the book and turning the pages. I can't see easily giving that up.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? The one tip is to focus on the writing, itself, as much as possible, without getting too preoccupied about things like getting published or finding an agent. The business end of things is daunting and distracting. I kept myself out of it for as long as possible, and just kept my nose to the proverbial grindstone. Give yourself time to really figure out how to write and how to write well - which can be a long and slow and scary process with plenty of setbacks - before turning your attention to the publishing industry. And while you're busy with the writing, find a few trusted readers who understand what you're trying to do, and who can both cheerlead and be healthily critical of your work. (I suppose that's technically two tips).

What are you reading now? A short book of essays by Larry McMurtry about Texas and reading and family and cowboy myths. It's called "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen." It was a loan from my father-in-law, who is a big McMurtry fan. He and I have wildly divergent book tastes most of the time. I'm normally a reader of contemporary fiction. But his recommendations always end up diversifying and deepening my library.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: It's hard to pick just one or two, so I picked three. I love Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? for its economy and tenderness and sharply witty voice.

I love Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love for its intelligent hopefulness and for its seamless braiding together of multiple narratives.

And I love Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita for its muscular playfulness with language and, of course, its deeply twisted and deeply flawed, yet deeply sympathetic narrator. That book's an interesting one - it's taken up such a place in our popular culture that people tend to think they really know it even if they haven't read it. I was one of those people. But knowing the most salacious details of the story has nothing to do with truly knowing that book. Once I read it, it made me think differently about how to write sentences.