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

October 2010 Book Discussion: If you lived here, you'd be home by now

We had a wonderful conversation with Claire LaZebnik last night. If you were unable to join us, you can listen to our discussion from the playlist in the right column or by downloading the podcast on iTunes.

Synopsis: From the well-loved author of Knitting Under the Influence and The Smart One and the Pretty One comes a new novel about a young single mother trying to move out of her family's shadow.

Rickie left home a long time ago-so how is it that at the age of twenty-five, she's living with her parents again, and sleeping in the bedroom of her childhood home?

At least one thing has changed since high school: She now has a very sweet but frequently challenging son named Noah, who attends the same tony private LA school she herself attended. Rickie fit in fine when she was a student, but now her age and tattoos make her stand out from all the blond Stepford moms, who are desperate to know why someone so young-and so unmarried-has a kid in first grade.

Already on the defensive, Rickie goes into full mother-tigress mode when her small and unathletic son tells her that the gym teacher is out to get him. She storms the principal's office, only to discover that Andrew Fulton, the coach, is no dumb jock. As her friendship with Andrew develops, Rickie finds herself questioning her assumptions-about motherhood, being a grown-up, and falling in love.

Book Club Discussion:
Are you looking for a good book recommendation? Claire just finished Freedom and says it's worth reading.

In addition to the call, we are bringing back the online discussion for those unable to join us - or for anyone who has read the book and would like to participate.

Here are some questions to get the discussion started (answer any/all of them or simply leave a comment about your reading experience):

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

2. In the beginning of the novel Rickie doesn't want to volunteer at her son's school and is intimidated by the women 'running the show'.  Do you volunteer at your child's school (or activities)? Have you had a challenging experience that you have overcome? or do you know women similar to the women Rickie has to interact with?

3. Did you read Rickie as a tough or vulnerable character? Do you like where she's headed at the end of the book?

4. What were your thoughts regarding Rickie's mom, how she handled both of her daughter's situations and her view on motherhood?

Lastly, what are you reading now?

Author Q&A

Tell us a little about yourself: I'm married to a TV writer (he works on "The Simpsons" at the moment) and we have four kids. Which means life is very busy. 

What is your writing schedule like? I'm a mother first and foremost, so writing has to be fit in around all the rest. It's not too bad during the school year--I usually have time to write while the kids are in school. But summers are hard! I have someone home on pretty much any given day and it gets tough to find a block of time to work. Out of necessity, I've become a master at racing over to the computer and writing a paragraph or two when everyone's distracted. I keep my laptop in the dining room most of the time--near the first floor action but just slightly apart from it, so I can dash in and write whenever I find the time.

I'm NOT complaining: I am so lucky to be able to be a full-time mom and stay home with a sick kid and go to any school performances or games and STILL have the career of my dreams. I actually think having both was the key to my success. I had a nanny for a awhile and it wasn't until I found her another job and started taking care of the kids completely by myself that I felt emotionally freed up to write--it was like I had given myself permission to do something just for me because I had no guilt about not being with the kids enough.

What was it like getting your first novel published? Selling my first novel was literally a dream come true. I was a huge reader as a kid and all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. Seriously: I had no other ambitions (or abilities). But it wasn't easy. I had two novels with two agents that never sold and it wasn't until this third agent and third novel that I actually sold one.

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic? I write a very loose outline that's probably about two pages. Very loose. Did I mention it's very loose? I have characters, a situation, a sense of where it's going . . . but scene by scene is pure invention. There's an amazing "ah-ha!" feeling when you're struggling with what should happen next and suddenly you have an epiphany and it feels almost obvious. But (probably because my process is so unstructured) I rewrite a LOT. There's often very little left of the original draft in the final version. Things clarify with time (and with my husband's and editors' notes).

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them? I just read for the second time this unbelievable graphic novel called ASTERIOS POLYP which is one of the greatest things I've ever read. The author is a guy named David Mazzucchelli and I'd love to sit him down and ask him all my questions about the book--because there are so many layers in both the writing and drawing that I could spend hours studying each page and still want to know MORE. So it would be fun to talk to him.

Of course, I just reread it, so it's on my mind. Ask me on another day, and I'll probably have another answer!

September 2010 Book Discussion: Room

We had a wonderful conversation last week, discussing Room for 40 minutes.  Emma Donoghue wasn't able to join the discussion but she did answer our questions. With the author not available, we opted to not record the call (let's face it... we love the interviews!). 

Synopsis: To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. 

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work. 

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Book Club Discussion:

In addition to the call, we are bringing back the online discussion for those unable to join us - or for anyone who has read the book and would like to participate.

Here are some questions to get the discussion started (answer any/all of them or simply leave a comment about your reading experience):

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

2. What did you think of Ma's experience, being held captive for seven years?  Think about her time before and after giving birth to Jack.

3. Did you find the escape believable and did you think Jack was older in Ma's eyes at times (to think he could play such an important role in the escape)?

4.  Talk about Ma and Jack's time after the escape.  What did you think about Ma's breakdown and Jack's reaction to the outside world?

5.  Lastly, what are you reading now?

Thank you Emma for taking time to answer our questions!

I’m curious to find out why the author had a television in the room. Was this an addition during the seven years (maybe a sundaytreat) or was the TV as part of the Room from the beginning? Good question. I agonised over whether they should have a TV or not; I really didn't want them to watch it all day, but I thought that with no TV they might be living a rather 19th-century life, a premodern one rather than the modern-but-sealed-off-from-the-broader-world one I wanted for them. So I decided to make Ma strongminded enough to severely limit their watching, and that way Jack could have visual recognition of many things in Outside without truly understanding them.
This is a common question for writer’s but we are curious… have you thought about Ma and Jack and what their live might be like in ten years time? I've thought a little bit... what I hope for them is that they gradually become more and more like everybody else! They'll always be marked by their experience but they shouldn't have to always feel so strange and special.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you stayed in a five year olds mindset for the entire novel? Was this as challenging as it seemed to us? No, this novel was easy: the story, perspective and tone came to me all in one go, and having a five-year-old son at the time made it pretty effortless to 'channel' Jack. What I struggled with was the balance between grim and upbeat, naive and satirical, slow and fast... lots of tinkering, basically.

Jack seems to have a bond with objects in the room, calling objects Plant, Wardrobe (capitalized). We would love to explore this with you, can you share a little more behind the purpose of this to a five year old? I saw him and Ma as a tribe of two, and I thought their religion would have a large element of animism: seeing a spirit in everything. My kids do that too, they automatically personalise, play and talk to every object they encounter. I figure Jack needs friends and Ma will encourage any way of getting them.

Breast Feeding: One of our readers emailed me to add one more question to the list. She’s wondering if you had gotten a lot of attention or criticism regarding the presence of breastfeeding an older child in this novel. Breastfeeding felt like a logical ‘must’ for Ma. Yes, lots of rather uneasy attention, almost all of it in the US. To me the breastfeeding made absolute sense on every level, because Jack and Ma are still living very much as mother and baby when the novel starts; they're never more than a few feet apart. She would hold onto any habit that comforts him. But in the US especially, many people are viscerally horrified at the idea of nursing a five-year-old...

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Booker! As a writer, mother, and partner we are wondering how you do it all. Are you working on your next novel? I do it all with the aid of my partner (she got six months paid leave when each of the kids was born, which really helped) and then daycare; I manage to do things like email when the kids are in the house, but never actual writing. Yes, I'm working on the next novel now, an unsolved crime from 1870s San Francisco.

I appreciated Ma’s breakdown once the escaped and she knew Jack was safe. This made the story feel like it could have been a real experience for someone (albeit a horrific one). I'm glad this rang true for you! I (rather coldbloodedly) wanted Jack to be parted from Ma for a while so that he'd start growing up fast, but I also thought it was very plausible that someone would fall apart AFTER their escape; prisoners released from solitary confinement very often only develop psychological problems afterwards...

Author Q&A:

Tell us a little about yourself: I'm an Irish writer, settled in Canada where I live with my partner and two small kids. I write all sorts of things but am best known for my fiction, both historical (for instance, SLAMMERKIN) and contemporary (most recently ROOM)

What was it like getting your first novel published? I was a graduate student whose first novel a host of publishers had rejected, the day my agent rang to say she'd managed to sell both my first and (unfinished) second novels to Penguin. I ran around the house whooping in glee.

What is your writing schedule like? It's determined by school and daycare: the minute the kids are out of the house I rush to my computer like a lover!

When you start writing, how much of the story do you have mapped out and how much is organic? I'm entirely inorganic: I plan everything, pretty much. If there's a good strong structure there's room for changes at a later stage, but the structure (and usually the first and last scenes) remain the same.

What are you reading now? I'm rereading Joe O'Connors STAR OF THE SEA (he's one of my very favourite Irish novelists).

If you could interview anyone, who would if be and why? What would you like to ask them? Emily Dickinson - but I doubt she'd agree to be interviewed!