NEW YORK -- For all the table-flipping, name-calling and screaming on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," there is a voice of reason among the cast. That belongs to Caroline Manzo, a straight shooter, happily married mother of three grown children.
Manzo can get worked up on the show, and she certainly holds her own in a battle, but for the most part, she seems irritated, if not bored, by the drama among her cast mates. One thing is evident: When Manzo speaks, everyone listens.
The 51-year-old reality star has expanded on her no-nonsense approach to life with a new book, "Let Me Tell You Something: Life as a Real Housewife, Tough-Love Mother, and Street-Smart Businesswoman," written with Kevin Dickson and published by It Books.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Manzo talked about her book, family life and reality TV.
AP: Why did you decide to write a book?
Manzo: I got the idea from the viewers. They ask me the same questions over and over again, and it's, `How do you manage to have three great children? How do you manage to have a close family, long marriage, happy marriage, backbone? How is it being in the public eye?' ... All I can say is what I've done in my life and that for me was the best way to answer the questions through little anecdotes about my life.
AP: You can tell on the show that you're very close with your family. Did you notice right away that people were very interested in knowing how you achieved that?
Manzo: To this very moment I'm puzzled by the reaction to me and my family because I'm finding more and more that people find it unusual and it should be normal and that's what puzzles me. Why am I unusual? Why is my bond with my children abnormal? And that's what I find interesting.
AP: Why do you think so many people feel disconnected from their families?
Manzo: I think today a lot of parents worry that you lose `my time.' You kind of lost that when you decided to become a parent. I always say you can't press rewind. When you make the decision to become a parent, you have to dedicate pretty much your life, or a good portion of it, to that child. `Listen, I worked all day with this kid, when the husband comes home, it's your turn, I don't want to be bothered with the baby anymore.' What? What? Doesn't work like that. And I think that's where the disconnect comes from, because most parents today see it as a chore. It's a blessing, it's not a chore.
AP: This book isn't a tell-all. Did some people think you should make it one?
Manzo: There are some people along the way that said, `It would sell more copies.' Well, that to me is not success. I want the book to sell because people want to hear what I had to say about things and are truly interested in learning about me and my family and the process of being on `Housewives,' which I talk about. I don't bash anyone. I tell little behind-the-scenes anecdotes about `Housewives.' To say that something is a success because you were negative about somebody is not the way I operate.
AP: Do you feel you've learned anything about yourself watching yourself on TV?
Manzo: The greatest gift in the world is to see yourself on reality TV. Everybody says, `Oh, gee, I hate my voice! Oh my God, I'm so fat!' You know, beyond that, you learn tolerance and acceptance and things like that and you learn to look at yourself and say, `Gee, I could fix that about myself because it's just not cool.' So sure, I've had a lot of lessons throughout the five years of being on television and in the public eye. And I'm grateful for it. You know, there were moments that I wanted to crawl under the covers and just die, but you know, so what? OK, I'm still here, it's OK.
AP: Viewers who watch "The Real Housewives" think they know you because it's a reality show. Do they really?
Manzo: I would say the viewers have a pretty good handle of who we are as people. However, you don't know all sides of us. We are each multifaceted individuals, so you see one angle of us, you don't see everything.
AP: What can we expect from the upcoming fifth season of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey"?
Manzo: This season gives you everything you want and more. We top it every year. I think this season is gonna give everybody what they're looking for. If you're looking for peace, there will be peace; if you're looking for fighting, you're gonna have fighting. You want to laugh? Laugh. You want to cry? Cry. There's a little bit of everything.
Alicia Rancilio covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow her online at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar