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Despite living quiet life, Madonna has a lot to say

Every couple of years, Madonna reemerges. Sometimes it's with a CD; sometimes it's with a movie; sometimes, unfortunately, it's with a fragrance. This time, the 46-year-old expatriate pop star is back with a children's book, her fifth in the past three years. If there was any doubt, the black-clad boy toy who squirmed so memorably on MTV 20 years ago is long gone. As one wag wrote recently, Madonna has become Mamadonna. The superstar singer lives happily in England these days with her director husband, Guy Ritchie, and her two children, Lola and Rocco.

But this week, Madonna is in New York, doing what she does better than just about anybody else -- publicity. Reached by telephone yesterday, she took a few minutes to chat about her new book, parenting, recording, and of course, religion.

Why are you doing press? Aren't there millions of people who'll buy whatever you do?

Are you kidding? No way. I still have to make an effort. You're being incredibly presumptuous and naive to think that people just run and get whatever you do.

So you don't think that way.

Hell, no.

Hell, no?

Yes. . . . I'm still a girl from Michigan.

How much time do you spend actually writing?

Haven't been writing books lately, because I've been busy recording. But when I am writing, I set time aside, maybe four hours in the afternoon, when it's quiet and my kids are at school. I sit at my computer, and I have this little statue on my desk. . . . She's a kneeling woman who's got her eyes closed, and she's very meditative. She's my muse.

If you're not writing or recording, what does your day look like?

There's always the bit where I have to get my butt out of bed in the morning. (Laughs.) That's at 7:15 a.m. I wake up, go downstairs, have breakfast with my kids, and argue with my daughter about combing her hair. Then I get them off to school. Sometimes I take them, but it's not my favorite thing to do, let's be honest. I don't like the whole getting up and make myself look presentable for school routine.

Tell me about motherhood. You like it? Is the idea better than the reality?

Isn't the idea of everything better than the reality? No, actually, I love it. My children aren't with me right now, and I miss them terribly. They fill up my life. I don't know where I'd be without them.

It's hard to talk about your children's books without at least mentioning your rather notorious first book (1992's picture book ''Sex"). You've said it was a different time. Does that imply regret?

No, no. You know me better than that. I don't regret it. What's the point of regretting anything you've done? If I didn't do everything I did, I wouldn't be who I am now.

Good point.

I mean, so I took my clothes off for a few pictures. That's the norm now.

You have to put your clothes on to get attention these days.

That's what I'm doing. (Laughs)

Tell me about your religious beliefs.

It's not religious beliefs. Don't call it religious beliefs. I was raised a Catholic, my husband's a member of the Church of England, I've studied Buddhism, Hinduism, and I was, briefly, an atheist. I don't think studying Kabbalah . . . It's not about a monotheistic religion. Everyone calls it Jewish mysticism, but that's absoutely not what it is. Nobody knows what it's about.

What's been Kabbalah's effect on you?

To me, the definition of religion is not asking questions. In England, soccer is the religion. In America, Christianity is the religion. It's really just what a group of people tends to do because everybody else does it. . . . If you want to talk about corruption and violence and pain, let's talk about the Catholic Church. Let's talk about the Crusades, when they annihilated anyone who wouldn't convert to Christianity. That's religion, but that's not what I'm interested in.

I'm relieved to hear that. The new book, ''Lotsa de Casha," is about a man who's rich but still miserable. Doesn't money make life easier?

I'm not complaining about having money, or that I have a roof over my head and can afford airplane tickets. I know I'm in a very privileged position, but I know ultimately material things won't bring you happiness. Most very wealthy people are not happy. Why? They have too much of something they don't need, and they don't share it with other people.

Do you miss living in New York?

London is a slightly more laid- back city, and that's preferable with kids. It's so hard-core in New York. In London, people don't get all up in your face, but sometimes I miss that. (Laughs.)

Is it important to you that the books are taken seriously, and you're viewed as more than just a multinational celebrity?

I hope I'm more than that.

It sounds like you might be, but I wonder if reviews matter.

I want children to read them. If good reviews mean a bigger audience, yes, it's important.

What do you call yourself when you're filling out an application for a CVS card?

I call myself an entertainer. That kind of covers it.

And how do you relax?

I love to ride horses and go for walks. We have a house in the country, in the middle of nowhere, where we go for long walks. We have chickens and build tree forts there. And I like to go to pubs with my husband.

You played Live Aid and you're playing Live 8. What are you going to sing?

I think I'll do 'Ray of Light' and 'Like a Prayer,' and the rest is a secret. The concert's in Hyde Park, and I live right down the street, so it's terribly convenient.

You can ride your bicycle to the show.

I'm thinking of dressing like a police officer and just walking in.

Are you wearing what you wore in 1985? Those embroidered pants, and that long jacket?

Ugh. Scary Larry. That was my Venetian period. (Laughs)

One last thing. Jose Canseco, to whom you were briefly linked in the '80s, wrote a book in which he said he spent most of the '80s taking steroids.

So?

Did you take steroids?

What? Are you mad?

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