Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Deni Béchard

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Deni Béchard

Deni Béchard is the author of Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make the Conversation Go Viral (Milkweed Editions). In his research, Deni travelled to the Congo and conducted hundreds of interviews in order to learn why one small Congolese conservation organization is leading the fight to protect the bonobo, which is amongst our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

Deni speaks with us today to answer the Proust Questionnaire, a quiz which is meant to reveal the respondent's "true nature". The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries.

In his responses, Deni tells Open Book about an inventive bent, his feelings about heroes and a penchant for pomegranates. And he gives us an answer to the question "what natural talent would you most like to possess?" that we've never heard before (fun fact: most writers would like to be able to sing).

Read on to hear from Deni, and to see photos from his travels in the Congo.
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What is your dream of happiness?
I have many ideas of happiness, and they fall into too many categories to name: from friendship, to food, to work, to sex. Some of my favourite moments are when I am alone in nature in a quiet place: a large, flat, sunlit rock on an arid mountaintop in Moldova, beneath an empty blue sky; a night on a sandbar in a river in the Congo’s rainforest; the first warm, sunny spring day outside after a long winter.

What is your idea of misery?
Having no solitude for months on end.

Where would you like to live?
In the mountains, on the edge of a lake.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Self-awareness.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Self-awareness.

What is your chief characteristic?
Perseverance.

What is your principal fault?
Impatience.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Food.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Enthusiasm that leads to misjudgment.

What do you value most about your friends?
Their caring.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Indifference.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Impulsiveness.

What is your favourite virtue?
Kindness.

What is your favourite occupation?
Inventor.

What would you like to be?
An inventor.

What is your favourite colour?
Depends on the day.

What is your favourite flower?
Lotus.

What is your favourite bird?
African Grey Parrot.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
There’s a long list of historical figures I admire. I have no idea where to begin. John Locke, Galileo, etc…?

What character in history do you most dislike?
There’s also a long list for this question; it includes George W. Bush.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
William Faulkner and Denis Johnson.

Who are your favourite poets?
Wallace Stevens and Rumi.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
I don’t really have heroes.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Same answer as the previous question.

Who is your favourite painter?
I don’t have one. I love the work of many painters.

Who is your favourite musician?
I don’t have one. I love the work of many musicians.

What is your favourite food?
Pomegranates.

What is your favourite drink?
Pomegranate juice.

What are your favourite names?
I don’t have any.

What is it you most dislike?
Greed.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Mathematics.

How do you want to die?
Lucidly, of old age.

What is your current state of mind?
Determined.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Becoming a writer rather than a criminal.

What is your motto?
I don’t have one.


Deni Béchard is the author of a memoir, Cures for Hunger, a novel, Vandal Love and his latest project, Empty Hands, Open Arms, a book about about how community development in the Congo can save the bonobos and the rainforest. He has traveled in over fifty countries and reported from India, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Northern Iraq. He has written for a wide range of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Outside and Salon.com.

For more information about Empty Hands, Open Arms please visit the Milkweed Editions website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

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