Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with John Goldbach

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John Goldbach

John Goldbach is the author of The Devil and the Detective (Coach House Books). Part classic noir and part loving (and often hilarious) send-up of the genre, The Devil and the Detective introduces Bob James, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking sleuth who philosophizes about the nature of consciousness while solving crimes.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, John tells Open Book about an alphabet of virtues, musical hairstyles and a few good ways to end your days.

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. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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What is your dream of happiness?
I’m really not sure. But it probably involves a convertible Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, though I’d need a driver’s license first and I don’t really like cars, so maybe that dream’s a little unrealistic. Perhaps that dream of happiness isn’t for me.

What is your idea of misery?
There’s a word count limit on the questionnaire so I won’t attempt to list off the varied and limitless forms misery takes but we’re told misery loves company and I like that because it can be interpreted a couple of different ways.

Where would you like to live?
In a place I can work.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Intelligence, sense of humor and kindness.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Same answer.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Cruelty, envy, etc. This would be a long list.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Another longish list.

What is your favourite virtue?
All the major virtues, from A-Z, are wonderful, probably, though maybe zeal is overrated.

What is your favourite occupation?
Reading and writing; playing music. Walking. Being w/ friends.

What would you like to be?
A detective.

What is your favourite colour?
Blue — all shades.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Well, Hitler and Stalin would be up there. But this would be another exceptionally long list — perhaps the longest.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Another long list — though much shorter than the above list — but here are a few: Cervantes, Austen, Melville, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Twain, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, Beckett, etc.

Who are your favourite poets?
Baudelaire would be one, without a doubt. Rilke. William Carlos Williams. Another long list. I just read Jacques Roubaud’s Some Thing Black and I thought it was incredible, like his The Great Fire of London.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
There are many: e.g., Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Sherlock Holmes and Watson; Ishmael and Queequeg, to name a few. The Karamazov bros.; well, at least Ivan and Alyosha. Charles Swann and Marcel and the Baron de Charlus. Hamlet. Joseph K. Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. Hamm and Clov; Didi and Gogo. Bertie and Jeeves.

Who is your favourite musician?
Beethoven. Jimi Hendrix. (Similar hairstyles.)

What is your favourite food?
I like avocados and I like almonds.

What is your favourite drink?
Water.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Is the ability to fly considered a ‘natural talent’? B/c for some species, obviously, it is. That’d be cool, viz., to be able to fly ...

How do you want to die?
A friend told me that P. G. Wodehouse died of a heart attack at the age of ninety-three while working, with what was to be his final novel, Sunset at Blandings, lying on his lap. Dying at ninety-three while working on a creative project sounds not so bad, as far as dying goes. I’d like to either go out like that or in a blaze of glory, like at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was Proust’s A. to the same Q.: A better man than I am, and much beloved. That’s good.

What is your current state of mind?
Worried, a little.

What is your motto?
Le grotesque des événements de tous les
jours vous cache le vrai malheur des passions (Barnave). And: Il est du véritable amour comme de l'apparition des esprits: tout le monde en parle, mais peu de gens en ont vu (La Rochefoucauld). And: Natura Artis Magistra. And: Dude, where’s my car?


John Goldbach is the author of Selected Blackouts, a collection of stories. He lives in Montreal.

For more information about The Devil and the Detective please visit the Coach House 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.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

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