Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Lauren B. Davis

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Lauren B. Davis

Lauren B. Davis is following strong on the heels of her hit book Our Daily Bread with The Empty Room (HarperCollins Canada) hitting the shelves just one year later.

Though The Empty Room tackles a different subject than Lauren's previous books, it has her trademark intensity and willingness to delve into the dark and difficult, this time tracing a woman's battle with the chaos and pain of alcoholism.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire today, Lauren shares with Open Book some great quotes (courtesy of Raymond Carver and Rabbi Zuzia of Hannipol), her view on wise birds and about her own past struggles.

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?
To be perfectly at home in the world, to trust that all is exactly as it should be, and to be able, as Raymond Carver said, “To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

What is your idea of misery?
Betrayal. Poverty. And being trapped in a small space with screaming children and people yelling into cell phones. And addiction. And losing faith. And great physical pain. Geez. There’s far too much misery in the world.

Where would you like to live?
A secluded house by the sea where I live with my Best Beloved and our dog. Shelves full of books. Endless cups of tea. Weather always just cool enough to make long walks and naps by the fireplace enticing.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Compassion, courage, kindness, a strong moral center, humour and a willingness to walk the dog in filthy weather.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Compassion, courage, kindness, a strong moral center, humour and a willingness to drink endless cups of tea and chat.

What is your chief characteristic?
I’d like to think it’s an insatiable broad thirst for knowledge.

What is your principal fault?
Just one? Snort. It’s not that I think too much of myself, but rather I think of myself too much.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Books. Hands down. Which is a vast improvement over booze.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
I don’t mind it when my friends disappear for a while. I understand the need for solitude and don’t take it personally.

What do you value most about your friends?
I have few true friends; I value everything about them.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Arrogant cruelty — and if animals, the weak, or the young are involved, I become incandescent.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I wish I was a better listener and less thin-skinned.

What is your favourite virtue?
Humility. It enables one to remain teachable, and without that I fear we’re doomed to become self-righteous and close-minded.

What is your favourite occupation?
Writing and reading. This makes me astoundingly lucky.

What would you like to be?
Lauren B. Davis. By this I mean what is illustrated in this quote from Rabbi Zuzia of Hannipol: ““When I reach the next world, they will not ask me why I was not Moses. They will ask me why I was not Zuzia”.

What is your favourite colour?
Oh, there’s a particular shade of indigo-violet that happens just as the sun sets which always sets my heart to fluttering.

What is your favourite flower?
Peonies.

What is your favourite bird?
The owl and the raven. They are both wise in their own ways.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Can’t name just one. Jesus Christ, whether he existed or not, and Dietrich Bonheoffer. Mary Magdalene. Abraham Lincoln. Sister Rosa Parks. Bill W. and Dr. Bob. . .

What character in history do you most dislike?
Any one of a dozen or so tyrants, brutes and dictators. I won’t give them power by naming them.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
You don’t have room for the full list, but a few are, in no particular order: Kent Haruf, Mary Gaskell, James Baldwin, Graham Greene, Alistair MacLeod, Jane Gardam, David Adams Richards, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro. . .

Who are your favourite poets?
I have many favourites, but there’s a poem by Jane Kenyon called “Let Evening Come” that I return to in times of distress. That and “Little Gidding” from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” Also, Mary Oliver, Lisa Pasold, Wendall Berry, Theodore Roethke, Dylan Thomas, Anne Compton, W.S. Merwin, Ann Carson. . .

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Hester Prynne, Jean Valjean, Atticus Finch, Sydney Carton.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Sui Kyi, Nuns on the Bus. All the people who work at soul-crushing jobs, day in and day out, so that their families are fed and clothed and have a roof over their heads. Anyone who, quietly and without the need for praise and recognition, does the right thing, regardless of personal cost.

Who is your favourite painter?
Emily Carr. David Blackwood. Rothko. Lawren Harris. John Singer Sargeant. Andrew Wyeth. Edward Hopper. Alfred Sisley. . .

Who is your favourite musician?
It changes all the time. It used to be Tom Waits, but he lost me a bit when he started playing scrap metal. Leonard Cohen. Bach. Staple Singers. Anonymous 4. Annie Lennox. Buddy Guy. Joni Mitchell. Schumann. Anouar Brahem. Patty Griffin. Mumford & Sons. . .

What is your favourite food?
Candied oranges covered in dark chocolate.

What is your favourite drink?
Tea. Assam or Lapsong Souchong.

What are your favourite names?
I don’t care much about names, just the people to which they’re attached.

What is it you most dislike?
I’m very at bad waiting, and I dislike stinkbugs but I really detest cancer and genocide and human trafficking and animal cruelty.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Astonished and grateful as I am to be a writer, I am satisfied with that. To desire more seems greedy.

How do you want to die?
Painlessly, when I’m ready, with my Best Beloved nearby (here or in the next world, whatever that is), knowing I have done what I was created to do.

What is your current state of mind?
Grateful.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Getting sober on March 21, 1995 and staying that way.

What is your motto?
“This, too, shall pass.”


Lauren B. Davis is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed novels The Stubborn Season, The Radiant City and Our Daily Bread, which was longlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize and named as a best book of the year by both The Globe and Mail and the Boston Globe. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

For more information about The Empty Room please visit the HarperCollins Canada 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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