Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Shawn Micallef

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Shawn Micallef

Shawn Micallef is as much a part of Toronto as standing in line for an hour on Sunday morning to get the perfect eggs Benedict. As senior editor and co-owner of Spacing magazine and a columnist for The Toronto Star, Shawn's writing on public space, Toronto history and cultural politics is an essential part of the Toronto conversation.

This season we can hear more from Shawn in The Trouble with Brunch: Work, Class and the Pursuit of Leisure (Coach House Books). The book takes brunch as a symbol of conspicuous consumption and personal branding to look at class and economic issues, particularly those surrounding the creative class. In The Trouble with Brunch, Shawn also shares his own story of moving from the rust belt to an urban centre and the questions that have piqued his interest ever since.

Today Shawn joins us to take on the Proust Questionnaire, a series which gives us a peek into an author's psyche. Shawn tells us about the famous Canadian he adores, his favourite authors and the food that makes up 92% of his diet.

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?

The first few hours after arriving in another city and wandering about, when everything and everybody seems like a dream or movie.

What is your idea of misery?

Brunch. Phone calls. Being around people who claim to be bored.

Where would you like to live?

Toronto is where I want to be, but London, Berlin, or Los Angeles could steal me away. Maybe.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Loyalty.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Loyalty.

What is your chief characteristic?

Stupid jokey.

What is your principal fault?

Horrible lateness.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Shoes. Also paying for "membership plus" at the YMCA. You get unlimited towels and there is a whirlpool and various creams and ointments provided on the counter. And a shoe buffer. I feel like Phileas Fogg in his gentleman's club when I'm there.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Messy lives.

What do you value most about your friends?

Social and intellectual reasons for living.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Apathy and/or lack of principles.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Passive aggressiveness.

What is your favourite virtue?

Generosity.

What is your favourite occupation?

The person who gets to do the lights for giant rock shows and discotheques.

What would you like to be?

More productive. Better organized. On top of things.

What is your favourite bird?

Man, those puffins are cute, aren't they?

What historical figure do you admire the most?

I like the way Pierre Elliot Trudeau brought some style and notions of social justice to Canada (but you never want to look too closely at the record).

What character in history do you most dislike?

Hitler? Perhaps he's best pluralized, to cover the other guys. The Hitlers.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Joan Didion. Rebecca Solnit. Jeffery Eugenides. Alan Hollinghurst. Dionne Brand.

Who are your favourite poets?

Frank O'Hara. Dionne Brand.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

The roaming, watching version of Christopher Isherwood in his novels. Calliope Stephanides in Middlesex.

Who are your heroes in real life?

People who do hard unglamorous things over long periods of time like rescuing dogs and taking in foster children with disabilities. These people, where do they come from?

What is your favourite food?

Hummus. 92% of what I eat is hummus-based. The only way to live.

What is your favourite drink?

Whisky, on the rocks. Ice gives each drink a longer life. Less problems this way.

What are your favourite names?

Sebastian is a nice name.

What is it you most dislike?

Smugness is up there. Lecturing people how to live. I'm sure I do this too.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

To command an audience while playing a guitar or piano while singing. Must feel like a superhero.

How do you want to die?

Old, but not too old. Quietly, a little worn out from all of it, ready for a break.

What is your current state of mind?

Is there another state other than anxiety?

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Figuring out a way to do what I like doing and somehow making a living at it.

What is your motto?

Speak quietly and carry a big keyboard.


Shawn Micallef is the author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (Coach House, 2010) and a senior editor and co-owner of the independent, Jane Jacobs Prize–winning magazine Spacing. In 2002, while a resident at the Canadian Film Centre’s ­Media Lab, he co-founded [murmur], the location-based mobile phone documentary project. Begun in Toronto’s Kensington Market, the project has spread throughout the city and to more than twenty cities globally. He teaches at OCAD University, started the Toronto web magazine Yonge Street, and was a 2011–2012 Canadian Journalism Fellow at University of Toronto’s Massey College. He writes and talks about cities, culture, buildings, art and politics in books, magazines, newspapers, websites and even in front of real live people.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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