Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Tom Henighan

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Tom Henighan

Most recently the author of The Boy From Left Field (Dundurn), Tom Henighan has worked in fiction, non-fiction and poetry, publishing more than 20 books in all. The Boy From Left Field tells the story of Hawk, a young baseball player living on the streets of Toronto.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Tom tells Open Book about his idea of misery, what he thinks of cell phone addictions and his real life heroes.

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?
A world without war, a planet unplundered and all children well-nurtured. On the personal level: good health, ongoing creativity, good exchanges with family and friends.

What is your idea of misery?
A luxury Caribbean cruise; an evening of literary readings.

Where would you like to live?
On a warm island, close to a great city. But London, Paris, New York, Santa Fe or the Taos Valley, New Mexico, would do.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Patience, wisdom, standing up for what he believes in.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Intelligence, liveliness, beauty, oracular insights, standing up for what she believes in.

What is your chief characteristic?
Spiky geniality, persistence.

What is your principal fault?
Too quick to judge people.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Food, books, techno-stuff.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Extravagance.

What do you value most about your friends?
Loyalty, conviviality, awareness of people and art.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Arrogance, superficial worldliness, being judgmental, smug superiority, a gross sensibility, addiction to cell phones.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Too quick to react.

What is your favourite virtue?
Tolerance, genuine charity.

What is your favourite occupation?
Listening to great music, walking in the spring woods, watching movies by Val Lewton or Michael Powell.

What would you like to be?
A world-famous conductor with a specialty in Sibelius, Strauss and Mozart.

What is your favourite colour?
Blue, but dark green and khaki are nice too.

What is your favourite flower?
The Marilyn tulip (it really exists), orchids, Michaelmas daisies.

What is your favourite bird?
Cardinals, any owl, crows, hummingbirds.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Laotse, Julius Caesar, Justinian and Theodora, Erik the Red, Frederick II (1194-1250), St Francis of Assisi, Robert Owen, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson. Edmund Burke, Garibaldi, T.E. Lawrence, Richard Burton (explorer), Shackleton (explorer), Charles de Gaulle, FDR, Pierre Eliot Trudeau.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Oliver Cromwell, Stalin, Mao Zedong.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Lord Byron (yes, his prose!), Poe, Balzac, Knut Hamsun, Ivan Bunin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Lernet-Holenia, Hemingway, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Sei Shonagon, Ford Madox Ford, Graham Greene, Mishima, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Campbell.

Who are your favourite poets?
Who are your favourite poets? Chaucer, Hafiz, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Frost, Graves, W.C. Williams, Yeats, Auden.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Odysseus, Gandalf, Steppenwolf, Prospero, Puck, Arial, Alice ( from Lewis Carroll), Falstaff, Mr, Micawber, Little Red Riding Hood, Anne of Green Gables, Pierre, Andrei, Levin and Natasha (from Tolstoy), Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Margarita (from Bulgakov).

Who are your heroes in real life?
C.G. Jung, George Patton, Geoffrey Jellicoe (landscape architect), Johnny Sain and Warren Spahn (baseball pitchers), Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Ann Baring, Bill Moyers, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Ricken Patel, Linda McQuaig, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lewis, Paul Dewar.

Who is your favourite painter?
Giotto, Gauguin, van Gogh, any Impressionist, Kandinsky, Matisse, Klee, Bonnard, Balthus, Burchfield.

Who is your favourite musician?
Rachmaninoff, Stokowski, Beecham, Bjørling, Hilde Gueden, Hans Hotter, Cesare Siepi, Bidu Sayao, Lisa della Casa, Lennie Bernstein, Richard Dyer-Bennett, Paul Desmond, Renée Fleming.

What is your favourite food?
Steak tartare, blood pudding, scrapple, corned beef hash, fried cod roe, roast chicken, fresh crab with mayonnaise, risotto, spaghetti bolognese, ravioli, vermicelli alla puttanesca, Peking duck, General Tao chicken, designer pizza, home-made ice cream, creme brulée, croissants.

What is your favourite drink?
Coffee, Pilsener beer, any full-bodied smooth red wine.

What are your favourite names?
Tom, Madeleine, Kate.

What is it you most dislike?
Physical pain, sexual or other betrayal, personal rejection.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Musical virtuosity.

How do you want to die?
In bed with my wife, unmessily.

What is your current state of mind?
Happy, but wary of Mr. Death.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My efforts to creatively teach and mentor young people for 40 years.

What is your motto?
"Follow your bliss" (Joseph Campbell).


Tom Henighan, Ottawa writer and editor, is the author of some 20 published books, including fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He was one of the founders of ARC poetry magazine, and has published two volumes of poetry. His work has been nominated or short-listed for various awards, including The Seal Books first novel award, the Red Maple Award, the Ottawa Fiction Prize, the Shamus Award and the Rhysling Award. In 2008, he was awarded the Victor Tolgesy Prize for lifetime contribution to the arts in Ottawa.

For more information about The Boy From Left Field please visit the Dundurn website.

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

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with great Canadian writers.

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