Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Bill Richardson

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Bill Richardson

CBC icon Bill Richardson, erstwhile host of Canada Reads, Saturday Night at the Opera and many other shows, is well-known in Canadian households for his sharp observations and witty irreverence. He's a prolific writer, and has recently teamed up with award-winning artist Roxanna Bikadoroff to create The First Little Bastard to Call Me Gramps (House of Anansi), which tackles the subject of aging with Bill's trademark humour.

Today he takes on our version of The Proust Questionnaire, where we get to know authors on a personal level.

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.

Bill had us giggling along to his answers, from spooning with pets to the importance of gin, plus one very useful talent he'd like to have.

What is your dream of happiness?

A protracted afternoon nap taken while spooning with my poodle.

What is your idea of misery?

An earthquake during acupuncture.

Where would you like to live?

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, where the cops have wooden legs, and the bulldogs all have rubber teeth, and the hens lay soft-boiled eggs.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Rugged good looks.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?


What is your chief characteristic?


What is your principal fault?

Intractable indolence.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Alcohol. Gin, most particularly.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?


What do you value most about your friends?

I appreciate it when they refrain from staring out the window with soulful eyes, sighing, then saying, “Où sont les neiges d’Antan?”

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?


What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?

Staring into the middle distance.

What would you like to be?


What is your favourite colour?


What is your favourite flower?

Venus flytrap.

What is your favourite bird?

Prairie chicken.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

Katherine FitzGerald, Countess of Desmond, who fell from a tree while picking cherries and died, in 1604, ostensibly at the age of 120.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Anyone who, out of concerns for propriety, destroys someone else’s diaries or manuscripts.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Penelope Gilliatt, Veronica Geng, Katinka Loesser, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Carol Shields.

Who are your favourite poets?

James Merrill, Mother Goose, A.A. Milne, W.H Auden, Louise Gluck, Sylvia Plath, Roo Borson.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Mordecai Richler’s Barney Panofsky in Barney’s Version, Miriam Toews’ Nomi Nickel in A Complicated Kindness, P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and Daisy Goodwill Flett in The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.

Who are your heroes in real life?

People with hard lives who remain indomitable. Anyone who doesn’t put money first.

Who is your favourite painter?

I’ve always used College Pro.

Who is your favourite musician?

I can’t be that reductive, not even in the name of being a good sport.

What is your favourite food?


What is your favourite drink?


What are your favourite names?

Hendricks and Tanqueray.

What is it you most dislike?

Being in an elevator with someone whistling a happy tune.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

The ability to trim my toenails from a standing position.

How do you want to die?

In my own time, through my own agency, and slathered in peanut butter so the raccoons will come and eat me.

What is your current state of mind?


What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Once, in a Greek restaurant, I was seated next to an open fireplace. I ordered hummus. The waiter brought it, set it down in the flickering light of the cheerful flames. I said, “Hummus where the hearth is.” It doesn’t get any better than that. It just doesn’t.

What is your motto?

Life is too short for cheap gin.

Bill Richardson is a Vancouver-based writer and broadcaster. He has hosted numerous shows on CBC Radio, including Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and In Concert. Most recently he has collaborated with composer and singer Veda Hille in the creation of Do You Want What I Have Got? — A Craigslist Cantata, which was staged at the Factory Theatre in Toronto. His books include Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast, which won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, and After Hamelin, a novel for children that was a winner of the Silver Birch Award.

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