Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Stephen Cole

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Stephen Cole

Feeling down during the hockey lockout? You may be able to find solace in Triple Overtime (Simon & Schuster Canada), which is billed as "the ultimate fan's hockey book" — something author Stephen Cole knows something about, having written half a dozen hockey titles, in addition to covering hockey news for several news outlets.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Stephen tells Open Book about time travel tourism, shares a quote from Proust himself and show his very Canadian favourite colours.

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.


What is your dream of happiness?
Time travel: roaming back and forth, solving mysteries of the ages — from Jesus to JFK. Let’s be clear, there would be moments of rank tourism, too. Gargling beer watching The Beatles in Hamburg; seeing Rocket Richard and Babe Ruth. You could become rich being my travel agent.

What is your idea of misery?
A dinner party where I’m stuck with people talking about their children while at the other end livelier minds scream with laughter.

Where would you like to live?
Lived in Brooklyn in the 1990s. Returned this year. My eldest said, “I’ve never seen dad happier.” I think I would have liked being there after World War II. Dodgers were still in town. Meanwhile across the bridge, uptown, bebop music — Parker, Monk — was alive on 52nd Street.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Intelligence, wit, understanding.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Intelligence, wit, understanding.

What is your chief characteristic?
You’re becoming very serious, Marcel. Don’t know, I hate being bored, love stimulation.

What is your principal fault?
I see what you’re up to. This follows neatly from six. Real question you want answered is what’s wrong with me? OK I admit it. Evading tedium can be the sign of a frivolous nature. Surely you would understand this, Marcel. Your dad was always on you to get out of the house. But as you yourself said, “If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less. No, it is to dream more.”

What is your greatest extravagance?
Music. Play it all the time and have thousands of albums, CDs. Jazz, country. Anyone who liked rock music growing up should evolve to country. Nicholas Dawidoff in In the Country of Country, said rock music was a true expression of adolescent rebellion, country music a natural venue for adult disappointment.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Excess. I don’t endorse Blake’s quote, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” But I do understand the value (and danger) of going overboard on matters of vital interest. A guy I know who sold his company for billions has trouble remembering to turn off the engine of his car.

What do you value most about your friends?
Being there.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Pomposity, blinding self-regard. I started my career at McClelland & Stewart and remember how Jack McLelland once went to an author’s home for dinner. The author was a general with a lighted bust of himself in the foyer. Jack saw the sculpture, turned to his companion and said, “Jesus, let’s get out of here.” Exactly.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Impatience with new technology, I can happily sit in a boat for hours fishing, but feel myself turning into the Incredible Hulk when someone takes me through new computer software.

What is your favourite virtue?
My favourite baseball team is the Montreal Expos. Don’t have a favourite virtue. In fact I’m a little suspicious of virtue.

What is your favourite occupation?

What would you like to be?
A writer.

What is your favourite colour?
The Lake Ontario blue and cream Toronto Maple Leaf jerseys of the 1950s.

What is your favourite flower?
Oh Asphodel, that greeny flower …

What is your favourite bird?
A cardinal in winter landing on a green fir tree.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

What character in history do you most dislike?
Same as everyone else: Hitler.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Contemporary, let’s see, William Boyd, Amis, McEwan on the other side of the pond. Richard Ford, Don Delillo, Letham, Chabon. Alice Munro. My favourite mystery writer is Ross MacDonald. I’m only doing contemporary. Otherwise we could go on forever.

Who are your favourite poets?
Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Randall Jarrell, Richard Hugo. Yeats, Auden.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
I love spending time with Frank Bascombe, beleaguered hero of Richard Ford’s sportswriter trilogy.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Old hockey players from Howe and Richard era. Can’t get enough of them. Not sure why.

Who is your favourite painter?
Monet, I guess. I was in Giverny recently. I realize how well he translated his natural surroundings. The light and colours there in August are electric. Felt like I’d taken a hallucinogenic drug.

Who is your favourite musician?
Oh boy. Thelonious Monk playing jazz, Sinatra singing. Greatest music, greatest theatre I’ve ever seen was The Who in 1968. I was just a schoolboy.

What is your favourite food?
Christmas dinner.

What is your favourite drink?
I don’t much like wine and am uncomfortable with how people go on about it. “It’s a naïve, domestic burgundy, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.” Give me a mixed drink — martini, margarita, mojita (and those are just the “m’s”)

What are your favourite names?
We named our kids Harry and Lew so they could easily find work as sports writers or detectives.

What is it you most dislike?
As I get older I try not to focus on such a question.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Ability to play piano. Or centre field for the Yankees.

How do you want to die?
Like Roy Batty, the replicant in the movie Blade Runner, chasing down my toymaker, demanding answers.

What is your current state of mind?
Depressed, best friend died two weeks ago.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Yet to come.

What is your motto?
Service with a simile.

Stephen Cole is a hockey fan and the author of Double Overtime,Xtreme Hockey, The Canadian Hockey Atlas, The Last Hurrah: A Celebration of Hockey’s Greatest Season ’66–’67 and the hockey humor anthology Slapshots. He writes regularly for The Globe and Mail and the CBC. Stephen Cole lives in Toronto, Ontario, with his wife and two sons.

For more information about Triple Overtime please visit the Simon & Schuster 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.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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