Friday, November 29, 2013

Proust questionnaire

Like most girls, I went through a magazine phase when I was younger.  I would read Seventeen, Cosmo, Glamour, later Elle and She.  Their glossy covers were so full of promise.  Inside I would learn to attract boys, perhaps even men, discover the real truth about Cindy Crawford's exercise regime, find out what personality type I possessed and how I could make it work for me.  Not exactly James Joyce, but it was a good way of avoiding writing essays and they were good with tea and biscuits on a rainy day.

Like chocolate bars, they are delicious while you eat them, a lovely sugar rush, but no real nutritional value.  And as I grew older (I can’t say ‘grew up’) I had less time to spend reading articles about self-tanners and Men Who Loved Too Much. I still have a quick peek at Hello! or Marie Claire at the hairdressers but I have moved on to more substantial fare.  A few years ago, I received a subscription to The New Yorker.  I loved it but couldn't really commit to a weekly magazine and they gradually piled up in the corner, berating me when I walked by them.

'Oh, watching television?  You realise you could be learning about something culturally significant, but if you'd rather watch Poirot, I guess it's up to you.'

'Oh, marking essays?  Wouldn't you rather read this Julian Barnes short story?  At least have a quick look at the cartoons.'

And so the pile grew until I finally told my mother not to renew the subscription as the unread issues made me feel inadequate. And sometimes homesick.

There is one magazine I still buy, a nice monthly called Vanity Fair.  It's dishy enough to be a guilty pleasure but you can feel virtuous by reading the financial, newsy articles.  But my favourite part of each issue is on the back page, the Proust Questionnaire, where one random celebrity answers a set of questions.  Apparently pondering such queries used to be a popular pastime among Marcel Proust and his friends and the answers you gave were meant to reveal your true nature. 

Anyone who's read an issue or seen Inside the Actor's Studio will recognize it.   The questions range from 'What is your biggest fear?' to 'On what occasion do you lie?'  It's not that I am especially fascinated by Dolly Parton's personal motto or what living person Stephen King despises.  Rather I am interested in the depth of the answer and (egotistically) whether I have anything in common with them.  I sometimes wonder if the subjects respond quickly, instinctively, or if they take time with their answers.  Some answers are funny (What is your greatest fear? Converting kilometres to miles - David Bowie) and some are revealing (What is your favourite occupation? Eavesdropping - Dustin Hoffman).

The Vanity Fair website has one you can take that will see which luminary's answers most closely matches your own.  It's at  I took it and my closest matches were Eleanor Lampert (a fashion guru I had never heard of, odd match as I am very uninspired in what I wear) and Donald Trump (no idea how that happened!).

I'll leave you with one that made me laugh - What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?  Thinking of the right thing to say—later.

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