Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with JJ Lee

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JJ Lee

JJ Lee is the author of The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son and a Suit. Lee, a journalist, has crafted a memoir that blends fashion and family history.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, JJ Lee tells Open Book about his chief characteristic, Superman's better half and his two personal 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" personality.


What is your dream of happiness?
To be surrounded by my family at my grandfather’s farm outside of Montreal eating his food whilst planning a day of rowing down Riviere Nord.

What is your idea of misery?
Regret is the worse feeling and thought. It keeps me up at night and takes me away from the things and people that make me happy.

Where would you like to live?
In a cottage or a fisherman’s shack up a hill from a warm sheltered salt-water beach. Hawaii would be acceptable.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Ethical men, kind men, optimistic men and men who have physical prowess but none of the arrogance that can come with it. I like men who can talk but also listen.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Most women I admire endure the folly of others in a way I never could. I wish I could be more like them.

What is your chief characteristic?

What is your principal fault?
I am kinder to strangers than to my family and friends.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I feel immature at times for always wishing to visit the comic book store.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Racism. It sounds strange but I expect people to have prejudices and treat others in a discrimatory way. The question is how one addresses it. I consider them learning opportunities.

What do you value most about your friends?
Trust. I trust that they love me, believe me and will let me be as foolish as I’ve always been without judgement. They still see me as a good person. They trust I am trying. And I feel the same way about them.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

What is your favourite virtue?
Charity. Giving of yourself is better than effacing yourself as the virtue of Humility suggests.

What is your favourite occupation?
Fatherhood, it is my favourite and most rewarding activity and preoccupation.

What would you like to be?

What is your favourite colour?
None. But in neckwear, I would say blue.

What is your favourite flower?
Fresias, because my wife favours them. Daisies on a meadow are ideal. Tulips in spring are restorative.

What is your favourite bird?
Cockatoos, for their intelligence and vocal abilities. One in particular, his name is Charlie. He was a riot. He lived for 60 years. (Click here to see Charlie).

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Duke of Wellington. The fact he could sleep just about anywhere and indeed took naps prior to the action at Waterloo impresses me. He is easier to admire than Alexander the Great.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Tolstoy, Tolkien, Elmore Leonard, Michael Chabon — I enjoy reading them.

Who are your favourite poets?
I don’t turn to poetry for entertainment or comfort but William Carlos Williams’s sturdy and very American vision impresses me. I also have an appreciation for William Wordsworth.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Clark Kent (Superman can sometimes bore me though), Batman and Buffy. I’m just being honest here.

Who are your heroes in real life?
The two best human beings I know are my twin sons. They are great teachers.

Who is your favourite painter?
If I felt very neo-classical, it would be Claude Lorrain. Otherwise, John Constable. But Michelangelo, with his complex facade compositions, is my favourite architect.

Who is your favourite musician?
Chet Baker’s voice reaches me. I would have liked to have heard George Harrison perform an ukulele-only concert.

What is your favourite food?
Sushi. Prime rib.

What is your favourite drink?
Coffee, can’t get by without it.

What are your favourite names?
I gave Jack and Emmet to my sons. If we had a daughter, we would have named her Magdalen and called her, Maggie. I develop inexplicable crushes on girls who go by Tanya and Tara.

What is it you most dislike?
Foolish self-harm.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I’d like to be able to pitch at 95 mph and make the ball break either in or out according to my whim.

How do you want to die?
I only ask that I live long enough to know my grandchildren and pre-decease my sons. I would accept a horrible death to have enough time in this life.

What is your current state of mind?
Anxious, scheming and reflective (I’m filling out a questionnaire for public consumption and it reminds me of completing my provincial exams in English).

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I have yet to accomplish greatness and it worries me so much I sometimes drink milk at night.

What is your motto?
Hurry up.

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

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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