Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Pearl Goodman

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Pearl Goodman

Part local history, part cultural nostalgia and part rumination on the legacy of the Holocaust Pearl Goodman's memoir Peril: From Jackboots to Jack Benny (Bridgeross) is a moving, witty portrait of a life. Raised in Toronto by Holocaust survivors, Pearl tells both their story and hers in Peril. She also paints a picture of a Toronto struggling, sometimes comically, to find its identity.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Pearl tells Open Book about a truly dreamy dream home, a feline hero and the experience of publishing her first book.

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?
I wouldn’t call it a dream, but rather the way I feel after my third morning coffee.

What is your idea of misery?
The worst feeling for me is the helpless, trapped-fury sense that defending myself when I’ve been wronged, is somehow going to work against me.

Where would you like to live?
I’d like to live in two places: where I live now, and somewhere warm, in an ultra modern home, with natural materials — especially stone — not that big, but with open spaces, a large master suite and luxurious ensuite bathroom, two more bedrooms, high ceilings, main floor that has a gallery feel to it, huge colourful art on the walls, fireplace, fabulous kitchen, deck with an infinity pool, privacy, windows with spectacular views and tons of natural light, situated on a canal with a docked Bow Rider ready for water outings. I also have a pared down less lavish version of this while keeping the main idea intact.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
I’d say overall kindness and more specifically, the ability to listen and converse engagingly.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
As above, overall kindness and more specifically, intelligence, wit and verve.

What is your chief characteristic?
My integrity.

What is your principal fault?
Wanting to be liked.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I have two. The first is my car! High performance comes at a price. The second is collecting modern art.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
I don’t mind exclusivity. Dynamics are unique to each context. Dinner with a good friend is different from dinner with four good friends. I’m perfectly fine with not being invited along to every event my friends go to, and I reserve the right to do the same.

What do you value most about your friends?
I value them for caring for and about me, for being present, emotionally available, and having the ability to find me when I feel lost to myself.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Cowardice and all its attendant unsavoury behaviours: passive aggression, having a hidden agenda, deception, lying, cheating, back stabbing, lack of accountability, not taking responsibility for oneself, and especially not standing up for others…

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Being overly critical of people. A case in point could be the answer to the question above.

What is your favourite virtue?
A vice reframed.

What is your favourite occupation?
I’d say being an architect. What a fascinating synthesis of art, design and structure.

What would you like to be?
I honestly think I’m “being” it —on the right track, and gratefully moving forward.

What is your favourite colour?
The colour blue: turquoise, teal, azure, sapphire, indigo, royal, navy, aqua.

What is your favourite flower?
The tulip: simple construction of stem and bloom, sturdy leaves and stalk, substantial bowl-like flower in a variety of vibrant colours, hardy, fleshy, gorgeous.

What is your favourite bird?
The woodpecker. Its markings of pure white and pure black with a touch of red look like modern art to me. And what it does instinctively to survive — hammer with its tiny beak, its head persistently poking again and again looking for tree insects and the like. Talk about hard labour.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Martin Luther King Jr. No one else comes close to his earnest charisma and eloquence, deep humanity and gentlemanly elegance.

What character in history do you most dislike?
All the mass murderers who were ever in power.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, George Eliot, John Fowles, Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findley.

Who are your favourite poets?
Alden Nowlan, Langston Hughes, Earl Birney, Al Purdy.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Little Dorrit, Carbonel (I hope felines count), Nancy Drew.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Stephen Lewis, Tommy Douglas, Gloria Steinem.

Who is your favourite painter?
I know I’m supposed to pick one but how about I pick one era — Modern Art: The Pop artists, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, the Abstract Expressionists, Post Modernists and so on.

Who is your favourite musician?
Contemporary jazz wizard Pat Metheny.

What is your favourite food?
Anything from the sea and lakes and rivers.

What is your favourite drink?
It’s a tie. Coffee and cocktails.

What are your favourite names?
For a first name: Adelaide. For a last name: Belvedere. But not together in the same name.

What is it you most dislike?
Opportunists who can’t resist a cheap thrill.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
The ability to paint on canvas, to make that kind of art.

How do you want to die?
A billionaire. That ought to keep me around for a while.

What is your current state of mind?
Contemplative with a twinkle.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Writing my first book and finding a wonderful publisher, Marvin Ross of Bridgeross Communications. I’d been writing short stories for many years and then began writing a book. It’s quite the process to conceptualize a work that’s 95,000 words rather than a 3,000 word short story. To manage that range, to shape it, and hone it, and see it through to completion. That for me is an accomplishment in itself. Then to get it published... I didn’t feel entitled to calling myself a writer until now.

What is your motto?
Live fully and love proudly.

Pearl Goodman was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto, she taught high school English and Dramatic Arts. Then she chose to train as a psychotherapist and has now been in private practice for the past ten years. Words and the human condition have always been her passions. Peril is her first published work.

For more information about Peril: From Jackboots to Jack Benny please visit the Bridgeross 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.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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