Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Shane Neilson

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The Proust Questionnaire, with Shane Neilson

Shane Neilson is the author of Complete Physical (The Porcupine's Quill). In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, he tells us his dream of happiness, his chief characteristic, his principal fault and more.

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?
My children, in adulthood, pulling down my books from the shelves and realizing that they were loved.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Where would you like to live?
In Fredericton. I come from the East Coast, and adore the Saint John River.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Stoicism. Endurance.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Beauty. Passion.

What is your chief characteristic?

What is your principal fault?
Damning the future.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Books. Sorry, boring but true.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
The faults I myself possess!

What do you value most about your friends?
I have very few friends. Of those I have, I value their telling me exactly what I need to hear, to save me from myself.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

What is your favourite virtue?
Passion- I seek it, and suffer from it.

What is your favourite occupation?
Do I get to pick? Well, I pick this one. Being a physician.

What would you like to be?

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite flower?
A red, red rose.

What is your favourite bird?
The Cardinal.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Alden Nowlan — for survival against all odds.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Don Delillo. Martin Amis. V.S Naipaul.

Who are your favourite poets?
Milton Acorn. Alden Nowlan. Al Purdy. Ken Babstock. Carmine Starnino. George Murray.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Who are your heroes in real life?
Everyone is eventually disappointing.

Who is your favourite painter?
Don’t have one. Though I like van Gogh’s biography the best.

Who is your favourite musician?
Tom Waits.

What is your favourite food?
An “Elvis Burger” at Angel’s Diner, Guelph.

What is your favourite drink?
Coffee. With cream.

What are your favourite names?
“Zdenka,” my daughter’s name, and “Kazuo,” my son’s name.

What is it you most dislike?
Home renovations.

What natural talent gift would you most like to possess?

How do you want to die?
In my own bed.

What is your current state of mind?

What is your motto?


Shane Neilson is a family physician who published his first book of poems with Frog Hollow Press in 2008 called Exterminate My Heart. He published Meniscus with Biblioasis in 2009 and will publish Alice and George in 2011 with Goose Lane Editions. He also published a memoir about his training as a physician called Call Me Doctor. All of his writings show fealty to his origins in rural New Brunswick. He has also been anthologized in The New Canon (Signature, 2005) and In Fine Form (Polestar, 2005.) Neilson has edited Alden Nowlan and Illness, a book collecting together all of Alden Nowlan's medical poems, and he recently finished work on another anthology about what lies behind poetry called Approaches To Poetry (Frog Hollow), a book collecting together twenty-seven poets who write about what moves them.

For more information about Complete Physical please visit the Porcupine's Quill website.

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.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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