Mark Desrosiers's Reviews > Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life

Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire by Graydon Carter
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's review
Feb 05, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: overrated-drivel

Big surprise here: celebs and scribblers and designers are just as dull as you and me. The Proust questionnaire is really a buncha basic questions beloved by snobs because Marcel Proust answered them (did not come up with them) when he was a teenager. Hell, even the Cookie Monster answered the questionnaire for NPR, can you get any more hipster-highbrow than that?

I'd love to detail the creepy hilarity that ensues when public figures answer an introspective quiz for public consumption, but... OK here's one example. Eric Clapton:

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
"Getting sober."

Really? God? Who hath bestowed upon us "Badge" and "Layla" and "Bell-bottom Blues" and "Forever Man"? THAT'S your greatest achievement, hitching a ride on a wagon?

OK here's Jane Fonda now:

Who are your favorite writers?
"Proust, Shakespeare."

Jane, you've never read an entire book in your life, have you?

But I won't go on, some of these responses are cool. For example, Joan Fontaine declaring virginity the most overrated virtue, or Fran Lebowitz's favorite name: "Driver". Conan O'Brien, Walter Matthau, Ted Kennedy, Sandra Bernhard, Sidney Poitier, Aretha Franklin, Maureen Dowd, Harry Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, Gore Vidal, Quincy Jones -- all of them are witty, insightful, sometimes hilarious here.

And I have to say I was shocked on occasion. I learned here that Bill O'Reilly considers Graham Greene among his favorite writers, and Paul Newman among his heroes in real life. Similarly, William F. Buckley Jr. cites Murray Kempton among his favorite writers and gave this as his motto: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi , very un-American if you ask me.

Still, this is mostly a cavalcade of boredom: take note of how many times Nelson Mandela gets cited as a hero, for example. But I will reveal to you the one person who fails completely at the Proust Questionnaire. What is the quality he most likes in a woman? "The ability to burp on command." What is the trait he most deplores in others? "Talent." What does he consider his greatest achievement? "Discovering morning." What words does he most overuse? "Chthonic" and "miasma". What does he consider overrated virtues? "Sympathy and originality." What does he consider the lowest depth of misery? "Living in fear."

Yes, David Bowie finally reveals that he's a halfwit charlatan here in these pages, and I guess I'll give it an extra star for that.

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