Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Nicholson Baker
By Yong Shu Hoong
Nicholson Baker is the bestselling author of Vox, described by The New York Times Magazine as "the 1992 phone-sex novel so steamy that Monica Lewinsky gave it as a gift to Bill Clinton." But in person, Baker comes across more as a trimmer version of Santa Claus – thanks to his white hair and beard, and that certain twinkle in his eyes.
His first book The Mezzanine, a stream-of-consciousness footnote-laden novel about a young office worker's lunch break, was published in 1988. This was followed by nine other novels, including The Fermata (1994), The Anthologist (2009) and House of Holes: A Book of Raunch (2011).
Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (2001) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, stirring up debate over libraries' preservation policies and destruction of intellectual content. Other nonfiction titles include Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilisation (2008) and The Way the World Works: Essays (2012).
Born in 1957 in New York City, Baker currently resides in Maine in the United States. He was in Singapore for six months in 2016 as writer-in-residence at Nanyang Technological University.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a short-short story in three lines that include the following three words: "hive", "hallway" and "artistry".
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. As both an American and a writer, what are the dangers and rewards of being a pacifist in today's world?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?