News and Interviews

The Proust Questionnaire, with Paul Benedetti

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To paraphrase Tolstoy, it seems fair to say that each funny family is funny in its own way. The Hamilton Spectator's Paul Benedetti runs with that idea in his hilarious portrait of modern family life, You Can Have a Dog When I'm Dead: Essays on Life at an Angle (Dundurn Press). From medical embarrassments to forgotten errands, Benedetti's tales are relatable and absorbing, often inducing a cringing sympathy as well as reliable laughs. There are touching moments as well, as Benedetti's love for his three children and wife shine from beneath the chaos of a wild but happy household. 

We're pleased to welcome Paul to Open Book today, where he squares off with our version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, a quiz popular with its titular author and his friends, which is meant to reveal a respondent's true personality. Get to know Paul as he gives us one of the best answers we've gotten for the definition of misery, gets specific with a drink order, and shares a detail that makes us sure we'd like to be invited to a dinner party at his house. 

What is your dream of happiness?

A world free of hate, war, and Transformer movies. Actually, I’d like to see my three children healthy, happy, and fulfilled in their lives. But right now, I’d settle for a nice veal sandwich with tomato sauce.

What is your idea of misery? 

Being Donald Trump’s hair stylist.

Where would you like to live?

I like where I live right now - Hamilton - but somewhere warm and sunny would be great. Italy?

What is your chief characteristic? 

I would say my chief characteristic is my large nose.

What is your principal fault?

I might over focus on my nose a bit.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I own a stable of Arabian stallions in the south of France. Just kidding. I have a LOT of neck ties.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

I’m okay with most faults — except real dishonesty and meanness.

What do you value most about your friends?

Their vacation properties. No, seriously, their caring, generosity, and humour.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Irrational thinking and small mindedness.

What characteristics do you dislike most in yourself?

Do you have all day?

What is your favourite virtue?

Love.

What is your favourite occupation?

Fishing and drinking beer.

What would you like to be?

I often thought about being a bull fighter, but now I think the pants would be too tight.

What is your favourite colour?

Blue. 

What is your favourite flower?

My father liked roses and so do I.

What is your favourite bird?

I like finches. They’re small and cool.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

F. Scott Fitzgerald. Richard Ford. Hemingway. S. J. Perelman, Elmore Leonard. I could go on…

Who are your favourite poets?

I don’t read enough poetry, but I like Philip Larkin for his mordant wit.

Who is your favourite musician?

Frank Sinatra. He is the best.

What is your favourite food?

Italian. All of it. 

What is your favourite drink?

An ice cold, extremely dry gin martini with two green olives.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Ah, so many deficits and so much to choose from. I would like to have natural athleticism, if only to get through a tennis game without hurting myself. I also envy people with beautiful singing voices.

How do you want to die?

Laughing.

What is your motto?

“Anything for humour.” Well, it used to be. My wife won’t allow quite “anything”, particularly at dinner parties, but I still try.

 

Paul Benedetti is an award-winning journalist, author, and writer. His essays have appeared in the Globe and Mail, Canadian Living, Reader’s Digest, and regularly in the Hamilton Spectator, where he has a widely read Saturday column. He has won the Ontario Newspaper Award for Humour Writing and Canada’s National Newspaper Award for Best Short Feature, and he teaches journalism at the University of Western Ontario. Paul lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Related reading

You Can Have a Dog When I'm Dead

 

Hamilton Spectator columnist Paul Benedetti’s essays paint a wonderfully funny portrait of family life today.

 

Paul Benedetti has a good job, a great family, and successful neighbours — but that doesn’t stop him from using it all as grist for a series of funny, real, and touching essays about a world he can’’ quite navigate.

 

Benedetti misses his son, who is travelling in Europe, misplaces his groceries, and forgets to pick up his daughter at school. He endures a colonoscopy and vainly attempts to lower his Body Mass Index — all with mixed results. He loves his long-suffering wife, worries about his aging parents and his three children, who seem to spend a lot of time battling online trolls, having crushes on vampires, and littering their rooms with enough junk to start a landfill.