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Take Proust's questionnaire, rub shoulders with literati

October 11, 2009 | 11:46 am

Normanmailer_interview

It is said that when Proust was 13, he answered an English-language questionnaire, and at age 20 another one in French. These were kind of a parlor game, which he eventually popularized, asking guests and acquaintances about heroes and fears and their idea of perfect happiness, trying to get at the true nature of one's character.

Since 1993, Vanity Fair has been posing its own version of Proust's questionnaire to celebrities, literary and otherwise. It's gathered the answers from 101 of them in a new book, the aptly titled "Vanity Fair's Proust's Questionnaire," hitting shelves next week. It includes writers Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal and Salman Rushdie, alongside David Bowie, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Hedy Lamarr, Keith Richards and Shirley MacLaine.

But that's not all: On its website, Vanity Fair has posted an interactive questionnaire for the rest of us. Fill in your answers, and it tells you which celebrity your answers are the most like.

Me, I'm more than 93% David Mamet. Wow. Not too shabby.

OK, I wasn't writing Mamet-like sentences -- as far as I can tell, the match was made because I answered one question exactly the same as he had. So it may not be entirely scientific, this online version, but it is rather flattering.

Vanity Fair has posted recent answers online -- as well as Proust's from 1891, when he was 20. When asked how he would like to die, he answered, "A better man than I am, and much beloved." And so he did.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Norman Mailer. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

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