The Proust Questionnaire — Book Edition

Michael Bierut Answers The Proust Questionnaire—Book Edition

By Michael Bierut November 18, 2013
Michael Bierut, Graphic Designer: Pentagram (New York)
View Michael Bierut’s Book List

This November marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Marcel Proust’s opus, In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du temps perdu), originally known in English as Remembrance of Things Past. To honor the occasion, we developed the Designers & Books version of the eponymous Proust Questionnaire, which we’ve sent out to various contributors and friends. Rather than including the questions from the original that asked about a wide array of “thoughts and feelings,” our adaptation focuses solely on the respondent’s relationship to books.

View the complete questions asked in The Proust Questionnaire—Book Edition

Here are the answers Michael Bierut sent in response to the Proust Questionnaire—Book Edition:

1. Of these, your reading preference: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama:
I like them all, in this rough order: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, drama. (I confess I haven't read a play in years.)

2. Your favorite childhood book (or favorite childhood author):
I am told I loved a book called Mr. Pine’s Mixed Up Signs by Leonard Kessler (1961) about a hapless signmaker who loses his glasses and installs his products in all the wrong places to hilarious (to me, at least) effect. Coincidence, or prediction of my future course in life?

3. Your favorite book character:
George Smiley, the hero of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy and Smiley’s People, among others. Phlegmatic, unprepossessing, relentless.

4. Your favorite book title (because you like the sound of it):
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor (she borrowed the title from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). All her titles are fantastic.

5. A book you could never finish:
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, despite the fact it has such a great opening.

6. A book you will never start:
Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. I just don’t think I’m ever going to be in the mood.

8. A book you should have read but haven’t:
I’ve long intended to read St. Augustine’s Confessions but keep putting it off until that day when my life, for some reason, is completely transformed and will permit me to undertake this. (I think I'm putting the cart before the horse here.)

9. The best “book as object” you own (how it looks over what it says):
My original MIT Press edition of Learning from Las Vegas designed by Muriel Cooper. Famously disavowed by the authors, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, who never permitted it to be reprinted in its original form and issued a paperback edition of their own design. This makes the oversized original, including its fragile vellum translucent dust jacket, even more precious. My copy was a gift from my partners for my 50th birthday. And the Venturis were actually right: the paperback is easier to read!

13. The most expensive book you’ve ever bought (and, if you can remember, the price):
As a birthday present to myself, I paid $950 for a first edition of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon from an online seller, only to discover upon delivery that it was a British edition rather than American, and as a result did not have that beautiful cover with the three-dimensional letters floating above the sunset. I returned it immediately and got a full refund.

15. If you are what you read, the book that best says who you are:
Prisoners of Childhood by Alice Miller. My lovely psychoanalyst wife, Dorothy, kept telling me this book would explain everything, and it did.

16. Your favorite writer of the gender opposite yours:
Veronica Geng.

17. The last book you bought:
A first edition of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, original dustjacket, only slightly damaged, at Riverrun Bookshop in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Only $30! I couldn't help myself.

18. Your favorite place to purchase books:
The Village Bookstore of Pleasantville, New York.

19. The book you are currently reading:
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner.

20. The book you will read next:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

21. The current location of the book you will read next:
On the shelf in my home office where I keep all my “on deck” books.

22. Your favorite format for books: paper or pixels

23. If you could have written any book:
The Power Broker by Robert Caro. It’s a New York monument as enduring as the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge.

Also see “Celebrating a Proust Anniversary with The Proust Questionnaire—Book Edition.”

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