Would you like to do something fun? Interesting? Challenging? Read on.
Paris. Night is falling. I’m standing on the Rive Gauche. I can hear the Seine and see some lights across the river. Must be the Notre Dame Cathedral. But the lights are odd. Thinking if Paris is the City of Light, there ought to be more. Lights. Then I remember: there was that awful fire. These are construction lights, not the lights of the City of Light.
I turn around, look toward the Square Rene Vivandi where I see a jeune fille in a smart-looking plaid car coat rushing to sit on a park bench, where she immediately lights a joint and puffs madly at it. I walk around the park and by the time I return, she’s gone.
I leave the park and meander over to Shakespeare & Co, perhaps the most famous bookstore of the 20th century.
Inside, it is utterly stuffed with books on every surface. It swarms with people. It sprawls, it crawls, it climbs up, down, up, down, from one roomful of books to another. You can sit and read, but are forbidden to take photos (I took a few anyway for purposes of journalism; that must be OK).
This world-famous bookstore was founded by Sylvia Beach, an American, who bravely published James Joyce’s Ulysses when it was banned in nearly every country (copies were burned in “America”). Interestingly, it later passed into the hands of Sylvia Whitman (named after Sylvia Beach), who runs it to this day.
This wasn’t my first visit to Shakespeare et cie, but this time I was on a mission. I roamed hither and yon through the bookstore, all the while knowing what I sought was likely not here. And so eventually I bought a few recent English novels (one American, the other British), then wandered out and into the shop next door: the rare and antiquated book shop.
It was here that, perhaps because of the angels which hover and flutter everywhere around Shakespeare and Company, within minutes I found the treasure I had sought: a rare copy of Ulysses. Not a first edition, mind you, which often sells for at least $40,000. Nevertheless, it was costly as my purse could buy, as old Will Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, and so full of relevance for where I found and bought it.
Delighted with my good fortune (for it was the sole copy in the shop), I ducked to the next next door, the Shakespeare and Company/Bob’s Café, for a cup of coffee. Upon my table I encountered a place mat of rare provenance, which I share here with you. It is named “Kilometer Zero Proust Questionnaire,” created by the great French author Marcel Proust himself, perhaps as a parlor game as suggested by Wikipedia. Whatever, it is very cool and I share it as a kind of challenge for you, me, anyone, to answer all thirty questions honestly and to the best of our ability.
So here’s the deal: would it interest you to answer these questions, then write a paragraph or two describing what you learned about life and yourself? If so, please share your thoughts with me in the Comments section below. Here are the questions again below so you can copy and paste it into a word processing app for convenience and keeping your responses. Please answer all of the questions as best you can, in order. It might take more than one sitting.
I’ll select the most interesting Comment response (remember, no one will see your answers, just the Comment you write). The winner will receive a copy of Volume 1 of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (A Rechere de la Temps Perdu), if possible (due to the pandemic) from Shakespeare and Co.
I hope you find this assignment fun and illuminating, and look forward to learning how it went for you! Here are the questions for you to copy or download:
Kilometer Zero Proust Questionnaire
Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company bookstore in collaboration with Bob’s Bake Shop, Paris
1. What is your present state of mind?
2. What is your favorite way to spend your time?
3. If you were an animal, which one would you be?
4. What book makes you want to live in a different era?
5. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?
6. What is your favorite journey?
7. Who is your hero in real life? Who is your hero in fiction?
8. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
9. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
10. If you could spend the rest of your life with a character from a book, who would it be?
11. What is your theme song?
12. Who are your three favorite writers?
13. Where in the world would you most like to live?
14. On what occasion do you lie?
15. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
16. What poem makes your spine tingle?
17. What is your favorite smell?
18. If you could ask the leader of your country to read one book, what would it be?
19. What’s your favorite hiding place?
20. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
21. Which book do you have on your nightstand but know you’ll never read?
22. If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
23. What was your favorite book as a child?
24. Do you have a recurring dream? If so, what is it?
25. What to you is the most beautiful word or words?
26. What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
27. Who would play you in the movie of your life?
28. What is your motto?
29. What’s the most romantic experience you’ve ever had?
30. How would you like to die and in what form would you choose to come back?