Vanity Fair Magazine has a feature, The Proust Questionnaire, that they give to famous people. I gave the quiz to myself.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Finish writing a book late at night and crawl into bed perfectly satisfied that I have been rescued yet again.
What historical figure do you most identify with?
Andy Warhol. He interpreted the world around him with childlike brutal innocence. His take on life is mostly my take on life.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Talking too much. Responding when silence would do.
What is your greatest fear?
Choking to death and there’s no one around. Choking is circumstantial not inevitable. I don’t want to die circumstantially.
Which living person do you most admire?
Jerry Seinfeld. He has figured out who he is and doesn’t apologize. When Seinfeld
was over and he was left with a ton of money, Jerry returned to stand-up, a tough crushing world. "I didn’t want to be another rich guy, I wanted the griminess," he said.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Taking too long to give information. As a novelist, I happily talk to everybody but I don’t like long-windedness from self-appointed specialists. On the other hand, you can take as long as you like reconstructing, minute by minute, the day you gave birth to little Suzy.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
What is your greatest extravagance?
Keeping my house hot in winter. My utility company sends me “heat shaming” messages saying I use twice as much power as my neighbors. "Oh, really? I notice you still cash the check.” When people come into my house, they say, "It feels so good in here." By the way, I don't use air-conditioning in summer.
What is your favorite journey?
I am mildly agoraphobic. I like to stay home.
On what occasion do you lie?
I lie all the time. I believe lying has saved the social system from chaos.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"I know." (Spoken with surprise and delight as an answer to everything I agree with.)
What is your greatest regret?
Turning down a sex column offered to me by Mort Persky when he was editing the female version of Playboy. “Mort,” I said, “I was raised in a convent school. I put on my nightgown over my clothes and then undressed.” “That’s why I want you,” he said.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My brilliantly funny children.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be a world-class tap dancer. How can you not want to tap dance? Fred Astaire was the coolest person on this earth.
What is your current state of mind?
Recovering. Kafka would understand.
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I would be six inches taller and that would change everything else - the
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My book, Three Daughters
, has sold almost half a million copies. It is over 700 pages long. My greatest achievement, however, is poorly edited, rambling, at times incomprehensible, One Hundred Open Houses
. Reading passages from that book lets me know I’ve done something important and lasting and occasionally hysterically funny.
What is your most treasured possession?
Two thin pure gold bracelets given to me by the most generous and loving woman I know, my Aunt Mary.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery
Overeating and then overeating on top of that.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Most women ask for humor in a man. I like a man who quietly fixes things. Most likely, other good qualities will follow.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
To do her best and move forward with the hand that is dealt.
What do you most value in your friends?
There’s a phrase in fiction, “they fell on each other.” I like a friend that you see coming toward you from down the street and you just grin at each other because there is perfect understanding and then you fall on each other. I don't have many friends.
Who is your favorite writer?
I don't have a favorite writer. I admire Elizabeth Strout for Olive Kitteridge, Ernest Hemingway for A Moveable Feast. Andy Warhol for The Andy Warhol Diaries, Jeannette Walls for The Glass Castle. I'm sure there are many others I can't think of right now.
Who is your favorite “hero” of fiction?
The seriously flawed yet charismatic Mick Haller. Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer exhibits ironic humor, generosity and street smarts while always acknowledging his flaws and past mistakes.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Me, Consuelo Saah Baehr. With a lot of good luck I have re-invented myself dozens of times and always landed in a good zip code. I also admire Jimmy Carter, he was considered a clueless hick by the press but he kept on going; Elmore Leonard, an honest, prolific working writer until he died; Tony Bennett still singing complicated love songs. I like people who don’t stop and complain and feel victimized. That said, I love to complain and consider it one of life’s pleasures.
What are your favorite names?
This is a stupid question.
What is it that you most dislike?
Cheap, overly manufactured food (or clothes). Think Chips Ahoy, boxed macaroni and cheese, soft, white sliced bread. On the other hand, there are “Fritos.”
It used to be a line from a forgotten poem, “Like everyone else, I am being tortured to death.” In the last ten years it is from a poem by Mark Van Doren, “I’m a sucker for things the way they are.”