Posts Tagged ‘Ted Gioia’

Why Google sucks: it rips off writers, and tells lies about you, too.

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018
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A few days ago I published jazz scholar Ted Gioia‘s letter to the Library of Congress, “Writer to Library of Congress: ‘Pay us!” But there was one provocative argument in the article I didn’t cite, because I didn’t understand Ted’s contention that Google is the biggest thief of all. So I wrote back to ask Ted. Here’s what he said:

Google makes most of its money linking to content that it doesn’t pay for. There has been a huge shift of advertising revenues from newspapers (that create the content) to Google (which is a kind of parasite, living off the content of others).

I didn’t spell that out in the article. But I thought it was important to mention—because Google is the single biggest reason why earnings for writers have collapsed in recent years.

Ted’s not a Google fan (Photo: Dave Shafer)

Here are the paragraphs in full, from Ted’s 2014 Daily Beast article, “Rich People Want You to Work for Free”:

The worst offender, however, is not the government, but Google—a company that has done more to impoverish musicians and other creative professionals than any entity on the face of the planet. Google was once a struggling start-up with little money to spend, but that was a long, long time ago … before the music died. In case you didn’t know, let me point out that Google is now one of the most profitable businesses in history—with a market cap of almost $400 billion and more than $50 billion in cash in its coffers. But what started out as a search engine has evolved into a search-and-destroy machine.

When I ask people why they don’t pay for a music subscription service or (heaven forbid!) purchase physical albums, the most common response is: Why should I? I can get almost any song I want for free on YouTube. I’ve even had people laugh at me for my naïveté in considering any other way of consuming music. And who can blame these freeloaders from taking advantage of a “free” (if sometimes legally dubious) source for almost any song ever recorded? But the highly paid Google execs who run YouTube need to be at the top of any list of the culprits who destroyed the economic conditions for musical artists.

In a fair world, Google would be required to share advertising revenues when a user clicks on a search engine result linking to a newspaper or periodical.  A 50/50 split would be reasonable (and, frankly, 50% is very generous to Google, which is only an intermediary not a creator — what we once called a ‘middleman’). This would bring billions of dollars into journalism, and provide much needed financial support for writers.  And this kind of revenue sharing is entirely fair and validated by past history. Years ago, the government decided that radio stations and retail shops playing music were not just passive intermediaries, but needed to pay for these rights. We need a similar structural solution for the written word.

Google is like a bully who controls the door to a restaurant, and wants to siphon off all the money the previously went to the cooks, servers, food suppliers, etc. Or imagine if some company found a way of owning the sidewalk leading up to your home, and then tried to monetize access. What’s going on in writing in the current day is no different. Just because Google found a fancy high tech way of controlling the path people take to access a newspaper article doesn’t mean it can bleed the newspaper industry dry.

I have my own bone to pick with Google. They have a so-called “Knowledge Graf” that surfaces in every search for a prominent person’s name. It pops up with information that is not verified with the source or, really, anywhere else. Nor are they particular about who qualifies as a “public person” – does a very private author such as myself merit having personal information exposed internationally? Have I forfeited my privacy in the same way a Senator or Beyoncé become “public figure”? My memory of journalism law suggests not. I don’t even have a Wikipedia page.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai: I bet he gets to keep his privacy. (Photo: Maurizio Pesce)

They are profiting from slipshod aggregators such as Spokeo, Instantcheckmate, Intellius, and others that collect information on current and former spouses, sisters, brothers, birthdates, places of residence, arrests and traffic violations, and then erps it onto the worldwide web without any factchecking (for example, some of these sites list a Missouri as a former residence; I’ve never even been there). Google vacuums it up, publishing it with a reach The Washington Post would envy. Of course, they say they are not “publishing,” but rather disseminating “free” information, but how is this online publication different from, say, any online journal? As a journalist, I know what would happen to me if I published information from people from one of these sloppy websites without independently checking – after all, your info is shoveled in with everyone else who shares your name or part of your name. Why do they get away with it?

It’s gathered by ‘bots, and published by ‘bots. And no single human being will take responsibility. For, example, the possibilities of identity theft.

Once notified of the error, they defiantly refuse to remove fake information, however damaging it may be to one’s life or one’s career. (They have, with impunity pushed me into my retirement years – not helpful for a freelance writer, or any woman over 50. Age discrimination, anyone? They also list me as a literary critic for The San Francisco Chronicle – I haven’t written a word there for almost a decade. I could go on and on.) I’ve told them its wrong. They persist as if it is true. Malice? Perhaps not. But certainly a willful disregard for truth. In old-fashioned terms, it’s called lying.

I have spent hours and weeks contacting agencies to remove my listings. I have spent hours talking to Google employees – probably none were over 25 years of age, and they all act powerless within the diasporic organization they work for. None will give their last name. None will give a direct dial phone number so that you can contact them again. Or an email address (if you email back, you either get a rotating roster of kids with whom to discuss your privacy details, or else you get an error message). I have talked to lawyers. I have asked Google for the address of its Privacy Department, and the name of its director. The Kafkaesque organization that is so quick to share information about me is suddenly all shy about sharing simple corporate information that is easily available on most responsible business websites.

Of course, they have a way that you can manage your own site: send them a selfie with your face (not blurry) with government-issued identification. Every line of your driver’s license or passport must be clear and legible to them. They want to be sure, you see, that you are really you – even though they could contact me via my gmail address issued by Google, my Google Plus account, or even this blog. I wish they had been so impeccable about facts when publishing information for worldwide dissemination.

They miss the point, of course: they have to prove their information is correct. It is not my responsibility to provide them with correct information that I don’t want published anyway (let alone my passport number).

In any case, having mismanaged information about me already and violated my privacy, they wish me to give them more information – for example, my height, weight, eye color, hair color on my driver’s license. Oh, they’ll destroy it afterward, they promise. Sure. That’s what Cambridge Analytica said. Google is a big class-action lawsuit waiting to happen.

Google. You suck big time.

Update from Twitter – 7/22: 

Writer Ted Gioia to the Library of Congress: “Pay us!”

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018
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Ted Gioia in Austin, Texas, 2016. (Photo: Brenda Ladd)

Jazz scholar Ted Gioia has had enough. Today, he sent a letter to the Library of Congress that is making the rounds on the social media. Its message is simple: “Pay us!” (The letter is below.) ”

“I find it troubling that writers, musicians, and other members of the creative economy are often asked to work for free,” Ted wrote me. “No one would ever ask a car mechanic or plumber or the chef at the corner restaurant to provide unpaid labor. Why are writers treated this way? But it’s especially troubling when an institution such as the Library of Congress does this –and keeps on doing it over a period of years.”

At a film shoot in 2016 (Photo: Terri Dien)

He wrote an article on the subject for The Daily Beast several years ago here, when he was first approached by the Library of Congress. “I recently got asked by an administrator at the Library of Congress to do unpaid labor for its website. Yes, I am familiar with people asking me to do time-consuming projects for free—I get at least one such request every day. But I was dumbfounded to get hit up by a federal agency with an annual budget of $750 million,” wrote the author of The History of Jazz and Jazz Standardsboth published by Oxford University Press.

“Yet clearly my experience was not a random event. A few days later, the Smithsonian launched its Transcription Center, which relies on unpaid volunteers to digitize 75,000 pages of documents. I applaud this effort to preserve our nation’s heritage, but I also am puzzled why our overseers in Washington, D.C. can’t pay minimum wage for this project. They wouldn’t ask people to work for free at other government agencies, so why are arts and culture projects the exception?”

  1. Only charities and non-profits should ask for unpaid workers to staff their operations or undertake time-consuming projects.
  2. If a creative professional wants to volunteer to help a for-profit business, that is permissible. But the professional initiates these relationships, and the business should not request or expect it.
  3. Businesses that ask creative professionals to work in exchange for “exposure” should be publicly named and shamed.
  4. When an organization built on free labor starts making money, it needs to start paying for work. The wealthy should never ask the poor to work for free.

“Pretty simple, no? All this is really just good manners and fair practice.”

Postscript on July 21: Hey, there’s more ways you’re getting swindled. See our follow-up here.

 

Is Nabokov’s Pnin the great refugee novel?

Thursday, March 30th, 2017
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tedgioia

Forget Lolita. Try Pnin.

How much 20th century literature was created by refugees? “Just judging by the Nobel laureates who were exiles from their homeland — a list that includes Thomas Mann, Elias Canetti, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czesław Miłosz, and Joseph Brodsky — one might assume that themes of exile and homelessness permeated the modernist literary canon,” writes Ted Gioia. But not so. Many of them remained embedded in the their homeland, however, and did not produced a literature of displacement and the modern experience of exile, certainly not enough to make a large dent in the canon.

I would argue that Joseph Brodsky’s great theme, or one of them, was exile … but Ted is focusing on the novel, not poetry, and he homes in on one exception to the rule in “Did Vladimir Nabokov Write the Great Refugee Novel?” in The MillionsForget about LolitaIt’s Vladimir Nabokov and his novel Pnin.

From the article:

This Russian émigré would seem an unlikely candidate to focus on the plight of refugees. Nabokov left his homeland behind at the end of his teen years, was educated at the University of Cambridge, and was so successful at assimilation that he learned to write the Queen’s English better than the Queen — and her subjects too. If one is seeking a success story from the ranks of the displaced, Nabokov is the ideal candidate. Not only did he survive as a writer in his new language, but he became that greatest of rarities, an American literary lion who was also a bestseller.

nabokov

He fought his way to the top.

Yet Pnin arrived at bookstores before Nabokov had tasted these successes.  And even literary acclaim could never assuage the bitterness of displacement and family tragedy. Nabokov’s father was killed in 1922 by another Russian exile and his brother Sergei later died in a German concentration camp. Around the time of his father’s death, the young author’s engagement to Svetlana Siewert was broken off because of her parents’ concern that Nabokov could not earn enough to support their daughter.  His subsequent marriage to Véra Evseyevna Slonim brought with it subsequent risks because of her Jewish antecedents.  When Nabokov left for the in the U.S. aboard the SS Champlain on May 19, 1940, he had already spent two decades of nomadic existence as a man without a country. He was not coming to America to seek fame and fortune, but rather as a last desperate move to escape the Nazis, who would enter Paris in triumph a few days later.

These experiences set the tone, of bitterness mixed with nostalgia for a vanished world, that permeates the pages of Pnin. The main character, Timofey Pavlovich Pnin, is a comic figure on the campus of Waindell College. His old-fashioned continental ways and thick Russian accent are mimicked and ridiculed. His improvisations and mispronunciations turn familiar terms into extravagant variants — for example, his order of whisky and soda ends up sounding like “viscous and sawdust.”  When asking for the receipt in a restaurant, the best he can come up with is a request for the “quittance.”  His appearance, his gestures, and his general lack of awareness of American manners are fodder for campus gossip and mockery.

One very tiny quibble: It’s a myth that Nabokov mastered English – he never really had to. It was one of his cradle languages, in an upper-crust multilingual household (some even contend that it was in fact his first language).

Of course, we know what happened to Nabokov after he came to America. He came to Stanford. We wrote about that here. But first read the rest of Ted’s essay here.

Can songs heal? Okla Elliott and Ted Gioia think they help.

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016
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okla-during

Finding solace where he can.

I met writer Okla Elliott online – well, on Facebook, to be precise.

I’m regularly daunted by his output, which he posts about regularly: His work has appeared in Harvard Review, The HillHuffington PostIndiana Review, The Literary ReviewNew Letters, Prairie Schooner, and he had a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2015. His books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a coauthored novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide (nonfiction). The last book has gotten a lot of attention this year, for obvious reasons. Oh yes, and he’s currently working on Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction, forthcoming), from an unusual p.o.v.: “I’m probably technically an agnostic, but I am a kind of Tolstoyan/Buddhist/existentialist/leftist-Catholic agnostic, so a theological and philosophical mutt.”

Then, suddenly, his intimidating output briefly plummeted to zero. He fell ill. … like, really near-death ill. A few weeks ago, he was hospitalized for a mysterious illness that turned out to be “diabetic acidosis.”

healingsongsNevertheless, he took some unusual medicine. He turned to Gregorian chant. As he explained in his Facebook status: “I listen to the monks of the Abbey of Notre Dame singing in Latin every night for an hour before I go to sleep. It’s oblique immersion research for my pope book; it’s relaxing and enchanting; and it’s just really pleasant. I recommend it highly. I kinda zone out and/or kinda meditate and/or think about random crap, letting my mind float wherever it will. Anyway…this is a pointless status, as are so many, but there you have it…Oh, and it’s streaming on Amazon Prime, so you can listen for free, if you have interest.” It’s on Amazon Prime here.

Yes, it really exists: Poland’s vending machine for Haruki Murakami’s books

Sunday, May 25th, 2014
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Jazz scholar Ted Gioia alerted me to this post on Facebook, and yes, it really exists: a Polish vending machine that sells books by Haruki Murakami. I understand they’re common in Japan, but here?  Soon?  Which writer would you feature in one?  Send me an email or comment in the section below.

vending.machine

Here’s something you didn’t know about Ezra Pound

Sunday, December 15th, 2013
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The soul of charity?

Ezra Pound ranks among the finest poets of his generation, but his greatest trait may have been his eye for talent in others.” That’s the opinion of Ted Gioia in The Daily Beast today, on the 100th anniversary of an unsolicited letter that changed the course of modern fiction.  The object of Pound’s benevolent eye was the unsuccessful young writer James Joyce.

Ted writes:

James Joyce, thirty years old, had faced rejection after rejection during the previous decade. He had completed his collection of short stories, Dubliners, eight years before Pound contacted him—but Joyce still hadn’t found a publisher willing to issue the book. Every time he came close to seeing this work in print, new objections and obstacles arose, and even Joyce’s offer to make changes and censor controversial passages failed to remove the roadblocks.

Joyce had even fewer prospects to publish his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In 1911, his frustration had grown so intense, Joyce threw the manuscript into a fire, and only the quick intervention of his sister Eileen, who pulled the pages out of the flames, prevented the loss of the novel. Joyce had made even less headway with Ulysses, a work he had been planning since 1906. His constant financial pressures and despair over his inability to publish his fiction sapped his determination to push ahead with the future masterpiece.

joyce

S.O.S.

During his late twenties, Joyce explored other ways of earning a living. He tried his hand at setting up a chain of movie theaters in Ireland, and worked at importing Irish tweed to Italy. His opportunities to write for hire declined, and most of his income came from teaching English at Berlitz schools. Joyce worked tirelessly at this humble job, but still needed to rely on constant financial support from his brother to pay his bills.

At this low point, James Joyce received a letter from a total stranger.

“Dear Sir,” it began, “Mr. Yeats has been speaking to me of your writing.” Ezra Pound offered to make useful connections for Joyce, and find places where he could publish his writings. “This is the first time I have written to any one outside of my own circle of acquaintance (save in the case of French authors),” Pound admitted, but he was quick to add: “[I] don’t in the least know that I can be of any use to you—or use to me.”

And then Pound performed miracles.  “Ezra was the most generous writer I have ever known,” Ernest Hemingway said. He estimated that Pound devoted about a fifth of his time on his own writing, and the rest to advancing the careers of other artists. Who knew?

Read the whole thing here.  And it’s nice to know something nice about Ezra Pound among all the nasty things that get said, because, well, it’s Christmas.

Two Gioias for the price of one: on family, religion, the arts … and Stanford, too

Saturday, November 16th, 2013
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Tireless advocate of the arts, Dana Gioia (Photo L.A. Cicero)

Dana and Ted Gioia are two of my favorite people – but I haven’t had the opportunity to see the jazz scholar (Ted) and the poet (Dana) together.

So journalist Andrew Sullivan brought them together for me, or rather brought my attention to those who have brought them together.  Sullivan, who has been a friend of the Book Haven in the past, mentioned this quote from Ted in his recent post “Finding Sustenance for the Soul”:

“Those committed to a spiritual life understand what popular culture hasn’t yet learned (or is afraid to admit)—namely that the hunger of the soul cannot be satiated with sugary sweets and shallow entertainments.  Somewhere along the way, many people got the idea that the religious sphere and artistic sphere are at odds with each other.  I believe the opposite is true.  Both the arts and spiritual discernment broaden our perspectives and enrich our lives, and in very similar ways.

Ted_Gioia

All that jazz from Ted Gioia

“This was the single greatest lesson I learned from my years studying philosophy at Oxford—namely that the pervasive empiricism of modern life, which only accepts what it sees and quantifies, is ultimately a brutish philosophy.  The most important things in life cannot be seen with the eyes or measured with charts and numbers.  They are love, trust, faith, friendship, forgiveness, charity, hope, the soul, and the creative impulse.  You cannot live as a human without these, although you can’t even prove scientifically that any one of them actually exists.  They are metaphysical (a word used as an insult by my philosophy teachers, but their scorn was mistaken, in my opinion). To embrace these crucial aspects of our life, we must turn to art and religion. This hasn’t changed in the last two thousand years.  Nor will it change in the next two thousand years.”

Now I will bring them together, too, in this post.  You can read the rest of their interview on faith, family, the arts, the humanities, and, yes, Stanford (including its jazz), “The Arts—Agents of Change and Source of Enchantment,” here.

More on Mo: an “officially sanctioned artist” or merely a cautious kinda guy?

Friday, October 12th, 2012
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"Don't speak"

As may be gathered from yesterday’s post, I’d never heard of Mo Yan before yesterday’s award.  While everyone today is laughing about the Onion satires that suggest that the Nobel peace prize has been awarded to the European Union (thank heavens it wasn’t the economics prize, as a friend noted), I’m still puzzling on Mo Yan, whose pen name is translated as “don’t speak.”

Here’s what Ted Gioia, whose weekly “Year of Magical Reading” spotlights the magical realism genre (it’s here),  said this about him on my Facebook page: “Not a very inspired choice. If the Nobel judges wanted to turn to Asia, Murakami was the obvious candidate – and his work is more skilled, creative and influential than Mo Yan’s.

Ted, expert on magic

“He is presented as a brave critic of Chinese repression, but his works are actually quite cautious and seem self-censored to me. He aims for parody and humor, and is sometimes amusing, but I can’t see him as a Nobel laureate – unless the judges were determined to pick a Chinese author this year.”

Why not Bei Dao then … oh that’s right.  They won’t do poetry two years in a row.  Poetry must be kept in its place, after all.

David Ulin, my former editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review has a piece in the L.A. Times today, spelling out what Ted had summarized:

Mo is what some critics deride as an officially sanctioned artist, a vice chairman of the China Writers’ Assn., celebrated by the establishment. Although he has been called “one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers,” he recently was one of “100 writers and artists” who participated in a tribute to Mao Tse-tung. In 2009, he refused to sit on a panel at the Frankfurt Book Fair with dissident writers Dai Qing and Bei Ling, and he has avoided making any public statements about Liu [Xiaobo].

At the same time, his work has often hit on touchy subjects, such as the role of women in Chinese society and the Communist Party’s one-child rule. His 11th novel, Frog, published in 2009 and not yet available in the United States [we published an excerpt here – B.H.], involves a midwife confronted by the forced sterilizations and late-term abortions demanded by the party’s policy.

I'll skip the party, thx!

Mo’s detractors are forceful. “For him to win this award, it’s not a victory for literature; it is a victory for the Communist Party,” raged Yu Jui, a writer and democracy activist, in a blog post.

David of L.A.T.

The article launches into something of a defense of new Nobelist, quoting his words in 2009:  “A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature,” he said then, “but we should not use one uniform expression. Some may want to shout on the street, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.”

Meanwhile, John Freeman‘s interview with the Chinese author at the London Book Fair this week is included in Granta, which seems to be the go-to place for Mo Yan this month.  The Q&A is here.

Am I the only one wondering today when they’re going to let their other recent Nobel writer (though a peace, not lit, prizewinner)  – Liu Xiaobo – out of prison?  He still has the distinction of being the second person ever to be denied the right to have a representative pick up his prize for him.

 

We’re surprised, he’s scared: Mo Yan wins this year’s Nobel

Thursday, October 11th, 2012
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He doesn't look scared, anyway.

By now, everyone knows that China’s Mo Yan is the surprise winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  “Surprise,” because he made not even a ripple on Ladbroke’s long betting list, or in any conversations I’ve heard.   Not so much a surprise, however, given that the Swedes were bound to atone for giving last year’s award to their worthy countryman Tomas Tranströmer, by giving it this year to an African or Asian, or anyone far, far away from Stockholm.  But wasn’t the poet Bei Dao a perennial nominee?  The Nobel judges seem disinclined to give to poets two years in a row as well.  At any rate, Mo Yan was “overjoyed and scared” at the news.

Most of us are strangers to his writing, I suspect.  So  here is Ted Gioia‘s review of the author’s Republic of Wine a few years back.

And for his stories, here’s an excerpt from Frogs:

I have to admit that, though I did not make it public, I was personally opposed to my Aunty’s marriage plans. My father, my brothers and their wives shared my feelings. It simply wasn’t a good match in our view. Ever since we were small we’d looked forward to seeing Aunty find a husband. Her relationship with Wang Xiaoti had brought immense glory to the family, only to end ingloriously. Yang Lin was next, and while not nearly the ideal match that Wang would have provided, he was, after all, an official, which made him a passable candidate for marriage. Hell, she could have married Qin He, who was obsessed with her, and be better off than with Hao Dashou . . . we were by then assuming she’d wind up an old maid, and had made appropriate plans. We’d even discussed who would be her caregiver when she reached old age. But then, with no prior indication, she’d married Hao Dashou. Little Lion and I were living in Beijing then, and when we heard the news, we could hardly believe our ears. Once the preposterous reality set in, we were overcome by sadness.

Read the rest at Granta here.

Ted Gioia’s “Year of Magical Reading” looks at Robertson Davies

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
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Jazz baby

Jazz scholar (and lit critic)  Ted Gioia has been celebrating “A Year of Magical Reading” – ranging from Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children to Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland.  Until today, I hadn’t read a word of it.  I’m not terrifically fond of magic realism, as a genre – but I am terribly fond of Robertson Davies (in fact, we had a blog birthday card for him here).

Today, Ted is discussing Davies’s Fifth Business.  The author himself discussed the book in 1989 with Elisabeth Sifton during his  Paris Review interview. He described  the book’s genesis this way:

I did not write Fifth Business until ten years had passed since I first became aware of the idea that lay behind it: it was simply a scene that kept occurring in my mind, which was of two boys on a village street on a winter night—I knew from the look of the atmosphere that it must be just around Christmastime—and one boy threw a snowball at the other boy. Well, that was all there was to it, but it came so often and was so insistent that I had to ask myself, Why is that boy doing that and what is behind this and what is going on? Then the story emerged quite rapidly. …

Well, you see, I hesitate to talk about this, because it sounds mystical and perhaps rather absurd, but I assure you it is not: the minute I recognized that the picture meant something I should pay attention to, the whole thing began to come to life, and I knew who the boys were and I knew what the situation was and I quickly became aware of what lay behind it. Some of it had to be invented, some of it had to be fetched up and rejected—a great deal is rejected in the course of such work—but it was all there as soon as I began to work. And when I began writing, I wrote from the beginning to the end as I always do. I know that many writers—Joyce Cary for instance—compose the principal scenes of a novel before putting the connective work around it; other people work backward and do all sort of interesting things, but I don’t. I just go from start to finish, and that’s the first draft.

Ted laments the recent neglect of the Davies, who died in 1995 at age 82, and attributes it in part to the tendency to pigeonhole him as a Canadian writer: “Davies is too large a talent to be pigeonholed as a regionalist, and his name is not out of place alongside those of his contemporaries Saul Bellow, Graham Greene, Albert Camus and Walker Percy.”  Interestingly, then, Bellow’s name is one of the names that comes up in the Paris Review interview.

Sifton asked: “Saul Bellow once said—and was roundly criticized for it— that American writers, presumably excepting himself, fail to grapple with what he called the central human enterprise. Grappling with the essential human enterprise may be a numbing matter, but what—in the end—is the aim of the novelist?”  Davies, apparently, did not think much of American lit – at least the variety he read in the New Yorker: “I admire their subtlety—but I get so sick of it. I wish they would deal with larger themes.”

I grew up in the only part of the continental U.S. where you have to go south to get into Canada, and am a quarter Canadian – yet Davies’s description of the Canadian psyche hit me with a jolt of immediate recognition:  The problem is, he wrote, we view Canada as a queer mix midway between the U.S. and Canada.  Its mindset is instead closer to the Nordic countries – it is a nation shaped by its northernness, and by winter.

Something I didn’t know, however, until Ted told me: Davies’s epigraph from the novel, attributed to  Danish scholar Tho. Overskou, is a literary hoax, and so is the epigraph that provides a thematic through-line for the novel’s protagonist:  “Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies.”

It fooled me, and it fooled many.  Ted writes:  “Many have taken this at face value, and anyone researching ‘fifth business’ on the Internet today, will be reassured by dozens of web sites that it is an old theatrical term.  But Davies invented it for his story—not an inappropriate gesture for a work focused on the ways in which myths are created and disseminated.” And not a surprising gesture for a well-known literary prankster.

By the way, Ted’s brand new book,The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoireis already getting a lot of buzz.