One Minute With: Gary Giddins

Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm on the 17 floor in a flat which looks onto Third Avenue [New York] with the Beth Israel Medical Center and the top of Brooklyn in the distance.

What are you currently reading?

I'm re-reading Jean Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers which I first read as a teenager and didn't understand.

Choose a favourite author and say why you like her/him

My favourite book is Ulysses but my favourite authors are William Faulkner, who has the most of America in him and can use words that would make other writers sound like complete idiots, and Thomas Mann.

Describe the room where you usually write

I have another apartment in the same building several floors higher, full of books and DVDs and my assistant, Laura. It's like a crowded minefield.

What distracts you from writing?

Reading. Sometimes you have to read to get away from obligations. I can't get on a flight to Paris so I read things as a vacation. Or watch a movie that I want to see, not one I have to see, and the same with music.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Stephen Dedalus (from Ulysses) because he thinks he is the novel's hero but he isn't. He's the supporting character. I totally identify with that.

What are your readers like when you meet them?

They range from those who say "you've changed my life", to which I reply "It wasn't intentional", to those who say "I have read you for a long time. Will you listen to my CD?"

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. Armstrong for his lack of pretension and Crosby for his insistence on doing things the way he wanted. He didn't negotiate on what was important.

Gary Giddins's and Scott DeVeaux's book 'Jazz' is published by WW Norton