Monday, I taught class and collected my students’ analysis papers. Then I went back to the apartment to study. That night, though, I went to the author’s reception and got to hear Rick Bass read. At the reception I was observing so I would know what to do when I was a host. I also schmoozed a bit and at one point I noticed a problem. Each time Bass razed an hors d'oeuvre to his lips, someone would ask him a question, so he’d have to put it down. During a lull, I went over and guarded him so he could chew and swallow. He laughed, but he seemed to appreciate it.
Bass has written 23 books of fiction and often writes about the environment. During the Q&A, he was asked, “Is literature dead?”
“Yes. If it’s not dying, it’s on the ropes. But so is everything else precious and specific.” He went on to mourn the “affluence of culture” and “vanishing of nature.” Bass said he sometimes wonders if writing short stories is an indulgence. If literature is dying, he concluded, we must cherish it. He also gave some interesting advice on writing characters. He said he doesn’t know everything about the people he creates. He looks for opportunities for them to move new ways. “If you know the ending when you begin, you might as well write a travel brochure. ‘Come enjoy our sunny state.’” The contrast is fascinating: He is pessimistic about the state of literature and the environment, but he shows optimism in his writing and environmental activism. In real life he writes nonfiction pieces to inform the public about wildlife areas that need preservation. In his stories, you can learn about some of the same issues, but it's never preachy. The characters just experience the environment. It touches them (and the readers) in subtle ways.