For your banned book club: Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language and sexually explicit, emotionally disturbing scenes, including violence and murder. We think that in the past, it was also challenged when people in power did not like Steinbeck’s political message. As recently as 2003, it was challenged in the Normal, Illinois Community High Schools for “racial slurs, profanity, violence, and [because it] does not represent traditional values.” Though Steinbeck’s The Pearl, was offered as a reading alternative, it was rejected by the challenging family.

“. . . the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication, nor any membership in literature.”

John Steinbeck

Who is this John Steinbeck?

  • Born in 1902 in Salinas, California, the setting for much of his fiction, including Of Mice and Men.
  • As teenager, spent summers working as hired hand on neighboring ranches, where he was seriously influenced by rural California and its people.
  • In 1919, enrolled at Stanford University, studying off and on for six years before leaving without degree.
  • For next five years, worked as reporter while completing first novel, Cup of Gold, published in 1929.
  • First critical and commercial success came with Tortilla Flat, published in 1935.
  • In Dubious Battle published 1936.
  • Of Mice and Men published 1937.
  • The Grapes of Wrath won 1940 Pulitzer Prize, becoming Steinbeck’s most famous novel.
  • Continued writing throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Went to Europe during World War II, then worked in Hollywood as filmmaker and scriptwriter.
  • Important later works include East of Eden (1952) and Travels with Charley (1962).
  • Died in New York City in 1968.
  • Though Steinbeck was not locally supported during life, Salinas citizens recently established an important museum in his honor.
  • Of Mice and Men challenged and banned in school districts from time of publication until present.

What do you think about Of Mice And Men?

  1. Why do Lennie and George first stop at roadside hobo camp, rather than going straight to their new jobsite? Why do Lennie and George describe the dream they share here?  Where do they seem to feel safe and at ease?  Where do they seem insecure?  Why?
  2. Several characters are identified by their hands and what they do with their hands. Where does this happen? What do you think it means to Steinbeck?  What does it mean now, in the world you live in? Can you judge people by their hands?
  3. For Lennie, what is the relationship between mice, puppies and women?  Does it represent any other relationships in the novel?
  4. Why doesn’t Curley’s Wife have a name? How do the men in the story feel about her?
  5. Does your impression of her change after she tells Lennie about her history?
  6. What do Lennie and George need from each other?
  7. Who has power in this story?  Who does not?  What does Steinbeck want us to understand about power and weakness?
  8. Did George have to kill Lennie? Why or why not?  Why does he do it? What has he decided?
  9. Is Lennie and George’s dream possible? Why does the dream attract other workers who learn about it?  What does Steinbeck think any person wants?  Why is it so difficult to get?  Is it still difficult to attain this goal?  Why or why not?
  10. How would you argue in favor of banning this book?  What are its biggest dangers?  How would you argue against it?

For your banned book club: Lolita

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language, disrespect for moral authority, and sexually explicit, emotionally disturbing scenes, including pedophilia, violence, murder, drug and alcohol use. The novel was banned in France (1956-1959), in England (1955-59), in Argentina (1959), and in New Zealand (1960).

This was the book that challenged and disturbed us most.

On top of everything else, it is very complicated and difficult to read.

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. – Vladimir Nabokov

Who is this Vladimir Nabokov?

  • Born Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, on or about April 23, 1899, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  • Eldest of five children in wealthy, aristocratic family; moved between family’s home in St. Petersburg and countryside estate.
  • Father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, was controversial, liberal politician imprisoned in 1908 for ninety days for signing political manifesto.
  • Mother, Elena Ivanova, raised three boys and two girls as aristocrats, with governesses and tutors to teach children French and English and Russian.
  • Wrote first poem at the age of 15 and privately published two books of poetry before leaving Tenishev school.
  • With Bolshevik revolution and abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, Nabokov family left Russia for England in 1919.
  • Father murdered in 1922 in trying to stop an assassination attempt on politician Pavel Miliukov.
  • Married Russian émigré Vera Slonim in 1925.
  • First Russian novel, “Mary,” was published that year, but received little attention.
  • Rise of the Nazi movement interrupted growing literary career and forced him to move to Paris, where he continued to write and publish.
  • Eruption of World War II caused him to flee Paris for New York in 1940, with his son, Dmitri, born in 1934, where he worked at the Museum of Natural History in New York in Lepidoptera studies.
  • While collecting butterflies in Rocky Mountains, in 1950s, composed masterpiece, Lolita, published in 1955.
  • Book was initially difficult to sell to publishers, but within a decade was such a success that the novel sales, movie rights and screenplay allowed Nabokov to focus exclusively on writing.
  • In 1961 moved to Montreux, Switzerland, to escape American publicity, spending his last years publishing several novels, including Pale Fire in 1962.
  • Died in 1977 of viral infection.
  • Before death, published eighteen novels, eight books of short stories, seven books of poetry and nine plays.
  • English editor John Gordon wrote that Lolita was “the filthiest book I have ever read” and “sheer unrestrained pornography.” All copies of book entering the United Kingdom were seized and on December 20, 1956, Paris police followed suit, with Lolita remaining banned in France for two years.
  • Film versions have been challenged much more actively than the text, likely because the difficulty of the book prevents unsuitable readers from attempting to read it.
  • The Police song “Don’t Stand so Close to Me” refers to the Humbert-Lolita relationship in the line “It’s no use/He sees her/He starts to shake and cough/Just like the/Old man in/That book by Nabokov.”

What do you think about Lolita?

  1. Where do you see signs of comedy in Lolita? Why does Nabokov tell such a dark, disturbing tale in such a flippant voice? And what is its effect on you?
  2. Why does Nabokov give Humbert such strange, complicated, academic language? How does it affect you as you read it?  What do you think of Humbert’s confession as a result?
  3. Humbert Humbert is an émigré and an exile. Why does Nabokov send him traveling across America, with no home?
  4. We learn that Humbert has been committed to several mental institutions, where he enjoyed tricking his psychiatrists. Is Humbert’s madness part of his sexual deviance?  Part of his intelligence?  Part of his foreignness?  Can we trust any part of a story told by an insane narrator?
  5. What makes Charlotte Haze so disgusting to Humbert? What does Nabokov’s description tell us about her, or about Humbert?
  6. Does Humbert ever “love” Lolita? Does he ever see her as a real person? Is he capable of it? Why or why not?
  7. Humbert meets Lolita while she resides at 342 Lawn Street, seduces her in room 342 of The Enchanted Hunters, and in one year on the road the two of them check into 342 motels. Before Lolita begins her affair with Clare Quilty, her mother sends Lolita to summer at Camp Q (near Lake Climax). What is the role of all this coincidence? What is the role of coincidence in life?
  8. Humbert says Lolita seduces him after he has resisted violating her in her sleep. Yet later Humbert admits that Lolita sobbed in the night–“every night, every night–the moment I feigned sleep” [p. 176]. What has truly happened between them?  What do you think of this?  What does Humbert truly think about this?
  9. Is the strange, upsetting, immoral relationship between Humbert and Lolita at all related to the much more common phenomenon of older males choosing younger females? (and vice versa)  Why or why not?
  10. What is the effect on you as a teenager of reading material like this?  Why?

For your banned book club: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language, disrespect for legal authority and sexually explicit and emotionally disturbing scenes and themes, including violence and murder.  Some of us thought the 1967 film version and the 2005 Capote film about the writing of In Cold Blood were as good as this book.

I like to talk on TV about those things that aren’t worth writing about.

Truman Capote

Who is this Truman Capote?

  • American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, playwright, scriptwriter and celebrity.
  • Born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans,1924; died in Los Angeles, 1984.
  • Spent most of youth in US south in care of relatives.
  • Child Capote was basis of Harper Lee’s character Dill in To Kill a Mocking Bird.
  • Father was small-time con-man.
  • Initially wrote dark, mystical fiction but later shifted toward nonfiction.
  • Professional reputation established in 1966 with In Cold Blood, nonfiction novel about real-life brutal murder of Kansas family, the Clutters.
  • Innovative writing style (New Journalism) in groundbreaking In Cold Blood combines literature’s creative license and journalism’s reliance on fact.
  • In Cold Blood first commercially released film in US to use the word “shit”.
  • Film nominated for four Academy Awards in 1967.
  • Recent film, Capote, nominated for 5 Oscars, revolves around author’s research and writing of In Cold Blood.
  • Also wrote novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, from which Deep Blue Something borrows its same-named song title and refrain.

What do you think about In Cold Blood?

  1. What is the effect of reading the characters’ point of view, rather than an omniscient narrator’s interpretation?
  2. Capote wrote of Smith:  “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house.  One day, I went out the front door and he went out the back.”  How do you think the many personal similarities between Capote and Smith influence Capote’s interpretation of the murders?  Why does life turn out so differently for two people with so much in common?
  3. Does Smith’s painful life story explain his criminal behavior?  Does it excuse it?  Should it influence his punishment?
  4. The citizens of Holcomb, Kansas want to believe the killers are outsiders.  Why?
  5. Why is the imagery of the road so common in American books, movies, songs?  Can you think of other stories where it plays as big a role as it does here?  What about Fear and Loathing?
  6. What did the citizens of Kansas gain with Smith and Hickock’s execution?  What did they lose?
  7. What do you think about the Moral Penal Code, which states that a defendant is legally insane if he or she does not have the capacity to differentiate between right and wrong?
  8. How is this crime story like modern crime novels like Silence of the Lambs?  Or tv shows like CSI? How is it different?
  9. Diana Trilling wrote:  “An unpleasant critical charge leveled against In Cold Blood is that it is itself written in cold blood, exploiting tragedy for personal gain.” Do you agree?  Is an author’s use of real people and their stories as material morally justifiable?  How does this question apply outside the book?
  10. Like the book, the film of In Cold Blood generated controversy for its violence (in spite of the fact that the killings in the film occur outside the picture frame), its sympathy for the murderers, and its anti-capital-punishment stance. What do you make of these complaints and challenges?

For your banned book club: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive, racist language, disrespect for adult authority, and sexually explicit and emotionally disturbing scenes, including a rape. As recently as 2002, it was challenged as required reading for Hamilton, Montana freshman English classes because of the author’s depiction of teen sexuality and homosexuality.

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns all clean.  – Maya Angelou

Who is this Maya Angelou?

  • Born April 4, 1928 in Saint Louis, Missouri as Marguerite Johnson.
  • Father, Bailey Johnson, naval dietician, Mother, Vivian Johnson and one sibling, brother Bailey.
  • Parents divorced when Angelou was three; children sent to live with grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.
  • Angelou claims grandmother, whom she called “momma, had a deep-brooding love that hung over everything she touched.”
  • After five years, children were sent to Saint Louis to be with mother. There, Angelou was raped by mother’s boyfriend, causing her to become silent for nearly five years.
  • Sent back to Stamps, where Mrs. Flowers helped her to recover.
  • In 1940, she and brother were sent to San Francisco to live with mother again. She ran away to join her father and his girlfriend.
  • Still unhappy, she moved to a graveyard of wrecked cars housing homeless children.
  • Angelou became pregnant; at sixteen gave birth to her son, Guy.
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is Angelou’s first literary work, an autobiography.
  • Book challenged by Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 as “dangerous” because it “preaches bitterness and hatred against whites.”
  • Book’s title is taken from her own poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, whose title is taken from a line in Laurence Dunbar poem, “Sympathy”.

What do you think about I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

  1. How does Ritie feel about her place in the world? Why?  Can the average teenager relate to this?  Why or why not?
  2. Seeing her mother for the first time after years of separation, Ritie describes her as “a hurricane in its perfect power.” What do you think about Ritie’s relationship with her mother? How does it compare to her relationship with her grandmother, “Momma”?
  3. Angelou writes, “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black Girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.” What does this mean?  Why?
  4. Throughout the book, Ritie struggles with feelings that she is “bad” and “sinful.” What does she conclude at the end of the memoir about right and wrong? What do you think about her ideas?
  5. How does the book’s title relate to Ritie’s self-imposed muteness?
  6. Who are positive role models for Maya?
  7. What makes Maya vulnerable to Mr. Freeman’s sexual advances? How does the rape and Mr. Freeman’s death influence her throughout the rest of the book?
  8. How was the experience of rural southern blacks different from that of black people in San Francisco?  Why?  What is the effect of that difference on Ritie?
  9. Is Angelou a reliable narrator? To what extent does her own memory seem to distort her story? Would the story seem different if it were fictional?
  10. How would you respond to adults who want to protect teens from reading this book?

For your banned book club: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language, disrespect for political, religious and parental authority, sexually explicit and emotionally disturbing scenes, including rape, violence, death and cruelty. Several members of our group said this was the most memorable and interesting book we read, though the 1990 film cut out far too many of our favorite parts.

“I’ve never understood why people consider youth a time of freedom and joy. It’s probably because they have forgotten their own.”– Margaret Atwood

Who is this Margaret Atwood?
• Born November 18, 1939, daughter of forest entomologist.
• Traveled much of childhood between Northern Ontario wilderness and capital, Ottawa.
• Attended high school in Toronto, majoring in home economics, but at sixteen determined to become a writer.
• Received undergraduate degree from University of Toronto, graduate degree from Radcliffe College.
• 1966, Atwood’s first published collection of poetry, The Circle Game, praised critically.
• 1969, first novel published, The Edible Woman. Made into film soon after, leading to sudden literary successes in Canada.
• 1986, The Handmaid’s Tale published and became bestseller. Written during anti-feminist backlash of 1980s.
• Received numerous awards and honorary degrees, author of over 23 books of fiction and nonfiction, published in more than 25 countries.
• Currently lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson and their daughter.

What do you think about The Handmaid’s Tale?
1. In fictional Gilead, women are Wives, Handmaids, Marthas, or Aunts. What do you think about characters who accept their assigned roles, without rebellion? Is there morality in simple survival? Is it more moral to rebel and risk death? Why or why not? How does this relate to your role in the real world?
2. What do the rulers of Gilead hope to achieve with their new social order? Could this sort of society be created outside of fiction? Why or why not?
3. Referring to his “cheating” the system in his affair with Offred, the Commander says “you can’t cheat nature”. How do characters in the novel find ways to follow their natural instinct? Do you see this happening in the real world?
4. Why is access to the Bible so guarded in Gilead? What might happen if it were not so guarded? Have you witnessed anything like this in the real world?
5. In the book, we are reminded that “There is more than one kind of freedom…Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” What do you think about freedom to and from? Why?
6. Two disturbing scenes in the novel involve the handmaids turning against handmaid Janine and also whipping themselves into a frenzy at a “particicution”. Why would oppressed people lash out and attack others oppressed like them? What do they gain? What do they lose? Have you witnessed anything like this phenomenon in high school life?
7. What is the role of the historical notes at the book’s end? What does the book’s last line mean?
8. Do characters or themes of this book remind you of any other books or films you are familiar with? Any banned books or films?
9. Do you know of women in the real world who experience anything like the kinds of things described here?
10. The Handmaid’s Tale is frequently challenged; it is sexually explicit, including offensive language, disrespect for religious and political authority, emotionally disturbing scenes and themes, including rape, mob violence and the loss of a child. What do you think about teenagers reading this book? Why?

For your banned book club: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson

By the way: This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language, disrespect for religious, political and legal authority, and sexually explicit and emotionally disturbing scenes, including rampant drug and alcohol use and violence. Johnny Depp plays the drug-addled author in the 2005 film. Reading the front page made me feel a lot better. Against that heinous background, my crimes were pale and meaningless. I was a relatively respectable citizen — a multiple felon, perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. And when the Great Scorer came to write against my name, that would surely make a difference. Or would it? I turned to the sports page and saw a small item about Muhammad Ali; his case was before the Supreme Court, the final appeal. He’d been sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to kill “slopes.” “I ain’t got nothin’ against them Viet Congs,” he said. Five years. Suddenly I felt guilty again. — Hunter S. Thompson

Who is this Hunter S. Thompson?

• Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937-2005), literary and political cult figure and leading practitioner of “Gonzo journalism,” a term he created.

• His political/cultural criticism of United States in 1970s flowed from series of stories about his own outsider adventures.

• Son of Jack and Virginia (Ray) Thompson, Louisville, Kentucky.

• After attending public schools, joined Air Force, receiving dishonorable discharge in 1958 for disregard of military dress and authority.

• Spent 1965 riding and living with Hell’s Angels, leading to first published book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966).

• Late 1960s, wrote story on Kentucky Derby, transforming career. Drunken Thompson submitted only disorganized notes, rather than conventional article, focusing more on self than race, which was published intact and widely-acclaimed, creating what he called “Gonzo” journalism.

• Assigned by Rolling Stone to cover motorcycle race and national drug law enforcement convention in Las Vegas, wrote two-part story as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), immediately seen as masterpiece of New Journalism – a genre he shares with Truman Capote.

• Bizarre persona, featuring Hawaiian shirt, cigarette holder, and mirrored sunglasses, inspired Garry Trudeau’s Raoul Duke in comic strip “Doonesbury.”

• 1985 to 1989, Thompson wrote syndicated column for San Francisco Examiner.

• Lived on 100-acre farm in Woody Creek, Colorado, near Aspen, as compulsive hermit, drinking, riding motorcycles, playing loud music, and target shooting Chinese gongs with Magnum .44.

• By age 50, charged with five felony counts of possessing drugs and possessing and storing explosives illegally.

• 1997 Terry Gilliam (formerly of Monty Python) directed movie with Johnny Depp as Thompson.

• At age of 67, Thompson died of self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Colorado home Feb. 20, 2005.

What do you think about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

1. Many current and historical artists and writers have claimed a heightening of their artistic perception through drugs. As a reader, how do you see Duke’s drug-induced perception? How do you balance this against his paranoia? What does this tell you about the perception and credibility of other writers, artists, musicians or opinion makers?

2. What do you think of Duke’s rebellion and preference for immediate gratification? Does he appeal to the American reader or offend us? Can you think of other characters in art or literature or film that attract/repel us in the same way?

3. Thompson’s attorney, Dr. Gonzo, remains drugged throughout the story, behaving far more impulsively and criminally than thoughtfully. What does this character tell us about Thompson’s view of law and order? How about other law related characters in the book?

4. After the hitchhiker, a typical middle-American kid, is picked up by Thompson and his attorney, he jumps out of their car in terror. How does Thompson want us to see the Hitchhiker? How does he want us to see himself through the Hitchhiker’s eyes?

5. Thompson calls Circus-Circus the “vortex of the American Dream”. Why? What does Thompson think the American Dream is and what do you think?

6. Thompson and his attorney drive cars they call the Great Red Shark and the White Whale. What does the author think they represent for his characters? What do you think? What does a car mean to you? What does a car mean in American culture?

7. Where is the “fear and loathing” in this novel? Who is fearful? Who loathes? Why? Should they? What is the root of this fear and loathing? What real world experiences seem connected to these feelings? Is this fear and loathing unreasonable?

8. In the beginning of his book, Thompson cites Samuel Johnson: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” What does that mean to Thompson? To you? To current bloggers?

9. What is this novel’s take on morality? Is anything here either moral or immoral? Is everything amoral?

10. Does a book like this, so full of illegal behavior, make those behaviors more attractive to teen readers? Why or why not? Would you recommend this book to other teens? Why or why not?

Banned books for teens: The Catcher In The Rye

The summer before starting high school, my son and two of his friends, let’s call them Theo, Grace and Maggie, got a little self-conscious about sitting in on their library’s adult book group, trying to talk with adults, in an adult way, about adult books. They decided to start a reading group of their own, for kids their age. So they met at the local Borders and wandered the aisles of young adult fiction, finally choosing The Catcher in the Rye, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Of Mice and Men for their first summer’s book line-up.

They made a flier and distributed it at school and at swim team. Theo and I researched the authors and came up with questions for each meeting. Grace and her mother, Carey, handled meeting logistics, communication and food. That first summer, 6-10 kids joined them every month to discuss a book. At the end of the summer, it occurred to them that they had chosen only books that had been challenged or banned in school districts or libraries.

There had to be a reason for that coincidental choice. There was. These books were all interesting, edgy and a little bit intellectually dangerous. Just like the group. Theo and Grace decided to make themselves over into the Banned Book Club.

For the next three summers, Theo and Grace and a good corps of reading friends (Curt, Kayla, Alycia, Donny, Allie and Rudi were the regulars) and their mom-members (Carey and me) read a banned book every month, talking about the authors, the books’ literary merits, their connection to real life and to other banned books, why the group thought each book had been banned or challenged, and to what degree they agreed or disagreed with the challengers’ complaints.

Some of the challenges they laughed at; had The Scarlet Letter been banned just to make it more appealing to teenagers who would never choose it otherwise? Other challenges they debated seriously; really, would any of them allow their future children to read Lolita?

After their fourth summer of the Banned Books Club, together they had read twelve great books, twelve banned books, twelve books that made a difference in their thinking. Not only did they all get pretty good SAT scores, but they also got a lot more of the inside jokes on The Simpsons.

Here is the background information and questions we used for our very first talk.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.

By the way:  According to FBI profilers, this book is often found in the possession of serial killers. This book has been banned or challenged by people who object to its offensive language, disrespect for adult authority, sexually explicit and emotionally disturbing scenes, including molestation and mental illness. I’m sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect. – J.D. Salinger

Who is this J. D. Salinger?

• Jerome David Salinger, born New York City, Jan. 1, 1919; parents were successful importers of Kosher cheese; lived in beautiful apartment on Park Avenue.

• Attended many prep schools, as well as Valley Forge Military Academy (1934-36) (not unlike Holden Caulfield’s school history).

• 1937 to 1938, studied at Ursinus College and New York University, graduating from neither.

• Fell in love with Oona O’Neill, daughter of Eugene O’Neill, writing each other daily letters; was shocked when she married much older actor, Charlie Chaplin.

• Drafted into the infantry in WWII and involved in Normandy invasion; fellow soldiers called him brave, a hero.

• In war-time Europe, wrote stories, met Ernest Hemingway, was hospitalized for stress.

• 1945, married French doctor Sylvia; later divorced.

• 1951 published Catcher in the Rye.

• 1955 married Claire Douglas, Radcliffe student and daughter of British art critic Robert Langston Douglas, insisting she drop out of college. Couple had children, Margaret and Mathew.

•Divorced again in 1967, retreating further into isolated world.

• 1972, age 53, had a year-long affair with 18-year old writer Joyce Maynard, asking her to drop out of Yale.

• Twenty five years later, Maynard put Salinger’s letters to her up for auction, publicizing tell-all book, At Home in the World, about relationship with what she sees as an abusive older author.

• Salinger’s third wife, Colleen O’Neill, is a nurse and quiltmaker.

• Catcher sells approximately 250,000 copies annually, with no author publicity, not even a photograph, in connection with book.

• To director Elia Kazan’s request to produce The Catcher in the Rye on Broadway, Salinger answered: “I cannot give my permission. I fear Holden wouldn’t like it.”

• Sean Connery’s character, Forrester, in the 2000 film Finding Forrester, was loosely based on Salinger.

What do you think about The Catcher in the Rye?

1. What seems normal about Holden Caulfield? Why would that seem normal for a high school boy? What seems abnormal about Holden? Why do we see that as abnormal?

2. What do you think about Holden’s view of adults? Does it match your view? Why or why not?

3. Holden has a hard time “fitting in.” Does this make him a good narrator? Why/why not? How does it affect you that your narrator remains outside his world? Does someone like Holden choose to be alienated, or does the world choose that for him?

4. How does Holden feel about girls and about his relationship to them? Do you know anything about that?

5. Why does Holden have a breakdown?

6. At the end of the novel, Holden recognizes that you have to let the kids on the carousel reach for the gold ring. What does this mean?

7. Why does Holden get the title poem (by Robert Burns) wrong –“If a body meet a body,” not “If a body catch a body.” Why does Salinger put that in the title?

8. What other books, songs, films or characters do you know that seem somehow connected with Catcher in the Rye, or with Holden Caulfield?

9. Why is it that FBI profilers have identified carrying a copy of this book as part of a pattern that suggests a man is capable of serial crimes? Does Holden himself seem like someone on the brink of criminality? How do you interpret this?

10. Why do you think this book ranks so high on the banned books list? What are some people worried will happen when teenagers read it?