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There's No Substitute for Being There

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It's the sort of thing that keeps literary critics in business: What does a book really mean to say and why does it say it the way it does?

But if all goes according to plan, some 45 high-school seniors from Ardmore, Pa., will travel to New York City today to get some authoritative answers to such questions from the author himself--in this case, Jerzy Kosinski.

The well-known author of The Painted Bird, Being There, and Cockpit, among other books, has invited the students and their English teacher from Ardmore's Lower Merion High School to come to the office of his paperback publisher, Bantam Books, to discuss with him their questions about his work.

The invitation was inspired, according to John Osipowicz, the students' teacher, by a class discussion of Mr. Kosinski's treatment of women in his thriller Cockpit. Mr. Osipowicz teaches a course for seniors on "science and mystery fiction."

The students had reacted "generally favorably" to the book, he said, but some had raised objections to the brutality and violence depicted against women. Those objections and subsequent class discussions about the "amoral behavior" of the main character in the book led Mr. Osipowicz to "drop a note to Mr. Kosinski asking if he would comment.''

"I thought he might drop a line back," Mr. Osipowicz said.

That was last November, and Mr. Kosinski was out of the country. In January, however, he responded by phoning Mr. Osipowicz at the school. "In the course of the conversation, he said he enjoyed talking with students, and at first he asked us to his place," Mr. Osipowicz said. "But there were too many students, so he arranged with his publisher to have us come there."

Mr. Osipowicz asked each student to prepare three questions for the author.

The students were to pay their own way to New York on a chartered bus. Bantam Books was to supply a conference room and lunch, and Mr. Kosinski planned to meet with them for several hours.

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