catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 4 :: 2004.02.13 — 2004.02.26


Passion for art

Have you ever owned a book that you read so often it fell apart? Can you name your third-favorite author? When you enter a friend’s home for the first time, are you instantly drawn toward the bookshelves? Has a novel ever changed your life?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, please see the documentary Stone Reader as soon as possible.

Stone Reader is the story of writer/director Mark Moscowitz and his love for books. Particularly, his love for one book: The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman. Back in 1972, Moscowitz read a New York Times book review of The Stones of Summer. Based on the review, he bought the book, but after a few pages found it insufficiently engaging and dropped it. Twenty-five years later Mark picked up Stones again and found it to be one of the most amazing books he had ever read. But when he went to the Internet to search for some of Mossman’s other books, he came up with: nothing. No recommended titles, no author biography, no reader comments on Amazon; just a few copies of the book for sale on e-bay. Rather than letting the matter go, however, Moscowitz hired a camera crew and filmed his yearlong search for the author of the book he loves. Lucky for us.

In the documentary, Mark is determined to discover whether (and why) Mossman disappeared from the literary scene—and perhaps disappeared altogether. His quest leads to many dead ends, pleasant tangents, and some wonderful discoveries. He interviews everyone the book itself gives him a lead on, from the publisher to the people who provided blurbs to the book jacket’s designer and photographer. Some of these leads are more helpful than others, but all offer fascinating observations on the craft of writing and why so many of our great writers (Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, Margaret Mitchell, J.D. Salinger, etc.) are “one book writers.” The journey takes us to New York, Florida, Colorado, and finally to Iowa, where Dow Mossman participated in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

You wouldn’t expect to be on the edge of your seat during a documentary about writing, but there is a surprising amount of suspense and excitement to be found in Stone Reader. True, some of the drama is slightly manufactured through creative editing and selective disclosure of facts (even the inattentive viewer can see that Moscowitz’s sleuthing takes the scenic route), but who cares? It should also be noted that Mark looks more than a little like a young Dr. Phil. It is only slightly distracting. You’ll be far too interested in the personalities of the interviewees and the mystery of it all to mind.

Whether or not The Stones of Summer is the masterpiece Moscowitz makes it out to be, I do not know. I don’t think it really matters, either. The acts of reading and writing are presented as things perfect in their own right. You can project your own favorite novel onto the story.

Go rent Stone Reader. I’ve never seen a movie more passionate and sincere about the power and necessity of fiction writing than this one.

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