Stone Reader

Attention book worms: Mark Moskowitz's documentary is an unexpectedly warm valentine to the solitary joy of reading in an increasingly post-literate age. It's also a gripping mystery yarn involving obsession, a long-forgotten book and a shadowy author who appears to have vanished off the face of the Earth. The story began in 1972, when an 18-year-old...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Attention book worms: Mark Moskowitz's documentary is an unexpectedly warm valentine to the solitary joy of reading in an increasingly post-literate age. It's also a gripping mystery yarn involving obsession, a long-forgotten book and a shadowy author who appears to have vanished off the face of the Earth.

The story began in 1972, when an 18-year-old Moskowitz read a glowing review of The Stones of Summer, the debut novel by a 23-year-old writer named Dow Mossman. Intrigued, Moskowitz bought a copy as soon as it came out in paperback, but couldn't get through the first 20 pages. Twenty-five years later, Moskowitz, now a successful director of promotional spots, tried again and was completely blown away by the book's power. The experience left him with two burning questions: Who was Dow Mossman, and what in the world became of him? Stones was long out of print, cursory searches on the Internet came up blank and no one, it seems, had ever even heard of Mossman. So armed with a camera and few clues other than those provided by the book itself — the publisher's imprint, the dedication, the name of the dust-jacket artist — Moskowitz went in search of the elusive author, a quest that consumed the next three years of his life.

This highly entertaining two-hour film chronicles the fascinating trek that took Moskowitz into the heart of the Mossman enigma, as well as the mysteries of reading and writing in general. In addition to finding people directly connected to Stones, Moskowitz drops in on the likes of renowned literary critic Leslie Fiedler, Iowa Writers' Workshop head Frank Conroy and famed editor Robert Gottlieb. Fiedler offers his thoughts on such "one-book writers" as Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison and, arguably, J.D. Salinger — all of whom made huge splashes with their first novels, but never wrote a second; Gottlieb fondly remembers editing Joseph Heller's Catch-22, the novel Moskowitz credits as pushing his love of reading from adolescence into adulthood. Moskowitz is so invested in the myth of authorial presence that you could be forgiven for suspecting his film is an elaborate Barthesian hoax aimed at shoveling that last bit of dirt onto the grave of the Author. But rest assured, it's not: It's simply an honest, if old-fashioned, paean to reading as an almost spiritual experience that Conroy beautifully describes as "feeling the pressure of another human soul on the other side of the book."

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