In 1972, a New York Times book reviewer lauded an extraordinary book by young Dow Mossman, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, calling it "[a] holy book [that] burns with a sacred Byzantine fire."
Mark Moskowitz, a college student in Philadelphia, saw that review and bought the book but didn't read it until nearly 25 years later an experience that was life-changing.
Moskowitz, a commercial filmmaker who shot political campaign spots, began to wonder whatever happened to Mossman who seemed to have disappeared after Stones of Summer's brief brush with fame. He filmed a documentary of his search for the elusive author and, along the way, explored the meaning of books in our lives. Mossman eventually was found in his family home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Moskowitz' documentary, Stone Reader, took the audience prize and the grand prize at 2002's Slamdance film festival. The film's success paved the way for the re-release of Stones of Summer that has now sold more than 160,000 copies worldwide.
Mark Moskowitz and Dow Mossman will visit Pikes Peak Community College next week, making guest appearances in classes, signing books, screening the film and hosting a public discussion of books and film. The Independent caught up with Moskowitz recently at his rural Pennsylvania home.
Indy: Can you talk a little about the process through which Stone Reader emerged?
Moskowitz: I kept telling friends I work with about this amazing book and one of them said, "This would be interesting to shoot as a film.' We started as a lark. In the course of preparing for three shoots at the local library ... I sat down and wrote 25 pages about why I was interested in books this book and others. Then I threw it all out. What was interesting for a film was the search for Dow; what was less interesting was me lecturing about what books mean to us. I began filming others friends I'd shared books with, literary critics and others. The film you saw was research for the film that was never made. Ultimately, I began to use the film to understand why I love books.
Indy: In the film you raise lots of questions about books, why we love them, what they mean to us. Is the film often used to teach students of literature?
Moskowitz: I don't really know about that. The right question is how do we study literature and what do the humanities mean to us any more?
Reading is a very slow thing and we live in a sped-up world. At one screening, a 40-year-old woman was sitting in the corner of the theater sobbing afterward. She said, "I realized when I watched your movie that I used to love going to the library with a friend of mine in junior high and I haven't read a book since then." It wasn't that she didn't have a good life; she did. But she'd remembered that elemental experience, that connection that we share through books, of shared imagination. It is a very intimate kind of thing.
The movie isn't a polemic for reading. It gets to some of the darker, unproductive aspects of reading as well. Mario Puzo's line says it perfectly. He said his parents looked at his library card like some parents look at a heroin needle.
Screening of The Stone Reader
Thurs., April 6, 6:30 p.m.
An evening with Mark Moskowitz and Dow Mossman " discussion and Q&A session
Fri., April 7, 6:30 p.m.
Pikes Peak Community College Centennial Campus Theater, 5675 South Academy Blvd.
Both events free and open to the public