Stone Reader

dir. Moskowitz

Opens Fri Aug 22

Various Theaters

Throughout his wonderful documentary, Stone Reader, filmmaker Mark Moskowitz's camera lingers lovingly over shelves and stacks of books. He carries boxes of books with him everywhere he goes, touching them, flipping through them, and moving them back and forth like a child with his favorite set of Tinker Toys. He is obsessed with books; so much so that when he becomes enamoured with a long out-of-print, tome-like novel called The Stones of Summer, he embarks on a two-year search for its creator, Dow Mossman, who seems to have literally disappeared in the 30 years since its publication.

It's a fascinating premise for a documentary, and it pays off probably beyond even Moskowitz's expectations. Mossman turns out to be almost excruciatingly difficult to track down, and Moskowitz gets to play private investigator, interviewing nearly everyone he can think of who had even a remote chance of coming into contact with the reclusive novelist. The list ranges from writers Mossman worked with in the Iowa Writers Workshop, to the original New York Times reviewer of the book, to the original publisher of the book, to the artist who designed the book's original cover (he has no memory of Mossman or Stones). What unfolds is not a critical examination of Stones and its writer, but an unparalleled literal deconstruction of the book, a careful examination of the individual parts that combine to make its physical whole.

In the end, Moskowitz is far more concerned with scoping the trail of people and events behind a great book than the book itself, but there's nothing wrong with that. Great documentaries make you think about things you haven't thought about before, and Stone Reader is, if nothing else, a beautifully crafted, amazingly thorough exploration of little-known facets of the writing and publishing worlds. And in the end, you still yearn badly to read The Stones of Summer, if only because its glorious literary deftness has been rubbed in your face for the last two hours, and you still don't really have any idea what the hell is so great about it. Fortunately, you can sate your curiosity this September, when Mossman's masterpiece gets a national re-release courtesy of Barnes & Noble.