Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Stone Reader

If you love books and you have not seen Stone Reader, you will want to find it and rent, borrow or buy it. I saw a brief scene from this documentary while at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop retreat and was intrigued, so I bought the DVD.

Stone Reader was screened initially at Sundance in January of 2002. The Special Limited Edition DVD I bought has a total of three disks; two of them are additional features that include footage and interviews from after the film’s release.

Mark Moskowitz, the film maker read a New York Times Book Review on a novel called The Stones of Summer, by Dow Mossman in 1972. He bought the book and never got to read it until over 20 years later. He thought the book was incredible and like so many of us do, tried to find other books by the same author. There was nothing. He then tried to find out something about the author and found nothing. He couldn’t believe that someone could have written such an incredible piece of literature and nothing more so he decided to find Dow Mossman. In the process, he sought to buy every copy of Stones of Summer that he could find and he tried to find other people – anybody – who had read this book.

Moskowitz takes us on a journey, beginning with the story of his own love of books, and the profound turning point that he found in his journey into adulthood when he discovered and read Catch 22.

He criss-crosses the country to interview the New York Times Book Reviewer who wrote the piece that led him to Mossman in the first place. He talks with former classmates at Iowa, a professor and many people within the publishing industry.

The story is a profoundly sobering picture of a gifted writer, obsessed with creating a truly great book at a very young age and it illustrates the capriciousness of the publishing world and how a novel that all unanimously agreed was a fine 20th century work, could go out of print and the author fall into obscurity.

Mossman spent six years obsessively writing his book and shortly after it's publication, he spent time in an Iowa mental institution, suffering from what was then called a nervous breakdown.

I don't want to reveal too many more details about the story, but I will reveal that there is the book is now back in print.

The film is very well made and even without the incredible story of Mark Moskowitz’s search for Dow Mossman, provides incredible insights into the Iowa Workshop, the critics and the publishing industry. Moskowitz has also started a Lost Books Club to help preserve, introduce, and pass on to future generations, America's literary and cultural heritage, by making hard-to-find, unavailable, out-of-print, or otherwise forgotten works available to the public.

I recommend this to all writers and to all those who have a love affair with books. If you've seen it, I'd love to hear your thoughts and impressions.

Mark Moskowitz has a poignant, beautiful scene in the movie where he recounts his experience transitioning into the adult reading world. What memories do you have about that transition from reading children's books to adult titles? Do you remember the first book you read that made you feel like you wanted to know the writer?


Charles Gramlich said...

That's a great story. I definitly want to look this up. I read a mixture of YA and adult books pretty early because I read whatever I could get my hands on. My sister, who worked for the library for a while, would bring me YA books and check out adult books for herself. AFter I read mine I'd read hers.

Larramie said...

Although totally unaware of Mossman's writing and life, what you shared here, Lisa, reminds me of Ross Lockridge, Jr. and his RAINTREE COUNTY. Brilliant yet besieged.

iyan and egusi soup: said...

dear lisa:

a great post!

the first book i read that made me want to know the writer: nervous conditions (by tsitsi dangarembga). i read this novel at a moment when i began to feel there was 'something more elsewhere'--a sort of transition point which i knew required a commitment to discover what i truly wanted to do.

nervous conditions reminds me of the moment i committed to my writing work.

Lisa said...

Charles, It's a great film. Beyond the story about Dow Mossman, the story of readers and books and the publishing industry and writers -- it's all great. That's really cool that your sister worked at a library. It seems like libraries were such a big part of most of our lives when we were kids.

Larramie, I had to look up Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s story and it does sound a great deal like Dow Mossman's in many ways. Unfortunately, Ross Lockridge's ended tragically. There is something about gifted writers who are striving to write The Great American Novel. I'm not sure people even do that anymore or if people attempting to do so could even be published.

iyan and egusi soup, I love that story, and what an apt title for that critical time in one's life!

Therese said...

What a great story, and a great effort, wow.

I need to see Stone Reader...

Patti said...

i know it's not a grown-up author, but i so wanted to meet dr. seuss...he was my hero...kinda still is...

The Writers' Group said...

I just checked the DVD out of the library. Thanks for helping me with my weekend plans.


Lisa said...

Therese, I know you'll really like it. I thought of you in your MFA program when some of the people who'd been in the Iowa Writers Workshop were talking about how grueling it was. I hope your experience was a little kinder than Iowa must have been in the late 60's!

Patti, Dr. Seuss totally rocked.

Lynn, I am so excited to hear your thoughts on this movie! Please come back to this post after you see it and let us know.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf