Documentary: A One-Book Wonder

It's rare enough when a documentary achieves cult status. Rarer still when it actually changes lives. "The Stone Reader," a movie about the love of reading, manages to do both. The filmmaker, Mark Moskowitz, became obsessed with a dense, lyrical coming-of-age novel by Dow Mossman called "The Stones of Summer." Published to ecstatic reviews in 1972 ("A holy book!" The New York Times proclaimed), it sold few copies and vanished along with its author. Moskowitz, a fanatic reader who makes political commercials for a living, set out to find Mossman and to explore the mystery of one-book wonders. He interviewed such literary luminaries as critic Leslie Fiedler, editor Robert Gottlieb and writer Frank Conroy--none of whom had read the book or heard of its author.

Moskowitz finally found Mossman in Iowa. He'd had a breakdown after finishing his novel, worked as a welder for 20 years, then bundled newspapers for $6.25 an hour before losing that job four years ago. Now, he may be the best-known writer no one has ever read in the United States. In September "The Stones of Summer" will be reissued in hardcover. Steve Riggio, CEO of Barnes & Noble, fell in love with the book after seeing the film (he had to pay $1,775 on the Internet for his copy), giving Mossman a $100,000 advance and an additional $200,000 to promote the film. The reclusive Mossman has started writing again (he just learned how to use a computer) and is typing seven hours a day, reveling in the attention from the film.

Ironically, the movie that's likely inspired more visits to bookstores than any other has been blackballed by the American Booksellers Association, which canceled its screening at its BookExpo in Los Angeles. The reason? To independent booksellers, the Barnes & Noble chain is the big bad corporate wolf. Never mind, Moskowitz points out, that it was the only publisher that had the author's welfare in mind. Never mind that the self-distributed movie's the very definition of an independent film. But these squabbles won't keep fans from reading Mossman's opus this fall, when readers can discover whether it is truly the visionary classic its awed critics claim it is.

Documentary: A One-Book Wonder | News