Bookworm, you know who you are, you glorified loafer, you word-nerd. You, at times, have shunned humans, shirked work, stayed up too late, skipped showers, spent beautiful days inside, hiked mountains with hardbacks, haunted bookstores for hours (not buying a thing), faked illness, and committed legion other minor social crimes, all to be with these magnificent companions, these books. It is to you that this documentary is tipping its hat, for “The Stone Reader” is an ode to loving books. When you pull your nose from that novel, see this movie.
In director Mark Moskowitz, you will recognize a kindred soul. Moskowitz is a bit of a geek whose day-job is creating promotional spots for politicians and who calls his mom when he has to do something that makes him anxious. He directs this slow-paced but engaging documentary with a visible need to communicate the joy of his obsession, which was re-ignited by a book called “The Stones of Summer.”
As he informs you in the first “chapter” of the documentary, Moskowitz picked up the book at seventeen and could not make it through the first chapters. At forty-two, he finds himself trying again and this time he is enthralled. He makes it his mission to find out what happened to the book, which no one else seems to have ever read, and to the author, Dow Mossman, who never published again. His trip meanders back and forth from his pastoral home to various interviews with experts on everything along the reading chain, from writers to publishers to reviewers.
Torpid and philosophical, the first half of the movie examines the reader’s connection to books and features thought-provoking interviews as well as a lovely radio piece in which writer Mario Puzo describes his parent’s horror at his reading habit. The second half of the movie introduces the palpable tension of whether Moskowitz will ever find out what happened to Mossman.
It’s not often that you get to see a documentary about such an un-cinematic subject as the joy of reading. There are no sexy Hollywood stars here, flexing their dramatic muscles as lovers brought together by books or as characters from the pages of a novel, which are the typical roles played by literature in film. The modulations of tone are subtle from the quiet excitement of Moskowitz’s young son as he lovingly unwraps the latest “Harry Potter” to the elegiac note which creeps into the interview with Carl Brandt, a literary agent, as he talks about how the book could never have been published these days.
Let it be noted that this movie is about as far as one can go from a summer action flick and still be sitting in a theater. For those who do not share Moskowitz’s love of books, then this movie will be 128 minutes better spent elsewhere, perhaps with someone who can explain to them the immense and lifelong joy of reading.
Parents should know that the most dangerous act in this movie is when Moskowitz drives from his mailbox to his house without wearing his seatbelt. There are discussions about the early ‘70’s which mention draft-dodging, war and drug use. One of the people interviewed, Dan Guenther, discusses some of his experiences in Vietnam.
Families who see this movie should talk about what reading means to them, about what book first inspired a sense in them that they were not alone, about an author who they feel speaks to them. Beyond reading, families might discuss how a personal quest might inspire a person to strive to learn or excel, and might alienate them from others, as Mossman was alienated.
Families who enjoyed this movie might wish to rent literary inspired stories such as “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) or “Possession” (2002), both starring Gwyneth Paltrow. They might also be interested in “Shadowlands” (1994) or “84 Charing Cross Road” (1986), both starring Anthony Hopkins. For those families who truly enjoyed the movie, it is more likely that they will wish to rush home to read. If so, a delightful ode to reading is Anne Fadiman’s little book “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.”