In the brogue of William Cotter Murray, novelist and longtime professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Moskowitz finally hears the words that lead him to his Holy Grail. In what may be considered Stone Reader’s denouement, which follows 75 prior minutes dappled with dead ends, the filmmaker asks the professor if he has ever guided anyone through writing a novel?

“Yes,” Murray answers, and adds with a laugh, “I guided him to a psychiatric ward! … The book was called The Stones of Summer.’” Moskowitz calls the last phone number Murray has for Mossman, and the person who answers gives him the author’s current phone number. Moskowitz dials again and reaches Mossman, who, the very next day, greets the film crew at his front door.

Behind it is an eccentric man. A man who, after writing The Stones of Summer, worked as a welder for 19 years and later bundled newspapers for about six bucks an hour. Mossman mentions his hospitalization for acute anxiety, his failed marriage, and the parental caretaking responsibilities that helped keep him from ever publishing again. But much of what he talks about in his book-swollen house is Shakespeare, Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald.

“Dow turned all his creativity away from writing into reading,” Moskowitz hypothesizes now. Reading fit very well into the author’s anachronistic lifestyle. “He was like the man from 1972 who comes to the 21st century,” says Moskowitz. “He didn’t have an answering machine, computer, cell phone, or even a car radio.”

Little did Mossman know that Moskowitz’s mission would eventually land him on NBC’s Today show. “I don’t know how Mark got me in front of the camera, but I ended up feeling totally at ease,” he says. “He also got me writing again, got me back to the typewriter—to a computer, actually. The rest is up to me.”

Last fall, Mossman went on a national book tour, discussing reading and writing and signing copies of The Stones of Summer. At Barnes and Noble in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, wearing work boots looking very much like the ones he wears in Stone Reader, Mossman confirmed that what he most deeply appreciates about books is the same as it is for Moskowitz. “Mark told me that my book has so many stories in it,” Mossman told a hundred listeners. “I think that must be the highest compliment you could ever give a writer.”

Moskowitz says he has less regret now than he had before doing the film that he didn’t become a novelist. “I would never have had the patience, and there’s no collaboration. I enjoy that about filmmaking.” So what’s next? “I had thought about doing something on the correlation between how happy and successful people are and how much they read, and what they read,” he says. “I would have tried to uncover whether reading physically magnifies your creativity, whether it helps you.” He does have another project in the works, but prefers not to divulge details. Soulliere says, “If I had to guess, I’d say Mark’s next film is going to be something about art, or music, or some other creative realm.”

A month after releasing the first Stone Reader DVD last October, Moskowitz released a three-disc Limited Edition DVD (limited, that is, to 4,000 copies sold only through www.stonereader.net), with extras including deleted scenes, old photos and letters of Mossman’s, and book lists for readers. The third and final unlimited two-disc Special Edition is due in stores in February. On the day last fall when Moskowitz sat preparing DVD footage of himself and a cigar-chewing Dow Mossman on stage with Roger Ebert, he seemed content enough to make a living achieving remarkable things through filmmaking and to connect with the pages of someone else’s imagination only in his free time. After all, he still isn’t sure if escaping to the sanctuary of fiction is mostly indulgent folly or noble pursuit. Either way, whatever he’s accomplished and however much acclaim he’s received, the thought remains in the back of his mind: “All this time, I could have been reading books.”

Holly Love EAS’85 lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and is a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. She can be reached at holly@hollylove.com.

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/19/04

FEATURE:
The Constant Reader
By Holly Love
Illustration by Brian Cronin

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