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One and done

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Stone Reader is a documentary about a book you've never heard of. A mere handful of readers discovered Dow Mossman's novel The Stones of Summer, published in 1972 to a rave review in the New York Times before disappearing without a ripple.

Mark Moskowitz, a director mostly of political campaign commercials, bought his copy shortly after publication but didn't read it for 25 years. Then he became so obsessed with it that he filmed his two-year search to find the author and learn why he vanished.

In Stone Reader, Moskowitz haunts libraries, Internet book sites and the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop looking for leads, and interviews a cross-section of people from publishing -- other writers, critics, an agent, a publisher and even the fellow that designed Stones of Summer's jacket. Although we get caught up in Moskowitz's on-again, off-again attempts at sleuthing, Stone Reader is as much a deeply felt tribute to books and reading as it is about literary detective work.

Moskowitz's camera lovingly pans across his bookshelves, crammed with his favorite writers, or shows how his first copy of Summer is gradually disintegrating. The filmmaker and his interviewees talk about the trend of "one-book authors" like Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell, explore the many pitfalls in becoming a published writer and talk about how the reader is the "co-creator" of any piece of fiction. In Stone Reader's most evocative scene, Moskowitz describes how his boyhood interest in World War II novels lead him to The Thin Red Line, The Naked and the Dead and then Catch-22. "That was the book," he says, the one that made him a reader for life.

If Stone Reader were a tighter film, it would be a better one, with the filmmaker including too many scenes of himself doing yard work and running down blind alleys. Like other documentarians who film themselves, Moskowitz can come across like a narcissist. It can be frustrating that he tells us so little of the substance of The Stones of Summer. But like any true fan, he doesn't want to spoil the book for potential readers, should Summer somehow make its way back into print. Opens April 25 at Madstone Theaters Parkside.

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