All Lit Up: Filmmaker and avid reader Mark Moskowitz shows off his rare copy of ‘The Stones of Summer.’
Author Lorna Landvik on addictive lit, writing prolifically, and the new documentary ‘Stone Reader’
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate postfilm conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
Inside a tiny upstairs theater within the Rafael Film Center, Stone Reader, the stirring new documentary by Mark Moskowitz, has just come spinning to its bittersweet close. As the credits roll, Lorna Landvik–author, actress, occasional moviegoer, and devoted book-club member–rises to her feet to honor the film with her own one-woman standing ovation.
Of course, there are only three of us in the theater this morning: Landvik, myself, and Delores, a hired literary escort who is now gentling hustling Landvik from the theater–this was a private screening courtesy of the folks at the Rafael–and off to a bookstore appearance some 10 miles away. “What a great movie!” enthuses the Minneapolis-based Landvik as she scoots through the door and is gone.
Three hours later, after the well-attended bookstore gig has ended, Landvik and I–and Delores, who, incidentally, also loved the movie–are reunited at a quiet restaurant, where we finally get to talk about Stone Reader.
A word-of-mouth hit at the recent Slamdance Film Festival, Moskowitz’s offbeat film is an homage, of sorts, to the power of reading and the mystery of writing. One writer in particular forms the mystery at the heart of the film. He is Dow Mossman, whose 1972 Vietnam-era novel, The Stones of Summer, worked some major mojo on a then young Moskowitz. Throughout the lazily paced doc, Moskowitz attempts to locate the mysterious Mossman–who dropped out of sight after the novel emerged–and to learn why Mossman never published another book.
Landvik, by contrast, has published numerous books, including bestsellers like Patty Jane’s House of Curl, The Lone Pine Polka, and her latest quirky epic, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, about the salty female founders of a decades-old monthly book club.
Landvik found Stone Reader to be funny, suspenseful, and intensely moving. “I love the way it got me,” she says, sipping a diet Coke. “I love the way the movie immerses you, somewhat voyeuristically, into the world of people who always talk about books–book agents, editors, crazy literature professors, people from Iowa City. It was such a wonderful movie for me to see. I could have bathed in it, it was so warm.”
She glances up at the waiter standing over us ready to take our order. After he has receded into the woodwork, Landvik announces her newly acquired eagerness to explore Mossman’s long lost novel.
“I’d definitely read it,” she says. “If I could find it. When I first heard about this movie, I went to my library and typed in the name Dow Mossman–and what kind of name is Dow, I’m asking you–but nothing came up. Maybe I’ll just have to find a copy at a church garage sale or something.
“It’s a great mystery to me,” she goes on, “why one book takes off and another doesn’t, or why one movie succeeds and another disappears before you know it was even out. I wish I knew what it was, ’cause then I’d be a heck of a lot more successful!”
In Angry Housewives–which introduces each chapter with the title of the book being read that month, and which character recommended it and why–Landvik taps into the whole book-club phenomenon that has become a niche market of the publishing industry.
“Book clubs have always been around,” she says, “but they’ve never been as big as they are now. I’ve always heard about so-and-so’s great aunt whose book club is reading the classics. Now you’re never in a group of 10 people without at least one of them saying, ‘Oh, my book club is reading blah-blah-blah.’ I’m in two different book groups myself.”
“In the movie,” I mention, “Moskowitz keeps stating that he’d like to see Stones of Summer be reissued. Would any of your book groups ever read a book like that?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she says. “If it ever does get reissued, I’ll be the first one to suggest it to my book group. I’m sure there would be a lot to talk about, lots of questions.”
“Well, for starters,” Landvik says, “I’d ask, ‘What kind of name is Dow, anyway?'”
Web extra to the March 27-April 2, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.