Webster's International Stones of Summer

Posted by William Davies King on Saturday, April 20, 2013.
Webster's International Stones of Summer front cover

For this one, you need to know--should know!--the film made in 2002 by Mark Moskowitz, called Stone Reader, which recounts his years of hunting for the author of a highly praised novel that came out in 1972--The Stones of Summer. The author of that novel, Dow Mossman, had subsequently disappeared from the literary scene and seemed to have vanished in all other ways, too. Mark spent years tracking down every possible pathway that might lead to the man who wrote one of those "great American novels," a book that had especially impressed him as a masterpiece. Along the way, he inquires into the more general aspects of how authors live, how we read and evaluate their creations, how some suffer obscurity because of their own demons or self-doubt or exhaustion.

When he finally found Mr. Mossman, who was living not far from the site of his anointment as a promising author in Iowa, he captured that moment of rediscovery on camera, and the scene made a fitting climax for Mark's movie, which itself went on to win critical acclaim and the sort of reward that comes from "outsider" achievement, which is to say, not a lot. Mark was not in the hunt for profit (he has a business to answer his needs in that respect). Instead he was tracing to its origin the mystery of what makes the experience of reading a great book so gratifying. With the success of the movie, he was able to get Barnes & Nobles to issue a new edition of The Stones of Summer.

Since then, he has taken his camera and microphone into other questions of why and how we live now, and a curiosity about collecting led him to contact me. After I met him, I returned the curiosity by following him down the Mossman path, watching his movie and its many fascinating "bonus features." One day I told Mark that if he would send me a copy of the novel I would "address" it in the ruinating way of bibliolage. In a few days, a copy of the B&N reprint arrived in the mail.

The problem was clear to me from the start. Here was a hefty (wordy, garrulous, logorrheic) book, a novel of the sort that seems to resent the space taken by the page margins. Where, and what, was I going to "lay into" this book? At this moment, I have on hand probably 100-150 books I might cut or cut into, a wide variety, but mostly books with pictures, which is the familiar sort of stuff to 'lage. I let six weeks or so pass, pondering the question.

Finally I remembered a book I had been keeping for many years, a ca. 1900 edition of Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language. I had acquired this leather-bound, deluxe edition, with its 2000+ pages of definitions, gazeteers, biographical names, history of the language and its grammar, flags and other images, all contained within a leather binding, in a state of catastrophic decay, long before I had begun hyper-illuminating books. Just carrying this volume from one location to another was sure to leave a visible trail of crumbled binding and paper in its death throes. Still, I could not throw it away. Eventually I stowed it under the house where variable weather conditions wuld only hasten its demise.

As soon as I thought of the book, I realized it would be perfect for this project the chthonic will of Webster would meet the megalo-lalia of Mossman.

On each page of the novel I found one word defined by Webster, and I glued the definition into the margin. The challenge was to find words that would fit, best of all, words that would emphasize the vocabulary employed by Mossman. For the title page and endpapers, I found the definitions of "dow," "moss," and "man," also "stones," "summer," "novel," and, of course, "mark," "mosk," and "wit" (noun plural). To tie it (us) all together, I found all the defniitions of "fanatic."

Pictures do not capture the result well, but if you wish to consult the original, you'll have to look into the personal library of Mark Moskowitz.

two pages from Webster's International Stones of Summer

two pages from Webster's International Stones of Summer

Comments

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