You feel the pressure of another human soul on the other side of the book, and that makes you feel less alone, and less trapped in your body, and less isolated. You feel that you are the brother of the author, and the two of you are working together. It’s a very profound and moving experience. It’s almost spiritual.
Thus does Frank Conroy, who runs the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, beautifully capture the pleasure of reading a great novel. If you love books then you will also love the movie Stone Reader. Seek out this 2003 documentary; I rented it from NetFlix. It is a love story about readers, authors, and books which is threaded around a mystery. I’ll allow Roger Ebert to describe it:
In 1972 a man reads a review of a new novel named The Stones of Summer in the New York Times. The reviewer believes it is one of the most extraordinary novels of its generation–a masterpiece. The man buys the novel, can’t get into it, puts it on the shelf, moves it around with his books for years, and finally reads it. He thinks it’s a masterpiece, too. He goes on the Internet to find out what else the author, Dow Mossman, has written. Mossman has written nothing–has disappeared, it would appear, from the face of the earth.
I’ll confess that this movie left me in tears. Tears of joy at the love of letters made manifest, tears of regret for Dow Mossman. This is a meandering and idiosyncratic film, but throughout you feel the pressure of the filmmaker’s soul against the screen.