The University that I work for is in the process of selecting the Freshman Common Reading book for 2009-10. When I was asked to be on the panel, I jumped at the chance. One of the books being considered is The Soloist by Steve Lopez.
Steve Lopez, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times discovers a man by the name of Nathaniel Ayers, living in a tunnel off of Skid Row. The unique thing about Nathaniel, is that in addition to his shopping cart, his other prized possession, is a beat-up, violin which he plays with as much passion as a concert violinist.
Lopez, intrigued by his story, begins to delve into the Ayers’ life and finds that although he is now homeless, he was once a student of Juilliard and was forced to end his musical education when he developed Schizophrenia. Lopez, through research and the desire for Ayers to have a better life, contacts a local treatment center and so begins Ayers’ journey to recovery.
This is a story about friendship but there are also some very strong themes here. As Lopez chronicles Ayers’ life via his newspaper column, he also opens the eyes of local politicians to the problem of the mentally ill in and around Los Angeles that are homeless and not capable of seeking treatment on their own.
The story is a little slow at times, because there are a lot of setbacks but there are also several moments that brought tears to my eyes. Several readers of Lopez’s column donate instruments to Nathaniel and when he is presented with these instruments, it’s clear that for him, music is his true therapy. The same can be said when he is presented with a trip to Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s a very touching scene.
As for the Freshman Common Reading Panel, I still have other books to read before my meeting which is scheduled for mid-January, but because this book deals with many different themes (race, the homeless, the mentally ill, politics, etc.), it would appeal to many different readers.
The Soloist is being made into a movie that will star Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez, and Jamie Foxx as Ayers. I think the casting is spot on. The scheduled release date is April 2009. If you’d like to read some of the original articles, click here.