Sunday, February 22, 2009

Related Reading for The Soloist

If The Soloist piqued your interest in finding similar books, you'll find plenty of possibilities in the On the Same Page website. Here's a selection of nonfiction titles:

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness by Elyn R. Saks. Saks describes her battle with schizophrenia.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff. A journalist’s account of his teen son’s meth addiction.

The Outsider: A Journey into My Father’s Struggle with Madness by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer. Lachenmeyer was nine when his father was struck by schizophrenia; after his father’s death, the son retraced the father’s life during the years of their estrangement.

Joe Gould’s Secret by Joseph Mitchell. In the early twentieth century, Gould left his wealthy family to live on the streets of New York City.

And here are some fiction titles:

The Caveman’s Valentine by George Dawes Green
Romulus Ledbetter, a Juilliard graduate and former mental patient who lives in a cave in Manhattan’s Inwood Park, discovers the frozen body of a homeless man.

The Bird of Night by Susan Hill
Octogenarian Harvey Lawson looks back on his relationship with his friend Francis Croft, a poet and genius afflicted with mental illness. A Costa (Whitbread) Award—winning novel.

In the Half Light by Anthony Lawrence
Australian poet James Molloy learns to deal with his schizophrenia while he relates to three different women in his life.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Few More Discussion Questions for The Soloist

Music is a powerful presence in the book. For Nathaniel, the music he plays seems to help him keep his illness at bay. Do you believe there is a link between creativity and mental health or mental illness?

A visit from his sister is a joyful moment for Nathaniel, but her court appeal to manage his finances sets off his rage. (p. 240) Discuss what Steve and his readers know about Nathaniel’s family. Do you believe that family dynamics play a role in mental illness? If you know a family dealing with mental illness, how has that changed your preconceptions?

At one point in the book, Steve asks, “Is he happy?” (p. 126) What constitutes happiness for Nathaniel? How does asking this question help Steve to help Nathaniel? Do you think the book has a “happy ending?”

In what ways does Nathaniel's story fit your preconceptions about people facing homelessness, and in what ways has it changed your ideas? In what ways does his story fit your preconceptions about people facing serious mental illnesses, and in what way has it changed your ideas?

More discussion questions can be found in the On the Same Page website.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Let's Get Started: Discussion Questions for The Soloist

1. When they meet, Steve sees Nathaniel simply as a newspaper story, one that can bring attention to LA’s Skid Row. What obligations does Steve have—to his paper, to society, to Nathaniel—in reporting that story? How does his role change once the story affects Nathaniel’s life?

2. Readers begin to donate instruments and money immediately after Steve’s first article. What do you think compels people to help a stranger? Would people have been as eager to help Nathaniel if Steve hadn’t written about him or if Nathaniel had not been a musical genius? What do you think this says about human nature?

3. Although Steve doesn’t approach Nathaniel looking for either a friend or a music teacher, he winds up with both. Discuss how their relationship progresses from writer/subject to friendship. Is there a turning point in their relationship that you can identify? Have you experienced something similar in your own life?

Steve Lopez Visit

Hopefully you had a chance to see Steve Lopez at either the Main Library of Joseph Beth earlier this week. If you didn't, you might want to check out a couple of interviews that were recorded when he was in town to support On the Same Page. There's one on CETconnect and one on FOX19.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Steve Lopez Visit

We're absolutely thrilled about the fact that Steve Lopez is going to be visiting Cincinnati next week to support On the Same Page. Even if you haven't had a chance to read yet The Soloist yet, we hope you'll be able to make one of his booktalks! Here's where he's going to be:

Sunday, February 8
2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Main Library
Book talk and signing, musical performances by the College Conservatory of Music, and an information fair with community organizations serving people who have mental illnesses or are homeless. Bring your musical instruments to donate to CCM's LINKS (Lonely Instruments for Needy Kids) program. Panera Bread will provide the refreshments.

Sunday, February 8
6:00 p.m.
Joseph Beth Booksellers
Book signing

Monday, February 9
7:00 p.m.
265 Tangeman University Center, University of Cincinnati
Book talk and signing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

About The Soloist

Did you enjoy January's Book of the Month selection? I did--I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson to begin with but I thought the Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid was particularly charming.

Our February Book of the Month selection is equally compelling but in an entirely different way. It's The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, by Steve Lopez. This nonfiction title is based on LA Times columnist Lopez’s newspaper articles about musician Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, whom he met on LA’s Skid Row. Ayers studied at Juilliard before developing schizophrenia and spending decades on the streets. It's an inspiring story of music and friendship, as well as a compelling examination of homelessness, mental illness, public policy, and race in America. A movie based on the book starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jaime Foxx is expected to debut this spring.

The Soloist is also the featured title for On the Same Page, our annual community reading event. On the Same Page has been going strong for eight years--it's one of the longest-running programs of its kind in the country! In conjunction with the program, book discussions and special events will be taking place all over the city throughout February and March. I'll highlight a selection of them in upcoming posts but be sure to check the On the Same Page website for the complete list.

Happy reading!

About Steve Lopez

Steve Lopez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where he first wrote the series of enormously popular articles about Nathaniel Anthony Ayers on which The Soloist is based. He has also written for Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Oakland Tribune.

His work has won the H. L. Mencken Writing Award, the Ernie Pyle Human Interest Award, the National Headliner Award for Column Writing the Sigma Delta Chi Magazine Reporting Award, the Society of Professional Journalists Award, and the Quill Journalism Award. Third and Indiana was a selection of the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age and a finalist for the Dashiell Hammett Award.

Lopez is the author of three novels, Third and Indiana, The Sunday Macaroni Club, and In the Clear , and a journalism collection, Land of Giants: Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

If you'd like to learn more about Steve Lopez, check out his website. And take a few minutes to listen to the interview with him that aired on National Public Radio on April 22, 2008. In it talks about the evolution of his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers.