Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Words Have Power

The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music
by Steve Lopez

WOW! This is post number 100 for Ex Libris Fides. Where does the time go? I'm still having fun writing it, hope lots of you out there are still enjoying reading. Remember, I always love to hear your thoughts and book recommendations.

The Soloist is a tremendous book. The writing is not beautiful but the story is important, fascinating, moving, and well told. Lopez has a journalistic style, which makes sense because that is what he is. He is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and The Soloist grew out of a series of columns that he wrote about Nathaniel Ayers. Ayers is a gifted musician who lived on the streets of L.A.'s Skid Row for decades. He had a mental breakdown in the early 1970s while he was a student at Juilliard. He eventually was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and he experienced a long descent into street life and estrangement from teachers, family, and friends.

The Soloist shows us the power of both music and relationship to heal. As he wrote about Ayers and continued to get to know him, Lopez found that he could not just walk away when his own work was (in theory) completed. He began trying to help Nathaniel Ayers re-enter society and reconnect with his family. The process has been long and at times frustrating. Nathaniel is still ill, and perhaps always will be, but he has made amazing progress because one person has taken an interest in him. Feeling cared about, being treated like he matters, has transformed Nathaniel Ayers's life.
Many people who were moved by Lopez's columns donated instruments to Nathaniel so that he would have quality instruments on which to practice. He is now taking cello lessons from a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has a small apartment that he actually stays in, instead of sleeping outdoors and storing all his possessions in a grocery cart. Due to some horrifying experiences when he first became ill, Ayers refuses to see a doctor or consider taking medication, but Lopez is hopeful for the future. Ayers has begun to participate in normal pleasurable activities like going to a baseball game, attending music concerts, and spending holidays with Lopez's family. The relationship is not always easy, but Lopez believes that the effort is worth it.

Something else that is interesting is that Lopez's columns (and now his book) about Nathaniel Ayers have generated enough public awareness about mental illness and homelessness (and the relationship between the two) that the mayor and city council of Los Angeles have increased funding for programs that benefit those who are suffering from these conditions - often some of the most forgotten people in society. Never underestimate the power of one. We can make a difference. This is an uplifting, powerful story that should make each of us raise the question of what we can do to ease the suffering of a neighbor.

Reverent Reader


At 6/11/08, 6:40 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

This is a great review, I hope to read it someday! ( I want to read most of the books that you review) This is especially fitting to read as a teacher because sometimes you feel like you can't make a difference. It's always inspiring to read about people who persevere. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

At 6/12/08, 6:47 AM , Blogger TET said...

I read about Ayers in the New Yorker not too long ago. They're making a movie about him and his life and Jamie Foxx is going to play Ayers. Sounds like a cool book.

At 6/12/08, 10:28 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

TET - I had thought this would make a good movie. I'm so glad to hear that someone picked up that ball and ran with it. It's a great story. LISA - this is a spot-on book for teachers to read, and maybe to share with your students (depending on their age), because it really does show how much potential we have to make a difference. Thanks for writing!

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