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The Soloist

The Soloist

Our selection for adult readers is The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, by Steve Lopez. This 2008 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.

The book is an inspiring story of music and friendship, as well as a compelling examination of homelessness, mental illness, public policy, and race in America. Reviewers have named The Soloist one of the best books of 2008. You can learn more about the book at the author's official website

Regular print, large print, and audio (unabridged) versions of the book are available at the Library. The Soloist is also the February selection in our Featured Book of the Month <http://cincinnatilibrarybooks.blogspot.com/> series.


"By turns harrowing, winsome, and inspiring, this work by novelist (In the Clear) and Los Angeles Times columnist Lopez relates the first two years of his friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers...Lopez's newspaper experience serves him well, and both he and his subject come across as fully developed individuals. A deeply moving story"
-Library Journal (starred review)

"With self-effacing humor, fast-paced yet elegant prose and unsparing honesty, Lopez tells an inspiring story of heartbreak and hope"
-Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2008 (starred review)

"Energetic prose delivers powerful insights on homelessness and mental illness."
-Kirkus, March 1, 2008

"Compelling, emotionally charged tale of raw talent and renewed hope.”"
-Booklist, March 2008 (starred review)


He tells me his name is Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. From Cleveland. He's going to keep practicing until he's proud of what he hears, he says, and I tell him I might like to write about him for the L.A. Times.

"Seriously?" he asks. "You'd really want to write about me?"

"Why not?" I ask...

He plays (the violin) for a while; we talk for a while, an experience that's like dropping in on a dream. Nathaniel takes nonsensical flights, doing figure eights through unrelated topics. God, the Cleveland Browns, the mysteries of air travel and the glory of Beethoven. He keeps coming back to music. His life's purpose, it seems, is to arrange the notes that lie scattered in his head.

I notice for the first time that his violin, caked with grime and a white chalky substance that looks like a fungus, is missing an important component or two.

"Your violin has only two strings," I say. "You're missing the other two."

Yes, he says. He's well aware.

"All I want to do is play music, and the crisis I'm having is right here. This one's gone," he says of the missing top string, "that one's gone, and this little guy's almost out of commission."

His goal in life, Nathaniel tells me, is to figure out how to replace the strings. But he got used to playing imperfect instruments while taking music classes in Cleveland's public schools, and there's a lot you can do, he assures me, with just two strings.

I notice while talking to him that someone has scrawled names on the pavement where we're standing. Nathaniel says he did it with a rock. The list includes Babe Ruth, Susan, Nancy, Kevin and Craig.

"Whose names are those,' I ask.

Oh, those people, he says.

"Those were my classmates at Juilliard." (pp. 4, 7)