This year's Book in Common project, which officially began last month with a presentation at Chico City Plaza, continues through the spring with book club discussions and a variety of other community activities.
The featured book, "The Soloist" ($15 paperback from Berkley Books) is by Steve Lopez, a columnist with the L.A. Times. It recounts Lopez' growing friendship over a two year period with a paranoid schizophrenic street musician, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who had played classical bass at Julliard thirty years before. (A film of the same name stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.)
This coming Wednesday, Oct. 21, your humble columnist is scheduled to co-host a discussion of the book with Nancy Wiegman in a special edition of her "Nancy's Bookshelf" program on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) from 10:00 - 11:00 a.m. Guests include Book in Common representatives from Butte College and Chico State University, though many other organizations are participating this year. (Updates are available at http://www.norcalblogs.com/soloist/.)
Much has been made of the themes of homelessness and mental illness that pervade the book, but readers should know that it is also about self discovery. As Lopez says, "one reason I write a column is for the privilege of vicariously sampling other worlds, dropping in with my passport, my notebook and my curiosity." Fair enough, but the musician gets under his skin: "Nathaniel turns my gaze inward. He has me examining what I do for a living and how I relate to the world as a journalist and as a citizen."
There is more: "I experienced the simple joy of investing in someone’s life, and the many frustrations have made the experience all the more rewarding and meaningful. I might not have always made the right choices in trying to help, but I came by each one honestly. I worked through the arguments for and against commitment. I wrestled with definitions of freedom and happiness, and wondered at times who was crazier—the man in the tunnel who paid no bills and played the music of the gods, or the wrung-out columnist who raced past him on the way home from sweaty deadlines to melt away the stress with a bottle of wine."
A haunting question, and not just for columnists.