How far would you go to help a friend, even if that person were homeless and mentally ill? Those are questions that incoming Cal State Northridge freshmen will explore as part of the university’s Freshman Common Reading Program for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Steve Lopez’s bestselling book, “The Soloist,” is this year’s selection for the “One Campus, One Book” reading program that invites campus community members across disciplines to join the incoming freshman class in an exploration of a common subject.
“The Soloist” has been hailed as “an inspiring story of heartbreak and hope” by Publishers Weekly. It is the true story of Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez’s discovery of Nathaniel Ayers, a former classical bass student at Juilliard, playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Deeply affected by the beauty of Ayers’ music, Lopez took it upon himself to change the musician’s life—only to find that their relationship had a profound change on his own life. The book was adapted into a movie with the same name that was released earlier this year.
“I hope this year’s freshmen will be drawn to the book by its compelling story, its vivid evocation of downtown Los Angeles, and by Lopez’s really engaging style,” said English professor Cheryl Spector, director of CSUN’s Office of Academic First Year Experiences
. “Some students will undoubtedly see the movie, too. I hope they do, because its sights and sounds will help them understand the enormous distance between Skid Row and Disney Hall—and because the movie is strikingly different from the book in many ways, which means both the movie and the book can become subjects for further study.”
The “One Campus, One Book” program places academic engagement—teaching and learning—“at the very center of the community we are asking students to join,” Spector has said.
Faculty participating in the program can order the selected book for individual sections of freshman courses, and faculty across the campus and disciplines are encouraged to incorporate issues raised by the book into their curriculum.
To further encourage campus-wide discussion of the book, Lopez will be the keynote speaker at the 2009 Freshman Convocation scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3, on the Oviatt Lawn.
The selection criteria for books for the common reading program must address four questions: Does the book 1) engage freshmen and draw them into reading and reflection, 2) encourage freshmen to grow intellectually, 3) encourage thought in a variety of courses and contexts, and 4) value diverse cultural perspectives and address contemporary social issues.
“ ‘The Soloist’ is powerful in part because it tells two stories of transformation,” Spector said. “The outwardly obvious story focuses on Nathaniel Ayers and his rediscovery of the ‘redemptive power of music.’ But the other occurs out of sight, less dramatically, in the heart of Steve Lopez as he is transformed from a newspaperman just looking for a story to a man capable of extraordinary patience, empathy and love in his ‘unlikely’ friendship with Mr. Ayers.”
Spector said she hopes that the dialogue sparked on the campus by the shared reading of “The Soloist” stretches beyond Cal State Northridge’s walls.
“The book certainly focuses on tough topics, but it also affords us a curiously unintended glance at what we may stand to lose if print journalism continues to shrink,” she said. “Lopez as an individual in the book is a stellar figure in many ways. Yet his ability to do good is enormously magnified by his public position as a columnist at the Los Angeles Times. One wonders what will happen next time Steve Lopez wants to change the world, and he doesn’t have the readers at the newspaper. They are very powerful democratic tools, newspapers.”
For more information about CSUN’s Freshman Common Reading Program, visit its Web site http://www.csun.edu/afye/CommonRead.html.