To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year. Here is what I read in February:
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison: I bought this book from ThriftBooks a few months ago because I had heard the title and the author’s name multiple times in college classes. I walked into reading the book not knowing anything about it, which is unusual for me — I am also That Person who Googles movie plots before she goes into the movie theater. But just by the opening paragraph alone, I was hooked:
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
The story focuses on an unnamed black man — which is a crucial detail — who realizes that his racially-divided society refuses to see him as a real human being. The entire novel is a series of flashbacks to very unfair and traumatizing events, beginning when he’s a college student in the South and ending as an older man in an underground hideout in New York. At the end of the novel, he realizes that writing about his story helps him to be a voice for the socially and politically invisible.
What I loved the most about it was that for a book that was written in the 1950s, it felt incredibly contemporary. I loved that the narrative style was experimental, and that I could feel echoes of today’s social movements and the discussion surrounding minority rights, identity, racial inequality and micro-aggression. Sixty years later, the African-American community is still dealing with the same issues that this novel explores. I find that to be so disconcerting, but that’s why literature as a method of historical documentation and reference is so, so important.
If you’re interested in reading more African-American literature from the United States — and even if you aren’t — I recommend Invisible Man. And if you like it, read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (which also has an incredible opening) and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist.
Do you have recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments below.