“You haven’t read Invisible Man?” asked my friend in Columbus, GA. We sat around on her porch smoking cigarette after cigarette and drinking bottles of beer. I hadn’t and I prepared myself for the onslaught of “Oh my god, you’ve gotta read it!” and “It’s definitely YOUR book!”
I don’t know how I’ve graduated high school and college without reading this canonical piece of literature. But I was never interested in it. Now that I’m 28 and I’m having one emotional crisis after another, I’ve turned to the book for answers.
I only did it after the umpteenth person questioned my literary prowess. I went to Noah’s bookshelf (yes, he’s read it too) and got started on it. And now that I’m halfway through it, I can honestly say that Invisible Man is changing my life.
Every page holds some sacred nugget of knowledge. All of it’s characters are pivotal to the story and hold some importance in my own life. After I’ve finished a chapter, it’s usually customary for me to take a break, but I keep going until I feel like I’m drowning.
The physiological response to reading so much Ellison, might need to be measured. After I’ve found a proper stopping point, I swim furiously back up to the surface and inhale sweet air. When I’ve folded down a page corner to mark my space, I’m exhausted. I’ve learned something new about myself, some new about the world and I’m simply exhausted.
Is that the mark of a good book?
I tend to believe it might be. I’m shocked that I let this one get away from me for all of these years. This book seemed to have been written for me. A young naive man following a carefully the orchestrated plan set by someone else, is being introduced into the world under the most strenuous circumstances. If he can learn to navigated this circumstances, he might be able to recognize himself as a full human being.
It’s difficult for me not to take such a personal approach to a book. I’m guilty of asking: “Yes, but how does it all relate to ME?” Not all books are for that. But I feel that Ralph Ellison wrote this text to included everyone. Not just the invisible black man, but the invisible human in a world of industry and the invisible young person grappling with life lessons they were never prepared for.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m only halfway through the book. I’m positive that when I finish the book that I will have the deflated yet uplifted feeling after all good books. I’ll be mildly depressed about leaving the characters behind and forging a path of my own. My thoughts will have to return to my own head instead of mingling with the nameless narrator. My own neuroticisms will have to be just that. My own. I’ll feel lonely.
But I believe that’s what a good book is suppose to do. It allows you to escape, on a bus, at work, in the doctor’s office, into its pages until it has no more to give. And believe me, I love taking and taking.