The City of Berkeley is joining the book-club craze, picking Ralph Ellison's “Invisible Man,” a first-person narrative on race that is considered by many as one of the great American novels, as the first selection.
Beginning at noon Friday, the Friends of the Berkeley Library will give out 500 free copies of the novel while supplies last at all Berkeley public libraries.
Published in 1952, the novel features an unnamed black narrator who is introduce in a basement in Harlem, stealing electricity to power his extensively illuminated dwelling from which the self-described invisible man tells his story.
According to Pat Mullan, supervising librarian at the Berkeley Library, the idea for the book club began earlier this year, prompted by “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey” a documentary made by Berkeley filmmaker Avon Kirkland, as well as by the book's 50th anniversary.
The documentary is scheduled to be screened on Aug. 22 at the recently renovated Central Library. Other events, including a community discussion on the novel on Aug. 15 and a couple of lectures in August, are also scheduled as part of the book club events.
In addition to the events, several local bookstores have committed themselves to selling the book at discounted prices and are prominently displaying the title in their stores.
The library also will be distributing special pins, so that those who are reading the novel can identify themselves on the street, which organizers hope will lead to a discussion on the book.
“It's kind of like having an attempt at a community bonding experience through the book,” says Pat Mullen, supervising librarian at the Central Public Library.
Mullen is the first to admit that the nearly 600-page book, which deals with the tough topic of race in America and is routinely in the annual list of banned books, is not typical community book club fare. But, she adds, this is Berkeley.
“I think it would be a harder run in another city,'' Mullen says. “Where this one city, one book project has been done before, people tend to choose books from the more traditional cannon, but it seems like Berkeley's got a pretty open mind.'”