Required Reading: Yes, you need to read these books.


screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-19-36-11Philadelphia Fire: a novel by John Edgar Wideman

Anyone who grew up in Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s remembers the MOVE group. John Edgar Wideman’s  novel, Philadelphia Fire, was inspired by the 1985 police bombing of the MOVE house in West Philadelphia that killed eleven people and razed an entire neighbourhood, destroying sixty houses. What surprises me is that no one outside of the Philadelphia area seems to even know about this, but it’s left an indelible mark on the city.

So what is Philadelphia Fire about? From the blurb: Cudjoe, a writer and exile who returns to his old neighborhood after spending a decade fleeing from his past, and his search for the lone survivor of the fire — a young boy who was seen running from the flames.


In case you’re wondering who is the little boy running from the flames, the character is based on Birdie Africa, who died in 2013. He was the lone child survivor of the bombing and spent years trying to build a new life for himself. He was only 41 when he died.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-19-56-26Another book that is definitely required reading is Kindred by Octave E. Butler. This is a brilliant take on time travel/speculative fiction with Dana, a modern-day black woman, finding herself time and time again being snatched from her home in California and transported back to the antebellum South to save the life of a white plantation owner’s son. Each time, she is stuck there longer and longer and more dangerous and Dana finds herself drawn to the slave quarters and wondering if she will ever be able to return to the present, or if her life will end before it’s even properly begun.

I love Octavia Butler’s novels. She was an amazing writer and her stories speak to the human experience, of the ways humans work against each other, and are as relevant today as when she first wrote them.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-20-58-45Kim McLarin‘s Meeting of the Waters is set in the tense months following the 1992 LA riots. What happens when Porter Stockman, a white journalist covering the trials of police officers who beat Rodney King, finds himself in danger in the midst of the riots and black journalist Lenora Page saves his life. Afterwards, he tries to find her, but she’s disappeared into thin air. Back in Philadelphia, he ends up finding Lenora right under his nose in the offices of the newspaper where he works. What starts as a wary friendship becomes a turbulent relationship, with Lenora constantly second-guessing Porter and Porter not understanding Lenora’s uncertainty and resenting that she is not always open with him or others about their relationship and that he is always on the defensive.

Just as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 2001.

Haven’t read any of these? Do yourself a favour and one-click ASAP.


4 thoughts on “Required Reading: Yes, you need to read these books.

  1. Pingback: Required Reading: Yes, you need to read these books. – Defining Ways

  2. First I’m hearing of “Meeting of the Waters” but definitely adding it to my list.

    I remember the MOVE fire and just couldn’t understand why there wasn’t more public outrage. In contrast to…

    …the 1992 LA riots. I worked five miles from downtown and was thankful I wasn’t closer. It was just…crazy. I could look out my second story bedroom window in Pasadena and see the billowing smoke in LA. 😞

    • I was in high school when the MOVE fire took place. You could smell the smoke from just about everywhere in the city. My parents lived in West Philadelphia–it was around a 20-minute drive from Osage Avenue and you could see and smell the smoke from where we lived. An old friend and I went to the top floor of one of the tower dorms at University of Pennsylvania. From there you could see all the way over to Osage Avenue and I remember thinking it was hard to believe that this was happening. There was a lot of outrage in Philadelphia about what happened. We have a conflicted history with the MOVE group. I lived not too far from what I think was the first MOVE house–which was in Powelton Village on Drexel University’s campus. The people who lived in that neighbourhood were scared of the group. In 1978, there was a yearlong standoff when the police were ordered to evict the group from their house on 33rd Street. It culminated in a shootout on August 8th. I was eight years old then and can remember being able to hear the gunfire. A police officer was killed and several MOVE members ended up in prison convicted of his murder. A lot of people were convinced that would be the end of the MOVE group but a few years later it was reported that they’d obtained a house in another part of West Philly.

      Now when the 1992 riots took place, it was just before I was going to move to Richmond, Virginia to work on my master’s degree. As soon as the verdict was given, everyone knew something awful was going to happen. When the riots started, I was on my way to work. I’d ridden my bike to the bookstore where I worked and my manager as worried about all of us who were supposed to work until closing. Even though nothing had really erupted in Philadelphia, there was this horrible tension in the air–as though anything could set it off. One of the guys who worked with me offered to drive me home, but one of my friends was going to meet me after work so I said no. In hindsight, I wish I’d said yes. When we were walking to my friend’s house, we ended up being confronted by a group of angry guys who were pissed off at seeing a black girl walking with a white guy. They started threatening us and the only thing that kept anything from happening was that two police officers walked out of the nearby 7-11. As soon as they approached us, the guys claimed they were just joking with us and walked off, but I remember being scared at what could have happened.

  3. Reblogged this on Ms M's Bookshelf and commented:
    I came across this extremely intriguing write-up this week on Kim Talks Books about an historical fiction novel base on the Philadelphia Fire in 1985. What Kim says about people outside the Philadelphia area not knowing about this incident is true. I had never heard of it and Kim’s review makes me want to read this book sooner rather than later. The other two books sound interesting as well. Take a look at Kim’s blog and enjoy my Sunday reblog!

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