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A Reading List For The Social Distancing Era, From Author Ben Philippe


If you were stuck on a desert island, what five books would you bring with you? It's a fun parlor game question turned into reality right now. So with millions of people sheltering in place, who better to answer that question than writers? Young adult author and professor Ben Philippe says he had a list of the books that he'd bring with him, but when the time arrived, he ended up turning to a favorite childhood series for comfort.

BEN PHILIPPE: An insight from this crisis we're in is that all of my previous desert island lists were complete BS, apparently, because I am not rereading "The Virgin Suicides" or Dostoyevsky or all the books I would normally say that, ooh, I get a lot of, like, comfort from the grim tones of "Notes From The Underground." Nope. I am rereading "Animorphs," (laughter) the entirety of the series. And there's something sort of, like, kid-ish and fun about the concept of, ooh, what if you were an eagle? What if you were an alligator?

And the "Animorphs" are actually an incredibly dark dystopia, where there's already an alien invasion of Earth underway, and five kids discover that, basically, the Earth is doomed, but they're going to fight it off the best they can. Underneath it all, there is such a looming sense of, like, despair. And I don't think I ever sort of latched onto that darkness when I was, you know, 14, 15. But now I'm like, oh, God, this is so bad. And it's really soothing my brain because even though the world is so dark, these kids keep going on. They still have crushes. They still go to dances. They have family gatherings. And part of them, basically, fighting off the aliens is that they have to keep pretending that the world is normal. They have to - they don't want people to suspect them of sort of being rebels. So they just have to keep pretending everything's fine.

And sometimes they have personal breakdowns, but then they have to just sort of put on a smile and then go back into the world, which as a professor, I resonate with (laughter) because when I get emails from students who are like, does my screenplay matter - like, the world is insane - it just feels overwhelming, and, you know, every cell in my body wants to scream, yeah, I know. No, you're totally right. Why did you not, like, major in immunosciences? That's what we need right now.

But, you know, you have to fake it. You have to be like, hey, I know it's scary, but the world has a way of enduring, and this is just one more crisis, and hard days make for good stories, et cetera, et cetera. But I think that that sort of element of, like, pretending and going on is very appealing to me right now.


SHAPIRO: That's Ben Philippe, author of "The Field Guide To The North American Teenager." He is reading the "Animorphs" series by K.A. Applegate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUM SONG, "BLESSED BRAMBLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.