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Summer reading: Kate Racculia on 'The Perilous Gard'

August 6, 2010 | 10:05 am

Kateracculia_webKate Racculia grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and attended graduate school in Boston. Yet her debut novel, "This Must Be the Place" has a lure of Hollywood -- special-effects Hollywood, that is, "Jason and the Argonauts"-style. In the book, a Northeasterner is enchanted by the classic Ray Harryhausen films; she comes to California to work in special effects. Years later, after a freak accident, her bereft husband goes to her hometown, moving into a boarding house run by his wife's oldest friend and her daughter. More than 200 people turned out to Racculia's recent book launch in Syracuse.

Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading a specific book during the summer?

Kate Racculia: Summertime has always been about happily glutting myself on books, especially while on family vacations, so I have scads of fond summer reading memories -- Stephen King's "The Stand" (I was coming down with a cold and convinced myself it was Captain Trips); Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" (OK, I was technically rereading it for something like the fourth time); "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell (devoured greedily in a day and change, and wished for more) -- but my single clearest reading experience was of a historical young-adult novel called "The Perilous Gard," by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

JC: What year was it, and how old were you?

KR: It was 1992; the Summer Olympics were blasting in from Barcelona on the tiny, rabbit-eared television set, and I was 12.

JC: Where were you?

KR: On vacation with my family at camp (“camp” being a regionalism for a lake cottage) on Oneida Lake in upstate New York.

JC: What about the book was significant to you then?

KR: It was a book that had been kicking around my shelf for about a year, ordered through a school book club (probably because the name -- perilous! -- sounded intriguing) but that I had never read. Once I had it in my hands, the cover image of a young woman in billowy garments clutching her throat dismayed me. I expected a lot of hand-wringing and fainting, and, worst of all, a main character who was completely useless in the face of danger. BOY, was I wrong.

I started reading around 11 in the morning and did not leave the hideously uncomfortable chair I’d planted myself in until I was done, some 10 hours later. Not only was it a totally ripping British-historical adventure yarn (England, months before the death of Mary and Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne!), there were child kidnappings! Mysterious pagan sects living underground! And a klutzy but clever heroine named Kate who gained inner poise, the grudging respect of the tough pagans, and the affections of a gorgeously tortured young man being fatted for human sacrifice. God, I love this book -- like I love all books that surprise and captivate me, that I don’t see coming but stay with me forever. "The Perilous Gard" was the first to ever pull that glorious trick on me, and for that, it has always had a place of honor on my bookshelf.

JC: Have you reread it?

KR: More times than I can count. The spine is cracked in a hundred different places.

JC: Have you returned to that place?

KR: My family hasn’t rented that same camp for quite some time, but I’ve been coming to Oneida Lake every summer since I was 3 years old.

JC: What are you reading this summer? Will you be taking a vacation (and bringing any books)?

KR: Of course -- to Oneida Lake! This year I’m packing William March’s "The Bad Seed," Allegra Goodman’s "The Cookbook Collector," David Mitchell’s "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," Kate Atkinson’s "Human Croquet" and "Anne of Green Gables" because (gasp!) I have never read it.

For more summer reading, tap into the Los Angeles Times' list of new summer reads: 60 books for 92 days.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Kate Racculia. Credit: Kristin Osiecki