Summer reading: Meg Cabot on Anne McCaffrey's 'Dragonriders'
Girls love Meg Cabot for her bestselling series "The Princess Diaries," and the two movies made from it starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. But Cabot is not one to rest on her laurels; she's a massively prolific writer who has published several series, writing for teens, kids and adults. Her latest two books (as of this writing, at least) are April's "Runaway," the last of her Airhead novels, and June's "Insatiable," the beginning of a new adult series that's part modern romance, part comedy and part vampires.
Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading a book or books during a specific summer?
Meg Cabot: I spent a significant portion of the summer of 1980 reading the Anne McCaffrey "Dragonriders of Pern" series (starting with the Harper Hall series).
JC: What year was it, and how old were you?
MC: It was the summer I graduated from eighth grade -- 1981 -- so I was 14. I had just gone to my first boy-girl party, at which a bunch of my classmates paired off and started slow-dancing, then making out. My best friend and I didn’t get asked to slow dance. We decided it would be hilarious to spy on everyone kissing through the basement windows, so we snuck out to do so. I didn’t know there was poison oak growing all around the house.
JC: Where were you?
MC: Carmel, Calif. My father was teaching at the Naval Academy in Monterey for a year on sabbatical. Normally I lived in Bloomington, Ind. That’s how I didn’t really have any friends, nor did I understand what poison oak was. I woke up the day after the party with a face the size of the Great Pumpkin.
I missed out on my eight grade graduation and all the rest of the summer activities. Poison oak actually went up my nose, into my ears, onto my eyes, and all down my neck. My mom had to put towels over all the mirrors because every time I saw my reflection, I would scream. I looked like Quasimodo.
JC: Why were the books significant to you then?
MC: I had a hideous facial deformity I thought was never going to go away, plus I was really nervous about starting high school back in my old town. One of my mom’s friends heard about what had happened, so she stopped by with all the Pern books (her daughter had read and loved them). I’ll forever be grateful to her for that. I lay in bed with a fan on my face (for the oozing) and read them, one after another, trying not to scratch.
Those books were amazing to me because the two main characters, Lessa and Menolly, were both social outcasts, just like I was at the time. And yet both women persevered in spite of tremendous hardships. Menolly was rejected by her family and had a physical handicap that could have prevented her from pursuing her dreams, but instead she found a new family, and a new dream. And Lessa, who everyone thought was just this dumb, ugly girl, couldn’t just talk to dragons -- she basically ended up saving the planet.
Those books really inspired me to stop feeling so sorry for myself. And when I did move back home and started high school, I used to pretend I was Menolly, and had fire dragons protecting me. God help me. Sometimes I still do it.
JC: Have you reread the books?
MC: I made my mom go out and buy me my own set that very summer. I still have them. I’ve traveled with them everywhere ever since.
JC: Have you returned to that place?
MC: I’d love to go back to Carmel. The Thunderbird Bookstore, where my mom bought all the books, was one of my favorites. I was heartbroken when I heard it closed.
But if I do go back to Carmel, I’ll know better than to stick my face into any bushes.
JC: What are you reading this summer? Will you be taking a vacation (and bringing any books)?
MC: Good or bad, this is the summer of Stieg Larsson. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t avoid "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," because my husband bought all the books on tape, and insists on playing them in the car.
But I’ve always had luck with girls and dragons, so I don’t want to avoid them.
For more summer reading, tap into the L.A. Times list of new summer reads: 60 books for 92 days.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Meg Cabot. Credit: Ali Smith
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