By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life

Ramona Koval

By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life
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By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life

Ramona Koval

What is it about reading that we love so much? Why do books make our lives so much richer? Ramona’s Koval’s By the Book is about reading and living, and about the authors that have written themselves into her life: from Oliver Sacks to Oscar Wilde, Christina Stead to Grace Paley. It is about learning to read (and asking her mother to buy her a copy of the Kama Sutra), about love and science (and her childhood ambition to be Marie Curie), about Arctic exploration (and her ruminations on what part of a husky she would eat if she had to), about poetry and travel and falling in love. In our book-devouring nation, this is a book for every avid reader and every avid listener who has been spellbound by Ramona’s interviews over the years. By the Book is quintessentially Ramona: warm, bright, erudite - unmissable.

Review

Melbourne journalist and broadcaster Ramona Koval is well-known for her in-depth interviews with significant writers.

Now, Koval presents a love letter to the act of reading, packed as a loose gathering of her own literary history, from childhood to the present.

In short, it’s an ideal read for any bibliophile.

Koval’s writing is straightforward and makes for easy reading. Her tone is warm and inviting, just a touch short of wry: ‘How strange then, armed as I was with all this knowledge … I found myself married and pregnant at twenty to a young doctor, my own version of Charles Bovary’.

This is the lens through which Koval reveals her life story, in relation to the characters and places she discovers in books. Occasionally she even admits to revelations that occur during the writing process, incidents she’s half-forgotten but now remembers with new clarity.

There is a definite trend to sentimentality in these pages, but it’s easy to forgive Koval this foible as her joy in reading feels so genuine – and infectious! With a book like this, you will invariably find yourself adding to your own reading list, and Koval makes this all too easy by compiling a list of the titles in the final pages.

I took particular pleasure in Koval’s discussion of the journals of explorers, coupled with her own account of dog-sledding. While unpicking where this love of the ‘survival story’ (on the page and in life) comes from, she mentions Robinson Crusoe and her enduring fascination with the character’s scant possessions after being shipwrecked. He had ‘nothing about [him] but a knife, a tobacco-pipe, and a little tobacco in a box’.

I wondered how this wonderful line had escaped my own attention, but as By the Book implies with its blurring between life and reading, we’re never reading the same book as anyone else.


Bronte Coates is the Online & Readings Monthly Assistant. She is a co-founder of literary project, Stilts.

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