As everyone knows — we can all summon up her voice in our heads — Ramona Koval is the legendary former host of RN’s Book Show. Last night she launched one of new careers, as a writer, at the North Fitzroy Star — her memoir, By the Book: A reader’s guide to life. I loved listening to her on radio so I was pleased to be there (doubly so as I designed the book). It was an occasion bright with her old friends and assorted luminaries. As the publisher Michael Heyward said, It’s more like a wedding than a book event.

The launch oration was given by an enthusiastic Helen Garner who made the cheerful boast, to much nodding, “We know a hell of a lot, this generation.”

Ramona began her speech by popping a few passionate tears, which she blamed on vodka; she was overcome by the moment — gratitude for arriving here to be surrounded by comrades and supporters. The book is about a life lived with books; and the books that guided her life. She told stories of her mother, that great reader, so often found on the deep purple divan: “She was lost to us for that time.” And she wondered why she had all these books on the Antarctic.

From Chapter 6: When I was a radio broadcaster specialising in books, writing, reading and ideas, one of the highlights of the work was the torrent of books that came pouring into my office from all over the world. Did I become spoiled, blasé even, with the quality and quantity of works that were available to me? Certainly, but I noticed that there were some books that managed to survive my  treatment of close reading, note taking in margins and on the endpapers at the back, and being then offered to  colleagues or charities or to friends. The books made it through to line the walls of my home.

Inspecting my shelves, certain patterns emerge, and form themselves into collections.

If novels were my exploration through fields of imagined places and characters, what were my books about exploration for? Where did my affection for explorers, particularly of polar regions,  spring from? Why did I gravitate to the their  journals and to travellers’ tales?

Garner and Koval made what I thought were a pair of connected remarks. Garner: “The hardest thing [for a writer] is to find a suitable form.” Koval: “I looked around me at the bookshelves and realised there was an archaeology of the self.” Those two thoughts point to the book Ramona has written.

Ramona got to that moment when you’re anxiously trying to thank all the necessary folk, and just recalled in time to appreciate her partner: “And I have to thank Dave — where were you all this time? Dave, my true love, thank you for turning up.”


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