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By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  132 ratings  ·  31 reviews
By the Book is Ramona Koval’s love letter to books and writing.

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
Hardcover, First Edition, 239 pages
Published November 2012 by Text Publishing (first published October 23rd 2012)
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Ramona Koval’s By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life is a memoir of the author’s reading journal. From her mother’s influences to her first library card all the way though to her career as a literary journalist. Ramona Koval writes this as a love story to the books that have influenced her life and career.

Not only is this book very easy to read, it might even offer some interesting titles for you to read. I know my ‘to read’ list suffered especially with the introduction to Richard Holmes; I’ve
Journalist Ramona Koval, well-known in her native Australia as a literary broadcaster and interviewer, follows in the footsteps of Maureen Corrigan (Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading) and Nina Sankovitch (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) with her memoir of a life spent reading.

Any reader’s memoir is, by its very nature, arbitrary – these are the books that have, seemingly by the purest chance, had an impact on this individual’s soul, even if they would mean little to anyone else. So, inevitably, there
Lyn Elliott
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, which I have read quickly in between others. I bought it in Kindle, thinking it was what I should be reading for this Monty's book club, then discovered that the book club is actually to read her Tasting Life Twice, a collection of interviews with leading authors. I have started on that too.

I am familiar with Koval as a reviewer of books and interviewer of writers, and in this book she gives a chance to follow her life's reading and thinking. It's a great discovery.
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly delightful read. I wanted to turn around at the end and start all over again. What a lot of interesting sounding books I was able to add to my To Read list too. Thank you, Ramona's for a joy that will continue.
David McLean
Books and Life do link
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's been so interesting to read these snippet's of another's life, all through the prism of books! It's all kinda personal, like you get to have tea with this person and she tells you all these stories.

That's one lucky find at a book fair.

Also, now I've got to check out some of these books, especially the ones on travels and journeys.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book made me very nostalgic. It reminded me of all the books that have shaped my life - and how books have shaped my life. It has also given me new impetus to read some of those books that have been lying on my shelves for years.
Peter Burton
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I admit I only skimmed this book for the books mentioned but it was interesting both for her life and her interests and well worth a read.I liked her chapters on Antarctica and her honesty about books unread,books one ought to try,ones she enjoyed etc
Ruth Gilbert
Sep 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A lovely guide through a reading life. It made me proud to be a reader.
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well written memoir(?) That really interested me. Nice to see something Australian too.
There’s something so engaging about Ramona Koval. It’s not entirely down to her extraordinary intelligence, her warmth, or even her absolute love of books: a perception of the world through words that is immediately familiar to me, though all of those things are true. I think it’s the combination of an almost iconic canniness mingled with vulnerability that comes through her writing. There's an absolute intimacy that invites complicity. Her latest work, By the Book, is a combination of memoir ...more
Like many booklovers, I like books that are about books and reading and I have quite a few. My favourite is Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby. The book is his very engaging account of returning to Columbia University in middle age and reading the canonical course works, many of which he had read before when he was previously an undergraduate. I’ve read huge chunks of it but never finished it because I keep ...more
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Brenda Niall describes By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life as a “quietly engaging memoir that finds its structure in the author's lifetime reading. The daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland, Koval grew up in postwar Melbourne knowing little about her parents' experience. Her mother, Sara, was always reading, improving her English and escaping her life.” (

Koval, like me, read adult books at a very early age. Her mother bought her a copy of
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It might seem strange for a book lover to admit, but I tend to stay away from books about books. That's because I'd rather read the books that are mentioned in the books about books.

But I made an exception for Ramona Koval's By The Book: A Reader's Guide to Life because I have such respect for Ramona as a journalist and broadcaster, and I was intrigued to see which books had meant a lot to her during her lifetime — a bit like an extended Triple Choice Tuesday, if you will.

And I wasn't
4ZZZ Book Club
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: interviews, 2012
Ramona Koval is perhaps Australia’s best known and best loved literary journalist, regarded highly here and throughout the world for her ability to, through careful reading and a thoughtful manner, draw interesting and entertaining answers from her guests. The host from 2006 to 2011 of Radio National’s Book Show and before that Books and Writing, she’s talked to a huge range of amazing authors and some of the best of these interviews have been collated into two works - Tasting Life Twice and ...more
Rob Carseldine
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is a great book. So good I finished it in just a few days. I'm a big fan of Ramona's from her ABC FM radio show, unfortunately not now running.

This is an affectionate memoir giving the reader some insight into how books influenced her life, particularly when very young. She was a precocious reader from a young age; Kafka at 11 or 12? How about that! Yet she admits giving up on a few books in later life, which was a comfort to me as I have done likewise.

Ramona tells us her given name is
Beverly Hollandbeck
I love books by readers writing about reading and by writers writing about writing. Mostly I like to hear what they say about books I have read, plus cull ideas for books that I might like to read. This book, by a "literary journalist," does not disappoint as she meanders through her childhood reading experiences and career choices. From the other side of the planet - Australia to my United States - she reflects just the type of books that I like: adventure, science, social science, and Oliver ...more
Sep 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a lovely book. Ramona Koval is a Melbourne institution and I was surprised, not that I liked her book, but at how much her childhood reading was all familiar to me. She talks about books that that I thought only I knew about and she talks about them as if she believes that about herself too. She is an only child of Holocaust survivors, growing up in Melbourne, ten years younger than I am and with a glittering career but I am surprised at how similar I feel or how familiar it all feels.

Nov 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Ramona Koval is a voracious reader. In By the Book, she brings to light the many books that have influenced her and her career. As a child, she was read to and supported in her reading by her mother. This love continued on to adulthood. She has read widely and keenly. Her love of reading is tangible. The wealth of knowledge and emotion and insight gained from the simple pastime is inspiring.
Meanwhile as a teacher, I try to inspire the kids in my watch to read. See, I say. Look what you have
Catherine Davison
Jul 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
So much resonated for me, her descriptions of the mobile library van pulling up and allowing us as little kids to climb the steps and select armfuls of books to read, to her description of her own house like mine just stacked with books I ache to read, then the idea which absolutely aligns with mine that when we read we are both making sense of our world and escaping from it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who has ever, like me, bemoaned the fact " so many books, so
This is a book readers book, from a book reader. I loved it. Ramona's mother restricted her physically while growing up, but there was no such restriction with what she could read. The highlighter was often marking phrases like "Paley had an uncanny genius for containing a world within a sentence...", or marking possible book titles to add to the 'to-read' list.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
I enjoyed the first few chapters that were about Romona's relationship and memories of her mother but then... My interest drifted away as Romona turned to some fairly tenuous connections to all sorts of pretty heavy going books, well heavy going for me. I guess my reading history connected with hers at the beginning but then I felt I wanted more of a narrative.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
A delightful story of a life told through the books which have effected the author. A wide-ranging and entertaining account of how books can entertain, educate, uplift and sometimes save us from despair.
Nov 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Ramona Koval's book is an embrace of all literature. It's delightful! It is an adventure into her life through the literature that made her the person that she is. I wish I could have travelled on her train of thought longer.
Jul 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I knew nothing about Koval, but from what I gather she's Australia's literary Terry Gross. Each chapter can stand alone but taken together it's a wonderful look at how who you are influences what books you read, and how the books you read can influence who you become.
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved being lead to more great books.
Sehar  Moughal
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book complements my love of books and thirst of worldly knowledge.
Michael Livingston
Dec 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Part autobiography and part jaunt through Koval's favourite books, this is a brief, easy read and leaves you charmed by the author and with a dozen more books added to your 'to-read' list.
Mar 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I entirely agree with Robs comments wish Ramona was still on the radio An interesting biography and more

Maria Gunn
Ramona Koval's words about books are riveting. I read this book in a single day. Highly recommended.
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