By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life by Ramona Koval

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Ramona Koval is a contemporary of mine, and a first generation Australian, the child of Polish Holocaust survivors. For this microbiologist, writer, broadcaster and journalist, books and the mysteries within them have shaped her life and subsequent work.  She believes, as I do, that people’s books are a kind of biography.

In By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life, she describes how her mother, an uneducated factory worker who wanted to improve her English, read a huge range of contemporary literature and encouraged her children to do the same. The young Ramona was introduced to the suburban Bus Library, and credits both the mobile librarian and her primary school teacher librarian for expanding her world through story and language.  And she recognises librarians as the custodians of culture and warriors in the battle for its survival.

 ‘In 1992,’ she writes, ‘the century old library of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina was shelled and burned.’ Librarians and other volunteers formed a human chain to pass rare and precious books and manuscripts out of the burning building.  One librarian was shot and killed by sniper fire, but the others continued the salvage and 10% of this irreplaceable collection was saved.

Unlike the Kovals, Australians have never known the repression of tyrannical regimes, where books are deemed subversive or seditious and are banned or burnt in public displays  of threatening control.  The great threat here is apathy.

 ‘Reading,’ says Ramona Koval, ‘is an act of free will… And it means independence of mind and spirit; nobody knows what you’re thinking at the time.’

And that’s a power within everyone’s reach…

Themes: Biographies, True Stories.

Jenny Watts