By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life

Veteran Australian broadcaster Ramona Koval pairs life experiences with good literature in By the Book. Struck at a tender age by the sight of her Polish immigrant mother "lost" in the books she read to improve her English, Koval realizes in kindergarten that reading "was the key that opened the door to secret lands, strange places and the worlds behind other people's eyes."

Koval's intellectually libertine mother and a lenient local bus librarian permitted the future journalist precocious access. After tiring of the kids' section, 10-year-old Koval checks out Franz Kafka's The Trial; two years later, she asks her mother to buy her a copy of an "interesting" book she has only heard about--The Kama Sutra (this one Mama reads first). As an adult, Koval ranges through many subjects and develops a passion for science and books about explorers. One of the more extended scenes in this brisk memoir describes Koval's reading-inspired dog-sledding trip in the Alaskan wilderness.

After 16 years as the host of Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The Book Show, Koval has a knack for conveying the essence of a book without spoiling it. She also recounts key exchanges with interviewees as diverse as Grace Paley, Oliver Sacks and Paul Theroux.

Like-minded existential readers may want to use By the Book as a source of suggestions: Koval appends an extensive list of all the books that mattered to her, from Roald Amundsen to Colette to Halldór Laxness to The Little Red Hen. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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