Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Event: Ramona Koval

When Ramona Koval began to speak, the entire bookshop seemed suddenly at ease. Hers is a voice that we instantly recognise, as familiar as listening to an old friend, someone who we've been tuning into for years on ABC's Radio National. On Monday we had a chance to listen to her much-loved voice once again, when she came to Shearer's to talk about her new book By the Book.

Ramona spoke of her love of bookstores, and that being around books was where the idea for By the Book started. She told us about her childhood of reading, and the books her mother bought her as a child - and had a great anecdote about her mother purchasing a copy of the karma sutra! Certain books shaped her childhood, and there were books that defined her mother and family and what life was like for them. Ramona remembered a book in her house called Home Management Volume One. Published in the 1950s, it told you how to be a perfect family. She read it looking for instruction about how families and love worked, finding she often turned to books to find out about how the world worked, and especially to learn about love.

An important book for Ramona was Colette's My Mother's House and Sidowhere Colette plays fictional variations on the themes of childhood, family, and, above all, her mother. She delighted in Colette's stories, and encouraged us to read Colette if we hadn't yet - plus look for a photo of Colette on her 80th birthday taken by Walter Carone of her burning birthday cake (here it is!).

While Ramona loved Colette, nothing surprised her more than The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. It mirrored the fault lines of her family, and the lack of affection between her parents. Her French teacher set Madame Bovary at school, and Ramona wrote an essay - calling EmmaBovary a woman ahead of her time. She was the only student in her class who didn't think that Emma Bovary was a bad wife and bad mother, just that she was an unhappy and bored woman. Because Ramona felt as though Emma was describing her own adolescent life: her mother restricted her social life, and chose her clothes. But she was grateful that her mother never restricted her reading life.

Ramona also told us a lovely story about how her granddaughter is learning to read, and read the first paragraph of her book. Her relationship to the books that have been written into her life was beautiful to hear, and By the Book is a wonderful memoir. It was also interesting to hear about how she treats her books! She said: "My books were my workplace, my office. I wrote in pencil all over them."

After signing some books for us, Ramona had to dash off to an interview with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live on the ABC. You can her the interview with Phillip here:

- Antonia

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