Meet the bookseller with Alexandra Mathew
We chat with Alexandra Mathew about her love for immersive books and classical music.
Why do you work in books and music?
My primary area of interest and knowledge is in classical music, but I also happen to love reading, so the two go together nicely. It’s a privilege to share my love of books and music with like-minded people.
What book or music would you happily spend a weekend indoors with?
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is the perfect rainy-day read. It’s completely engrossing and such a page-turner, much like The Goldfinch, which I’ve just started. As for music, I love staying in with Jordi Savall’s recordings of the viol music of Marin Marais. Savall is the undisputed master of viola da gamba, and his intimate interpretations of Marais are heartbreakingly beautiful.
Your job entails recommending good reads and music: how do you balance personal taste with customer nous?
I get a great sense of satisfaction when someone comes to Readings looking for a certain piece of music, and I’m able to find an appropriate CD, or introduce the customer to a musician or composer they may otherwise have overlooked. It’s a particular joy when I can recommend something special to me, such as my friend Siobhan Stagg’s CD Hymne à l’amour, or Anna Goldsworthy’s book Piano Lessons.
Describe your own taste in books.
I love immersive books; books that really transport me to a time or place, allowing me to forget where I am completely. Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper is a good example of this: I followed the characters throughout time from Melbourne, to New York, Chicago and Poland, and at the end of the book I felt as though I’d been on an enlightening and life-changing journey.
Name a book that has changed the way you think, in ways small or large.
Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and The Truce (you can find both these volumes in the one book here) had a huge impact on me and the way I view the world. Levi’s factual retelling of his time in a concentration camp and his journey following the liberation of the camp lay bare the brutalities of the Holocaust and World War II. These memoirs put life into perspective, and make me appreciate how lucky I am here in Melbourne.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I can’t go past Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. I read it while living in London and felt totally transported back to my beloved home city. I studied at the University of Melbourne (and loved the place so much I’m back there now), have enjoyed many delicious meals at Jimmy Watson’s on Lygon Street, and could just imagine strolling down Royal Parade as the protagonist, Don Tillman, whizzes past on his bike.
Who has the best book cover?
The cover of Imogen Holst: A Life in Music depicts the young woman with her arms in the air and face glowing with a happy smile. Is she dancing, or is she conducting the musicians seated before her? Folk dancing and conducting were among Holst’s main passions, and this cover captures her very essence.