We speak to Alice about transitioning from academia to publishing and her collection of art books from the 1970s.
Hello! My name is Alice Hoad and I recently finished my PhD in art history and performance studies at the University of Bristol. I currently work in the marketing team at Manchester University Press, where I am responsible for marketing books on the politics and social sciences lists - so a little out of my comfort zone subject wise! What does a typical day in your current role look like? Well, I am currently working from home due to the lockdown, so in the morning I head to my study and start checking my emails. We have our marketing team meetings via Zoom, which often feature my colleagues’ pets and babies - always a highlight! And then for the rest of the day, I work on campaigns for each of the books on my list, recently we have launched a series of online author talks which I love to host. How has working in academic publishing changed your reading tastes? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
This is a great question. I would say that I had already read my fair share of academic books before I started working at MUP - my PhD bibliography alone had hundreds of books! What I do enjoy is getting great book recommendations from my colleagues in the office. We have a book group WhatsApp and the suggestions are always great. Where do you buy or access your books? I like physical books so I don’t have a Kindle or e-reader. I buy in bookshops where I can, particularly local or independent shops. There is also a fabulous Oxfam bookshop in my village, and an excellent second-hand bookshop hidden behind a rather unassuming cafe. It’s a book lover’s dream - with heaving shelves, thread-bare armchairs and a shop dog!
What books have you been reading in lockdown? Do these books typify your usual reading taste, or have you found yourself reading other genres and authors? I have read a lot during lockdown as it’s nice to have a break from all the screen time. In the last couple of weeks, I have read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. But my favourite lockdown read was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which provided a much-needed dose of escapism.
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift? More of a prize than a gift, but during my A-levels, I took part in a national art history speaking competition called ARTiculation. I made it through to the final which was held at Clare College Cambridge and judged by the sculpture Antony Gormley. My talk was on L. S. Lowry. I didn’t win but I was given Honour and Fleming’s A World History of Art as a runner up prize - and Antony Gormely even signed it for me! What is your most beautiful book? Probably a couple of art books from the 1970s that I have always treasured. One on L. S. Lowry and one on Egon Schiele. I just adore them - coffee stains and all.
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did? Ohh good question. Yes, there is, it’s a huge biography of the French writer Georges Perec by David Bellos. I read it because I used Perec as a case study in my doctorate. I got the biography thinking I would just use it as a reference to check facts and dates, but then I started reading it and could not stop. It was incredible. The last chapter made me cry. No academic book had ever made me cry before! It is a towering achievement by Bellos, and rightfully won the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie in 1994.
What author or genre do you look forward to reading more of in the future? I have read some fantastic autobiographies and memoirs recently: Educated by Tara Westover, Motherwell by Deborah Orr and The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard. This is a genre I would like to read more of. In terms of authors, James Baldwin, Iris Murdoch and Proust are on my list. What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far? Stoner by John Williams was a surprise. A quiet little novel that sneaks up on you in the weeks after you finish reading it. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I was also blindsided by the end of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - just phenomenal. The ending reminded me of the end of Fleabag, how brave and brilliant a writer has to be to end a love affair at an empty bus stop.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year? I am currently reading Yes To Life In Spite of Everything by Viktor E. Frankl, which I am loving so I plan to read more from him. I also want to read Hannah Arendt and more Georges Perec. I have also heard great things about Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo so that’s on my list. What book should everybody read? A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It is perfection. It will destroy you. It will teach you everything you need to know about love and life and loss and living. If you only ever read one book in your whole life, just made sure that it’s this one.
Readers can find Alice on Twitter @DrAliceHoad. She is in the process of turning her PhD into an Instagram @fragmentsofpresence.