Books interview: Alicia Walker

The sociology professor tells Matthew Reisz about her rural childhood, satisfying a hunger for the wider world through reading, and her (scholarly) interest in unfaithful men

February 15, 2021
Sociology professor and author Alicia M. Walker

What sort of books inspired you as a child?
When I was very young, I read everything I could get my hands on. Trips to the library were frequent and a favourite. Once I began school, I had to get special permission to expand my reading options beyond the only shelves from which we were allowed to check out books. And I was very pleased with myself to have greater access to reading materials. Later, I enjoyed Judy Blume’s books. Once I’d read everything she had to offer, I sought out stories that delved into family dynamics, and books that described lives in other kinds of places to where I lived. My family moved a lot, but we mostly lived in small, rural communities. So even stories of a kid living in the suburbs offered a window into other ways of being, knowing and doing, but stories of life in big cities or foreign countries provided a larger window.

Your new book, Chasing Masculinity, explores the motivations of ‘men who cheat’. What earlier publications spurred you to carry out research in this area?
I’d never read a book that offered insights into “cheating”. That’s part of the reason I had to write one.

You make extensive use of data from an online dating site. What would you recommend as a broader overview of the impact of the digital revolution on people’s romantic and sexual behaviour?
Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam’s A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us about Sexual Relationships is a must-read. These two researchers observed the online sexual behaviours of half a billion people and their book shares the fascinating results. I happened upon it in a bookstore during a summer in graduate school. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, well written and with truly interesting findings.

What is the last book you gave as a gift, and to whom?
I just gave my mother a copy of a thriller called Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane because it was such a page-turner. My jaw dropped when the killer was revealed. Often I guess early on, but this one stumped me. She loved it. We all need some distractions in this pandemic. I also recently gifted Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, a book you must read slowly, digesting between essays [on race, gender and capitalism]. The collection is both provocative and transgressive reading for all.

What books do you have on your desk waiting to be read?
I have a mix of academic books and fiction sitting on my desk. Diagnosing Desire: Biopolitics and Femininity into the Twenty-First Century by Alyson K. Spurgas will prove useful for my next book project. It examines the “new science of female sexuality” from a sociological perspective. Also waiting is Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, which was highly recommended to me. The book looks at how we both care for and repair ourselves when faced with challenges. Given the current challenges of living and working in a pandemic, this seems like a well-timed read. And finally, The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins, a twisty Southern Gothic about the missing wife of a rich man. It’s a reimagining of the Jane Eyre story.

Alicia M. Walker is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Missouri State University. Her latest book is Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validity and Infidelity (Palgrave Macmillan).

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