The Big Read is an exciting reading scheme. The scheme aims to make new students feel welcome, give them something in common with other new students and create links between them and the wider university community. Undergraduate students receive a special Edge Hill edition of the book before they start with us, and activities and events related to the book are arranged to encourage community building.
Our book for 2021/22 is The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu. Previous books have been:
- Airhead by Emily Maitlis
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The scheme gets really good feedback and is something we’re really proud of:
“Great! ‘Life is out there’ and so are many lonely people. This read gives a great insight to loneliness and how important a simple friendship can be so valuable.”
“This book really helped me get to university. I saw someone reading it and asked for help with directions, and it worked. Thank you.”
“I think the Big Read is a fabulous idea as it joins people together through a love of reading which is a fab idea. It is such an interesting book.”
Explore the books
From a shortlist of six books, this year’s title has been selected. The 2021 Big Read is The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu.
Nnenna was a popular choice, the book features themes common to new university starters – feelings of belonging, being unsure, loneliness, friendships, relationships. It engages with a broad range of inter-sectional issues such as identity, family origin, class, sexuality and gender.
As Nnenna Maloney approaches womanhood she longs to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian culture. Her once close and tender relationship with her mother, Joanie, becomes strained as Nnenna begins to ask probing questions about her father, who Joanie refuses to discuss.
Nnenna is asking big questions of how to ‘be’ when she doesn’t know the whole of who she is. Meanwhile, Joanie wonders how to love when she has never truly been loved. Their lives are filled with a cast of characters asking similar questions about identity and belonging whilst grappling with the often hilarious encounters of everyday Manchester.
Airhead is the first book of award-winning broadcast journalist and former Newsnight host Emily Maitlis. The memoir includes thirty-six short chapters, each giving a behind-the-scenes account of an extraordinary, humorous, or illustrative moment in television reporting news.
Maitlis sheds light on the difference between what happens on the ground around a BBC news crew and the finished product we view from our living rooms, explaining her motivation for writing the book: ‘because of the pressure and time constraints of live television, much of the context is never fully relayed. What follows is my attempt to put that right’.
Some especially memorable sections include her accounts of interviewing controversial figures (Prince Andrew, Piers Morgan, Donald Trump) and fan favourites (Emma Thompson, David Attenborough, Gordon Ramsay, Steve Coogan). Her experience in political journalism takes us from elections in America to protests in Hong Kong and immigration conflict in Budapest. Maitlis also explores the more personal side of her profession. In one chapter focusing on Grenfell Tower and Theresa May, she reflects on the difficulty of determining when emotional involvement begins to encroach on best practice, while another chapter sees her in the uncomfortable position of finding her personal life in the headlines.
Emily Maitlis paid a virtual visit to Edge Hill University to deliver a personal account of her remarkable career, which has taken her around the globe to interview some of the most notable politicians, international leaders and public figures.
Emily spoke exclusively to Edge Hill students, staff and the wider community about her book Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News, which is this year’s Big Read book, and delivered a thought-provoking talk as she reflected on her work, life lessons and the moments that have defined her career.
Four Edge Hill students were selected to interview Emily; Charlie Baker, Donna Martin, Maya Gibson and Caden Lunness.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is an award-winning book from author and playwright Rachel Joyce. The book was inspired by her father’s battle with cancer. ‘If we don’t go mad once in a while, there’s no hope,’ sums up the essence of this story very well.
Harold Fry, a retired salesman, decides to walk up to the post-box to send a letter to a dying friend Queenie. Reaching the post he decides that was not enough – and from then on keeps extending his journey, ending up walking all the way in the hope of seeing her. Still wearing his yachting shoes he hopes that if he does something extraordinary, there is a chance Queenie will survive her illness.
The Reading Committee made a near unanimous decision to choose this book. It was thought that although slightly longer than perhaps initially desired, the book brought joy and hope to the reader. With students about to begin a similar journey on their own, it was decided that Harold Fry would be the ideal book to accompany them.
Published in 2012 – the book had won widespread praise. It won Rachel Joyce Writer of the Year award at the National Book Awards of 2012. Her debut was a long-list finalist in Man Booker 2012. She was shortlisted for several other awards but was also the best-selling author in the UK in 2012. Since publication it has consistently been in the bestseller lists and the translation rights have been sold to over thirty-four territories worldwide. The film rights have been bought and the script is being written.
Rachel Joyce urged Edge Hill University students to be brave and “step out” while speaking at a special event on campus. She also confirmed plans for a film and musical adaptation and revealed that one offer, which sadly didn’t come to fruition, had involved John Travolta.
Rachel thanked The Big Read project for selecting her novel and urged students to learn from Harold Fry’s mistakes by having the courage to find out who they are.
“Young people today have to be really brave and need to ruffle things. Harold Fry spent his life in a car, he didn’t have the courage to step out and find out who he was. Don’t be afraid, find out who you are, step out.
I hope Harold Fry speaks to students: he’s going on a journey, he’s not experienced in the world. He learns to connect, he learns we’re all different. That’s a precious lesson, especially now.”Rachel Joyce
Eleanor Oliphant is a really unusual story – with a winning heroine. At its most basic it’s a novel about loneliness, but also kindness and generosity. Of the six titles on the shortlist, it was the unanimous choice among our panel. It is felt that the book had so much to offer whilst being a pleasantly accessible read no matter your age, discipline or background.
The book has won widespread praise. It won the 2017 Costa First Novel Award and was shortlisted for a number of other prizes. Since publication it has consistently been in the bestseller lists and the translation rights have been sold to over thirty territories worldwide.
Gail Honeyman made a special visit to Edge Hill University to discuss her work. Gail told the public audience the idea for the novel came after she heard about a young person who went home on Friday and didn’t speak to anyone until she returned to work on Monday. She said:
“Loneliness is something you read about in the news but a few years ago it was not discussed at all. We think of it as a problem for older people……it was unusual for a young person to articulate that experience. I thought, how could a young person live that type of personal life. Eleanor grew from that.”Gail Honeyman
Frequently asked questions
The book is chosen through a process which invites suggestions from across the universities. The chosen book is customised by the publishers with the Big Read branding and the name of the University partner. The first page includes a letter from the Vice-Chancellor which welcomes students to Edge Hill, explains the book is a welcome gift and that book related activities will be arranged for them to get involved with.
From January 2022 students and staff will be able to collect a copy of this years Big Read from key locations across campus, we’re encouraging everyone to read it and pass it on to a friend or drop it back at one of the collection points for someone else to pick up and enjoy. Free copies of the book are available from the Catalyst Helpdesk, Business School foyer, Creative Edge foyer, English, History and Creative Arts foyer, Faculty of Education foyer, Faculty of Health, Social Care and Medicine foyer, Hale Hall and Manchester St James’ reception.
You can get involved in the Big Read in a number of ways. From reading the book, to entering our competitions or attending events planned around campus. You may want to organise your own book group or event. If you have thoughts on future events or activities, please email us on [email protected].
Yes, whatever you think about the book and the Big Read, we want to hear from you. You can share your thoughts with the hashtag #EHUBigRead or email us using on [email protected].
Do you have any thoughts on the Big Read that you’d like to share with us? Or perhaps you’ve got ideas for a Big Read themed event or activity?
Let us know using the form below, we’d love to hear from you.