The Kingston University Big Read

Join the Big Read

If you are a new student starting Kingston University in September 2022, you will receive a free copy of this year's chosen Big Read title The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper.

To take part in the Big Read, just read the book over the summer and join in the discussions when you arrive at university in September. Current students and staff will read the same book so you will have plenty to talk about when you meet. You might also like to share the book with your family and friends – finding out how different people read the same book can be fun and interesting.

Once you get to Kingston University there will be lots of opportunities to share your thoughts – as well as the chance to meet the author and have your book signed in person. For now, bear in mind that all the students coming to Kingston, as well as the staff and students already here, are having the same experience. You are part of one enormous book group.

The Big Read 2022

The Gravity of Us is a coming-of-age novel about 17-year-old, social media journalist Cal, who is forced to move to Texas when his dad becomes an astronaut for NASA. There he meets the attractive and sensitive Leon. Will he be able to cope with the changes not only to his home and family, but to his dream?

KU alumnus and author Phil Stamper grew up in Dayton, Ohio and received his MA in Publishing with Creative Writing from Kingston University. His other novels include As Far As You'll Take Me, Small Town Pride and Golden Boys. He now lives in New York City with his husband and dog.

Check out this special message from Phil Stamper.

Book cover of The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Kingston University Big Read Book Club

This autumn we will be hosting our third Kingston University Big Read Book Club. During these unique online events, we will hear from a wide variety of Kingston staff members and alumni who relate their fields of expertise to specific chapters from The Gravity of Us.

The programme (below) will span a wide range of subjects, from social media and journalism to mental health and space.

Big Read Book Club Events

Week 1: Music

Date: 31 August, 2022

Time: 12-1pm

The Gravity of Us has a strong background soundtrack. Music is a continuous theme – perhaps because the author himself is a musician. For the main character it's a support system, and books get used as both first dates and peace offerings. There's also interesting consideration of how to store music and the best formats for sharing.

Sign up to the The KU Big Read: Music.

Week 2: Dreams, Identity and Careers

Date: 7 September 2022

Time: 12-1pm

What do you want your future life to look like – as a career, as an individual, as a friend? The book offers insight into making choices – and how to respond when life does not work out as you had planned.

Sign up to the KU Big Read: Dreams, Identity and Careers.

Week 3: Parenting Young Adults

Date: 14 September 2022

Time: 5-6pm

The main character has to move house in his late teens in order to fit in with his father's job. He really doesn't want to go, but has no choice. Once at the space station, however, he quickly makes some new friends, and they both observe and reflect on the relationships they see. We will talk about how we view our relationships with parents as we get older, and how all parties need to adapt to keep effective communication going.

Sign up to the KU Big Read: Parenting Young Adults.

Week 4: Mental Health

Date: 21 September 2022

Time: 5-6pm

The plot involves the characters going through many changes, through which their mental health needs careful handling. Several characters discuss their mental health needs.

Sign up to the KU Big Read: Mental Health

Week 5: Social Media

Date: 28 September 2022

Time: 5-6pm

The main character builds his online following in order to get his career going and online connectivity plays a key role in the plot. It relates to viral videos, journalism, celebrities and vlogging. We will discuss how much online communication is good and how to keep an online presence that also preserves some privacy.

Sign up to the KU Big Read: Social Media.

Week 6: Space

Date: 4 October 2022

Time: 5-6.30pm

Location: Town House Courtyard - Hybrid

Our final talk in the 2022 KU Big Read Book Club offers a fascinating opportunity to explore space – both what we can now see and know is there, and the business opportunities likely to open to us in future.

Dr. Neill Reid, will join us in person, over from Baltimore US. Associate Director for Science at the Space Telescope Science Institute, The Science Operations Center for the Hubble Space Telescope, The James Webb Space Telescope and the future Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, his unique access to the James Webb telescope, enables us all to share the latest images of space, from space.

Dr. Pauline Parker, Director of KU's MBA and Executive Education Portfolio, and currently working with colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and the Environment around business and space, will consider likely future advancements in business and its relationship with space. How the world can, should – and if so how – benefit from the new scientific advances and resulting understanding.

Sign up to the KU Big Read: Space.

What is the Big Read?

Kingston University has a really strong sense of community and since 2015/16 we have been building this through the development of our award-winning Kingston University Big Read.

First offered in 2015, the Big Read aims to make those coming to the university feel welcome before they arrive, and create links between them and the staff and students already here.

On meeting their offer, each new student (undergraduate and postgraduate) will receive a free copy of that year's special edition Kingston University Big Read title. Current students and staff will be invited to help themselves to a free copy from one of the many locations across each of the University's five campuses – and they will be available by the end of June, so they can be taken away on holiday and discussed with wider family and friends.

The scheme is based on similar projects in the US which have shown that creating a community through shared reading before students arrive helps them feel welcome, settle in quickly – and adjust to their new life as a student. Whereas a few universities in the UK have experimented with reading schemes linked to specific types of books (e.g. prize winners) within particular faculties, Kingston is the first UK university to establish a scheme on such a wide scale, and to involve both the full university as well as the local community.

What is the Big Read?
Colleagues from Kingston University attending the prestigious Times Higher Education's Annual awards where the project secured 'Widening Participation/Outreach of the Year' in November 2017
How the Big Read developed

How the Big Read developed

The potential relevance of the project was explored through questionnairing first year students in 2015. After a very positive response, we trialled the scheme for those joining the University in autumn 2015. Students loved it, and talked of their excitement at receiving a 'gift' from their University – as well as feeling 'expected' and 'welcomed'. One of the most interesting findings, however, was the impact the project had within Kingston University staff. Many were more eager to participate than had been anticipated. The title chosen for the first Kingston University Big Read was Nick Hornby's About a Boy.

Since 2016, the process for choosing the book has been much more complex. The starting point is suggestions made by staff and students. All suggestions are carefully analysed according to a number of criteria considered important, for a book that all would read. The information is loaded into a database so that comparisons can be made. The result is an algorithm, which produces a shortlist of six titles. A panel of volunteers spend months reading and deliberating, before coming to their final decision: the chosen Kingston University Big Read.

Previous winning titles

  • 2015: About a Boy by Nick Hornby
  • 2016: The Humans by Matt Haig,
  • 2017: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
  • 2018: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
  • 2019: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • 2020: Airhead by Emily Maitlis
  • 2021: The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu 

In 2016/17 we shared our Big Read with Edinburgh Napier, to explore how pre-arrival shared-reading worked across two universities committed to widening participation. In 2017/18 we worked with Wolverhampton University and in 2018/19 with Wolverhampton, Edge Hill University and the University of the West of Scotland. In both 2020/21 and 2021/22 we worked with Edge Hill University and St. George's University. This year, 2022/23, we are working with St. George's University and Royal Holloway University.

Big Read partners

We work with many partners to bring you the Kingston University Big Read. These include, but are not limited to, publishers, authors, Kingston Borough, and the Higher Education sector. We have worked with Wolverhampton University, Edge Hill University, The University of Western Scotland, St. George's University and Royal Holloway University. All are institutions committed to widening participation. If you would like to know more, or consider becoming a partner too, please contact us at kubigread@kingston.ac.uk.

Higher Education sector

U3A (University of the Third Age)

U3A is a nation-wide movement for those no longer in full time employment. It provides educational, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment with the teachers learning and the learners teaching. We're very happy to have Kingston's own U3A members joining us in reading our book and attending the related events that surround it.

Publishers

Bloomsbury: Big Read 2022 Partner

Bloomsbury is a leading independent publishing house with Nobel, Pulitzer and Booker prize winning authors. We are so excited to work with Bloomsbury and Phil Stamper for the first time this year.

Dialogue Books: Big Read 2021 Partner

An imprint of Little, Brown and Hachette and run by publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, Dialogue Books focuses on LGBTQIA+, disability, working class and BAME stories. We are proud to have had Okechukwu Nzelu and Dialogue Books as our 2021 partners.

Penguin Books: Big Read 2015 / 2017 / 2019 / 2020 Partner

Part of Penguin Random House, one of the big five publishers, this was the fourth year that Penguin Books partnered with the Big Read to provide a wonderful bespoke edition for us all to enjoy.

HarperCollins: Big Read 2018 Partner

HarperCollins is the second largest consumer book publisher in the world. They focus on fiction, narrative non-fiction and children's books.

Canongate: Big Read 2016 Partner

Edinburgh-based Canongate is one of the most dynamic publishing houses in England, publishing the varied and wonderful works of a whole host of prolific authors whilst changing the way publishing is done. We were proud to have both Canongate and Matt Haig as our partners for 2016.

The Pigeonhole

In 2016 Kingston University teamed up with the global book club and digital reading platform, The Pigeonhole, to digitally serialise the year's Kingston University Big Read choice, Matt Haig's The Humans.

The partnership with The Pigeonhole allowed a further 10,000 members of staff and existing students to join the scheme and receive a free digital version of the book via an app and web-reader which they used to interact with each other before and after arriving at the University.

Local community

Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames

Working closely with our local community, the Big Read joined forces with the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, specifically working closely with local libraries in the area.

Joel Community Services

Working to put the home back into homelessness, Joel Community Services is a local night shelter community based on mutual respect, support and co-operation. In 2016 the Big Read gave a number of our special edition copies of The Humans available to guests and volunteers at Joel Community Services. Author Matt Haig was keen to join them for a meal and discuss everything, from the book and his work as an author to the guests themselves and the broader picture of homelessness in the UK in 2016.

Contact us

If you would like more information regarding the Kingston University Big Read, to suggest a title, or to volunteer to be part of an upcoming selection committee, please contact us at: kubigread@kingston.ac.uk.

Alternatively for press information, please contact the Kingston University Communications team.