Best-selling author to visit college

Students will have opportunity to meet, interact with Common Reader writer

Courtesy photo | Cover of between shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Courtesy photo | Cover of between shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

The author of a best-selling book that soon will become a movie is coming to Amarillo College. For the past seven years, AC has had the Common Reader program, which includes choosing a book for new students to read as well as organizing activities involving the book such as having the author visit AC. This year, the Common Reader chosen is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. At 11 a.m. Oct. 29 in the Badger Den, Sepetys will give a reading from Between Shades of Gray and answer moderated questions. At 7 p.m. in Ordway Auditorium, Sepetys will give a lecture with a book signing immediately following. “Every student can get something out of this program,” said Courtney Milleson, student success coordinator and an academic adviser. “For the student who is a strong reader and enjoys sticking their nose in a book, this is something that they can completely get into. For the student who has never really enjoyed the reading process, we hopefully pick a book that challenges them to get into a book and enjoy the reading process. “More students this year have walked up to me going, ‘I am not a reader, but I loved this book.’” Between Shades of Gray is a novel focusing on Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union and his deportation of Lithuanians to Siberia. The story is told from the point of view of 15-year-old Lina Vilkas and her family and the journey of extreme suffering they endure. When it came to picking this year’s Common Reader, the English department worked in conjunction with Milleson and her committee to make the decision. “We played a significant role – first in determining the initial list of books to be considered, then in vetting that list, and finally in recommending a selection to the CR committee,” said Frank Sobey, department chairman of English, humanities and languages. There has been an unexpected yet positive feedback about the Common Reader from students taking Composition I, one of the classes that requires reading the book. “I like that students are talking about the book,” Milleson said. “I hate it when I have to force a Common Reader on students, but when they come to me asking for books, I know we did something right. “I have to give all the credit to the English faculty. They led us into the direction of the book, and they were 100 percent right. This was a great experience. They said we really think students will read this book, and they were right.” English Professor Dr. Mary Dodson helped choose this year’s Common Reader and even centered her Composition I class on it after “test running” the novel last year. “

Learning history via textbooks is a hard sell,” Dodson said. “Solid historical fiction, on the other hand, allows – forces – the reader to step into the past and gain understanding of time and place. It’s all too often overlooked as one of the most successful means of teaching young people the value of learning about the past.” According to Milleson’s records, this year’s Common Reader has affected more than 400 students in and outside the classroom. “Centering my Comp I class on an engaging piece of historical fiction has allowed me to come up with more creative and interesting assignments and just makes Comp I more fun,” Dodson said. Both students and faculty have shared a positive response toward the Common Reader. “The book was great,” said Madeline Ramos, a biology major. “I honestly would not have read it if it wasn’t for the class requiring it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a captivating story. I liked the Common Reader being a part of Comp I. It really helped with the material we have to learn.” Denyale Jalai, an undeclared major, said books required in classes usually are not interesting enough but that this year’s Common Reader is an exception. “I really did like the book,” Jalai said. “It is very engaging and easy to read. It kept me on my toes the whole time. “I enjoyed it being a main focus in class, because it really is an educational and interesting book. “Normally the things you read for school are boring and lame, but this book is very good and one I recommend it to my friends.” Anyone who has a question for Sepetys to address in her presentations can send it in via Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #badgerbook.

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