Amber Sneddon first became involved with the ReadThis! Community Literacy Program in April of 2012, and it didn’t take long for her to realize the impact the program had on her.
Sneddon, who was conducting research on autism for her undergraduate symposium at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, found an eye-opening book in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” by Mark Haddon when it was chosen as last year’s ReadThis! book.
She used the best-selling novel to aid her in her research on the subject, and she said the book, along with the accompanying lecture by national autism authority Dr. Temple Grandin, shed new light on a subject she was already familiar with.
“The book spoke volumes to me, because I’ve been infatuated with the spectrum. Autism itself is not something new to me, but after reading the text and hearing Dr. Grandin’s lecture, I began to have a different view of those on the spectrum,” said Sneddon, who graduated from UAFS in 2013. “These aren’t people others should feel sorry for, or even wonder why they are the way they are. These are people that our society should embrace and learn from their differences.”
Sneddon isn’t the only one reaping the benefits from the annual ReadThis! program, which was created by the College of Languages and Communication at UAFS. Each year, thousands of students and community members take part in the program, reading the book and participating in the numerous activities that supplement the literature.
This year’s selection, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, gives students and local residents a chance to read the classic Vietnam War novel, attend a reading of the book, and watch a film on the Vietnam War before getting a chance to meet the author when O’Brien comes to speak at UAFS in March.
The book launch will be held at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 28 in room 122 of the Boreham Library. The public is invited to a read-aloud event on Feb. 27 at the fireplace in the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center, where those attending will help read the book aloud in one day.
Another activity will be held from 2-5 p.m. March 3, when the ReadThis! committee will show free screenings of “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam.” The screenings are in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.
Finally, O’Brien will speak at the Stubblefield Center on March 12, an event which has faculty in the UAFS English Department excited.
“We’re ecstatic to be bringing Tim O’Brien to speak here at UAFS,” said Dr. Erik Carlson of Rudy, assistant professor of English and chair of the ReadThis! committee. “O’Brien is a tremendous speaker, candid and insightful, and we hope his visit attracts the interest of people all around the Fort Smith region.”
Carlson said that participants in the ReadThis! program can learn something “unexpected” from “The Things They Carried.”
“If you read this book with open eyes and an open mind, you will learn something, and probably something important,” he said. “But it will probably be something about yourself, something that comes about as a response to the book. Neither I, nor the book, nor probably the author, could tell you what it might be.”
Carlson hopes that people on- and off-campus will gather to discuss the book, to learn from the myriad of perspectives different readers bring to the text.
“Reading a book together literally gets people on the same page. People may not agree about this book, but that’s part of what reading is for -- it’s a way to start productive conversations,” he said. “We don’t know yet where it might lead. ‘The Things They Carried’ might start discussions about veterans and the struggles they face, it might start people thinking about how we remember the Vietnam War in our diverse community, or it may open up conversations about how people live with trauma in general.”
Sneddon lauded the committee and said the discussions she took part in about “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” helped her broaden her understanding of last year’s ReadThis! selection.
“The ReadThis! committee made it very easy to learn from others,” she said. “Everyone has a different view of the text, and my meetings with the committee were easily some of my favorite moments.”
But more than anything, the program taught Sneddon that there is always something new to learn about a book or subject, no matter how much you already know.
“People should take part in this program to educate themselves,” she said. “This was a topic that I thought I was an expert in from my own research, but I found out there is always something to learn.”