How to Read Now: Essays
“How to Read Now explores the politics and ethics of reading, and insists that we are capable of something better: a more engaged relationship not just with our fiction and our art, but with our buried and entangled histories.”
“A book that doesn’t seek to shut down the current literary discourse so much as shake it up.” (The New York Times Book Review) Offering “its audience the opportunity to look past the simplicity we’re all too often spoon-fed into order to restore ourselves to chaos and complexity — a way of seeing and reading that demands so much more of us but offers even more in return." (Los Angeles Times)
"I gasped, shouted, and holler-laughed while reading these essays from the phenomenal Elaine Castillo. What powerful writing, what a rigorous mind. For as long as I live, I want to read anything Castillo writes, and you probably do, too." —R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
How many times have we heard that reading builds empathy? That we can travel through books? How often have we were heard about the importance of diversifying our bookshelves? Or claimed that books saved our lives? These familiar words—beautiful, aspirational—are sometimes even true. But award-winning novelist Elaine Castillo has more ambitious hopes for our reading culture, and in this collection of linked essays, “she moves to wrest reading away from the cotton-candy aspirations of uniting people in empathetic harmony and reposition it as thornier, ultimately more rewarding work.” (Vulture)
How to Read Now explores the politics and ethics of reading, and insists that we are capable of something better: a more engaged relationship not just with our fiction and our art, but with our buried and entangled histories. Smart, funny, galvanizing, and sometimes profane, Castillo attacks the stale questions and less-than-critical proclamations that masquerade as vital discussion: reimagining the cartography of the classics, building a moral case against the settler colonialism of lauded writers like Joan Didion, taking aim at Nobel Prize winners and toppling indie filmmakers, and celebrating glorious moments in everything from popular TV like The Watchmen to the films of Wong Kar-wai and the work of contemporary poets like Tommy Pico.
At once a deeply personal and searching history of one woman’s reading life, and a wide-ranging and urgent intervention into our globalized conversations about why reading matters today, How to Read Now empowers us to embrace a more complicated, embodied form of reading, inviting us to acknowledge complicated truths, ignite surprising connections, imagine a more daring solidarity, and create space for a riskier intimacy—within ourselves, and with each other.
Praise for How to Read Now: Essays
Praise for HOW TO READ NOW
"I gasped, shouted, and holler-laughed while reading these essays from the phenomenal Elaine Castillo. What powerful writing, what a rigorous mind. For as long as I live, I want to read anything Castillo writes, and you probably do, too."
—R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
"How To Read Now is a powerful punch in criticism's solar plexus: Castillo's take as the ‘unexpected reader’ is what literature needs now, both an absolute bomb and a balm—a master class in the art of reading. Her art is a corrective and a curative but also just a joy—humorous, insanely erudite, and absolutely necessary for our times."
—Gina Apostol, author of Gun Dealer’s Daughter
"Castillo’s How To Read Now took my breath away. Energetically brilliant, warmly humane, incisively funny, it whips the tablecloth from under the setting of contemporary reading, politics and intellectual culture in a literary act of daring. It seems there is nothing Castillo can not do. Read How to Read Now now."
—Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less
"A radiant, irreverent, rigorous and revolutionary act of reading. Elaine Castillo is on fire and this book, a work of generous cultural stewardship, performs a much-needed, controlled burning."
—Olivia Sudjic, author of Asylum Road
"Exciting, important and energising, HOW TO READ NOW is the book we need now: a clarion call for decentering whiteness and for a truly decolonised publishing, critical, and reading culture. It reaffirms that writers of colour are here; we are here to hold power to account; we are here to read each other and cheer for each other; we are here to stay. I am so grateful for Elaine Castillo's beautiful mind, and for this vital and moving book."
—Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young and Aftermath
"Funny, smart, brilliant, HOW TO READ NOW is a tour de force. Castillo skewers popular thought around reading, suggesting a new way forward, in sharp and incisive prose. I'll never read Didion the same way again."
—Kasim Ali, author of Good Intentions
"How to Read Now is a wake-up call. A broadside. A rich and brilliant war cry. Elaine Castillo exposes the inadequacy of thinking about books as empathy machines, arguing instead for a type of reading that accepts responsibility and implication; reading as a radical act of awareness and allyship."
—Chris Power, author of A Lonely Man
"Castillo’s nonfiction carries the same animated verve as her novel…masterly…an engaging and provocative conversation with a playful interlocutor who wanted me, her reader, to talk back…‘How to Read Now’ is a book that doesn’t seek to shut down the current literary discourse so much as shake it up. And on this I agree with Castillo: It so desperately needs to change."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Each of the book’s eight essays burns bright and hot from start to finish…clarifying and bracing…A book is nothing without a reader; this one is co-created by its recipients, re-created every time the page is turned anew. ‘How to Read Now’ offers its audience the opportunity to look past the simplicity we’re all too often spoon-fed into order to restore ourselves to chaos and complexity — a way of seeing and reading that demands so much more of us but offers even more in return."
—Los Angeles Times
"Castillo’s knowledge, along with her firebrand style and generous humor, result in a dynamic and necessary look at the state of storytelling. This one packs a powerful punch."
"[How to Read Now] aims to remind us how provocative great writing can be."
"Observing the classics to the contemporary (including other 'readable' media beyond books), and thinking deeply about the roles of reading in our world, Castillo urges us toward 'a more daring solidarity.'"
"Provocative, deeply analytical, and powerfully expressed... A deftly surgical critic... From reading Jane Austen to the fear and hatred fueling book challenges, Castillo’s investigations are incisive, reorienting, sometimes funny, and truly revolutionary."
“In How to Read Now, Elaine Castillo brilliantly argues that being a good reader means learning how to interrogate and interpret the stories all around us … Her voice is eviscerating, dramatic and funny as she lays out the ways that universalizing the white experience reduces writers of color to teachers of historical trauma and nonwhite cultures.”
—BookPage, starred review.
"Elaine Castillo’s debut, America Is Not the Heart, was one of our favorite reads of 2018 and we’ve been eager to see what’s next from her. This incisive collection of essays doesn’t disappoint, tossing a bomb into our tired cultural conversations around reading and empathy to ask tougher and more urgent questions about the political potential of this beloved pastime."
—Chicago Review of Books
"'How to Read Now’ runs off the tongue a little easier than ‘How to Dismantle Your Entire Critical Apparatus,’ writes novelist Elaine Castillo in her debut nonfiction book, but such deconstruction is what makes for smarter, stronger readers. Boundless erudition and eloquent exasperation define her essay collection, which provokes and discomfits, but ultimately engages, edifies, and thoroughly entertains.'
—Christian Science Monitor
"Critiquing the prevailing discourse about reading as a social benefit and eschewing single-minded celebration, the essays in Castillo’s provocative collection reach deeper to address what we can gain from a more complicated, challenging approach to reading."
"Elaine Castillo has a big voice, one to reckon with. Whether it’s her acclaimed debut novel, America is Not the Heart, or this breathtaking collection of essays, Castillo is one to watch (and read)."
"The essays are funny, intelligent, and said all the things I had been waiting for someone to say and more. I loved being in Elaine's brain, as well as her deeply humane commitment to encourage us all to step outside ourselves and see the world - and one another other - anew."
—Rebecca Liu, The Guardian
"The author of the acclaimed novel America is Not the Heart now publishes a volume of criticism, essays destined to become classics–covering the lies told about fiction and empathy, the response to what Castillo calls 'unexpected reader,' and the imperial and colonial ideas that undergird works of art and readings of them."
"How to Read Now is at once a fierce condemnation of American reading culture, which Castillo rightly sees as racist and consumerist, and a fervent ode to reading’s potential…Although How to Read Now is technically about reading, it doubles as a work of refreshingly blunt literary criticism. Its essays are so thoroughly linked by their worldview that the book often feels less like a collection than a single, impassioned argument on behalf not only of thoughtful, ethical reading, but also of fiction designed to be thoughtfully, ethically read… Castillo’s arguments on behalf of unexpected reading are, therefore, not only striking but vital. How to Read Now compels us to dispel any incurious approach to both books and the world."
"Once in a while, a book comes along that lands like a well-timed shake of your shoulders, a persuasive, invigorating invitation to try harder and do better. That's exactly what Elaine Castillo's 'How to Read Now,' the most entertaining case for critical thinking I've enjoyed in ages, feels like…The highest praise I can give of Castillo's book is that it truly has changed how I read now."
"Pushing beyond familiar platitudes about reading’s capacity to build empathy, How to Read Now interrogates the ethics of consuming popular culture, urging us to reimagine the possibilities for what reading can be."
"In this collection of sharp and stirring essays, Elaine Castillo interrogates today’s reading culture and the certain aspects of it that tend to be performative and hollow. Instead, she urges, we should strive to really reconstruct the way we develop relationships with the art and fiction we consume, more fully recognizing the ethical and political ramifications and engaging with it far more deeply."