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Reviews of How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo

How to Read Now


by Elaine Castillo

How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo X
How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo
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  • Published:
    Jul 2022, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

An exploration and polemic that redefines the power and potential for reading by a novelist whose "prose is as good as it gets" (NPR) and who has "a real voice: vernacular and fluid, with a take-no-prisoners edge" (Kirkus).

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.

Sadly, Viking are unable to provide an excerpt of this book.

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BookBrowse Review


Castillo's lively and expressive writing underscores the idea that reading through the default white supremacist mindset that reaches us invisibly and blandly via American media and the publishing industry is not just lazy, reductive and violent, it's also boring. She plunges into How to Read Now with a sense of excitement, buoyant stylistic flourishes — including one-of-a-kind, unforgettable phrases like "gooey heart-porn of the ethnographic" — and a seemingly irrepressible fondness for astrology (referring to herself at one point as "a bossy Virgo bitch"); this doesn't come across as a gimmick or an attempt to inject humor into dry material, but rather a natural enthusiasm born of the stimulating work of seeing that which is not meant to be seen...continued

Full Review (1087 words)

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
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.

Chicago Review of Books
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.

Los Angeles Times
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.

New York Times
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.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Not just thoroughly researched, these essays are also wildly engaging, with a biting and appropriately scathing tone and plenty of humor. Refreshingly, the humor never distracts from the urgency of the prose or incisiveness of the analysis. An excellent collection of essays about important subjects too often glossed over.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Novelist Castillo argues in this brilliant and passionate collection that the publishing industry is designed to suit white readers and that changing the way one reads can change the way one sees the world...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.

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.

Author Blurb Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less
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.

Author Blurb Gina Apostol, author of Gun Dealer's Daughter
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.

Author Blurb R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
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.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark

Playing in the Dark book coverThe novelist Toni Morrison (1931-2019), author of The Bluest Eye, Beloved and many other famous works, is often considered one of the greatest and most influential American writers. However, as Elaine Castillo draws attention to in How to Read Now, Morrison is known mostly for her novels and less for what is arguably one of the most important texts ever written on American literature, a slim but significant 1992 volume of literary criticism titled Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Castillo calls Playing in the Dark "the urtext on the insidious racial backbone of our reading culture," and recalls being alarmed when she mentioned it during events on a book tour only to "realize that many in the audience had not read...

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