How to Read Now: Essays (Viking)
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.
Elaine Castillo, named one of “30 of the Planet’s Most Exciting Young People” by the Financial Times, was born and raised in the Bay Area. Her debut novel, America Is Not the Heart, was a finalist for numerous prizes including the Elle Big Book Award, the Center for Fiction Prize, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize and was named a best book of 2018 by NPR, Real Simple, Lit Hub, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post, Kirkus Reviews, and the New York Public Library.
Jane Hu is a critic who lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in venues such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper's, and Bookforum, among others. She currently teaches at the School of Critical Studies at CalArts and is an assistant editor at n+1.
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 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." —Publishers Weekly
"[How to Read Now] aims to remind us how provocative great writing can be." —Chicago Tribune
"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.'" —Lit Hub