Elaine Castillo’s How to Read Now begins with a section called 'Author’s Note, or a Virgo Clarifies Things.' The title is a neat encapsulation of the book’s style: rigorous but still chatty, intellectual but not precious or academic about it ... How to Read Now proceeds at a breakneck pace. Each of the book’s eight essays burns bright and hot from start to finish ... How to Read Now is not for everybody, but if it is for you, it is clarifying and bracing. Castillo offers a full-throated critique of some of the literary world’s most insipid and self-serving ideas ... So how should we read now? Castillo offers suggestions but no resolution. She is less interested in capital-A Answers...and more excited by the opportunity to restore a multitude of voices and perspectives to the conversation ... 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.
... an even more explicit meditation on questions of inheritance, working through Castillo’s responsibilities not as a writer, but as a reader. Its eight chapters engage the readers who have most informed her own practice ... This is a book on readership that is itself a series of readings. Castillo leads by example ... Despite its searching quality, How to Read Now approaches reading as a political act that implicates everyone. To be a good reader, Castillo suggests, means being open to the different readings of other people, perhaps especially those you disagree with ... Castillo’s nonfiction carries the same animated verve as her novel. At times the prose veers toward the polemical, but only to unsettle our pieties ... Castillo pulls off a masterly takedown of the cult of Joan Didion ... Despite its declarative title, How to Read Now is not so much an instruction manual as an earnest invitation...What emerges is an engaging and provocative conversation with a playful interlocutor who wanted me, her reader, to talk back ... There is a breathless earnestness to Castillo’s writing, which unfurls in long sentences laced with extended parentheticals and subordinate clauses. The chatty prose and its rhetorical flourishes are distinctly millennial ... When I started reading the book, I (another Asian American living in the Bay Area) frequently found myself in ambivalent or even direct disagreement with Castillo. It gradually became clear that that was the point: for me to become her “unexpected reader,” and thus feel the full weight of her argument. 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.
Elaine Castillo dismantles the notion that art should be separate from the artist, because our understanding of where a story comes from, and who is telling it, matters ... Simple, profound point ... It matters who draws the bath, and that is Castillo’s point. Even if that person is invisible, unmentioned or does not speak, that person matters. Their story is your story, too.
... bracing ... 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—fiction that is both a world unto itself and a lens through which to examine the world around us ... 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.
Castillo is too shrewd a critic of identity politics to fall prey to such traps of liberal multiculturalism ... Castillo’s essays are whip-smart. They do what good criticism often does: pinpoint something that feels off and explain to us why exactly it so unsettles us. The collection also draws on a remarkable archive ... A masterclass in cultural criticism, How to Read Now feeds my aesthetic proclivity for unusual juxtapositions of the highbrow and the lowbrow. It is profoundly satisfying to watch Castillo dance across these works with such agility (not to mention with such an enviable knowledge of star signs) ... And yet, thumbing through How to Read Now, I could not shake a sneaking sense of déjà vu. To be sure, there were nuggets of insight sprinkled throughout, ones I diligently underlined. But there were also long stretches of well-worn arguments ... Beyond retreaded critiques, versions of the question 'Who is this writing for?' recur throughout the book. It’s an important question, to be sure, but also one that has been a mainstay of social justice–inflected rhetoric for a while ... not a vulnerable book. As stylistically refreshing as it is in its irreverence, it is a work that eschews risk. The collection’s cautiousness about its politics is evidenced by the repetitions I have outlined: it traffics in arguments that have already circulated on the internet, arguments that are thus 'safe' insofar as there exists a ready audience for them ... I still found Castillo’s fiction much more compelling than her essays ... what happens when the audience has already been enlightened? Exposure assumes a naïve audience who hasn’t heard the story before; the force of exposure comes from the shock of encountering it. Suppose the reader agrees — then what?
... bracing, informed, and often funny ... She’s rightly, deeply skeptical about literary culture’s ability to shift course...But she’s a deep enthusiast and a close reader in the cases where she finds it ... Despite its title, How to Read Now isn’t prescriptive — or, rather, its announcement of the problem with reading is so clear that the answers should be obvious.
Provocative, deeply analytical, and powerfully expressed ... From reading Jane Austen to the fear and hatred fueling book challenges, Castillo’s investigations are incisive, reorienting, sometimes funny, and truly revolutionary.
In critical essays that examine everything from fantasy novels to award-winning classic literature, Castillo outlines the limitations of America's reading culture. 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 ... The effects of centuries of colonialism are dangerous and wide-ranging, as Castillo documents throughout How to Read Now.
Brilliant and passionate ... 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.
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.
Boundless erudition and eloquent exasperation define Elaine Castillo’s debut nonfiction, How to Read Now, an incandescent collection of essays that provokes and discomfits, but ultimately engages, edifies, and thoroughly entertains ... The shrewd insights she wove into her fiction – about identity, inequity, immigration, politics – rise brilliantly to the surface here, shining with piercing truth, bolstered with significant research (20 annotated pages of works cited), and tempered with surprising humor ... Each of her essays has indelible lessons to explore and absorb ... This is not a collection of essays to race through; instead, it should be read thoughtfully and with an open mind to encourage fresh understanding.