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. 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.
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.