Elaine Castillo’s How to Read Now is both a directive and a question. Castillo, a Filipinx American novelist (America Is Not the Heart), calls for readers to recognize and resist the ways that texts of all kinds center whiteness. But the book isn’t only a polemic; it’s also an investigation. How should we read now?
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. What would it mean for publishing to be open to something new, to what Castillo calls “the unexpected reader”?
In each essay, Castillo offers a specific and persuasive diagnosis of a problem and a sense of what the treatment might be. For example, the essay “Main Character Syndrome” explores how centering whiteness plays out in the work of recently deceased cultural icon Joan Didion, noting how Didion’s famous essays about California focus on the perspective of a settler, including her obsession with the ruts caused by wagon wheels. Castillo then counters with the work of Tommy Pico, showing what this Indigenous writer sees in the California landscape that Didion missed.
The effects of centuries of colonialism are dangerous and wide-ranging, as Castillo documents throughout How to Read Now. It’s important to make small ruptures in the system, she says—small acts of resistance through everyday decisions, including which stories we tell and value. In this book, Castillo argues that being a good reader means learning how to interrogate and interpret the stories all around us.