cover image How to Read Now: Essays

How to Read Now: Essays

Elaine Castillo. Viking, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-48963-5

Novelist Castillo (America Is Not the Heart) 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. In “Reading Teaches Us Empathy, and Other Fictions,” she warns against seeing stories by writers of color as a “kind of ethical protein shake” to teach white readers how to be better people, and urges that “we have to push back against the idea that engaging with our art in ways that look beyond the aesthetic is a cheapening of our engagement.” In “The Limits of White Fantasy,” Castillo critiques white authors’ appropriation of narratives about oppression, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which was partly “inspired” by dissidents in the Philippines during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Meanwhile, “Main Character Syndrome” takes Joan Didion to task for her novel Democracy, in which, Castillo writes, Hawaiian and Southeast Asian settings and characters exist as a background against which the white main characters act out the central drama. 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. Agent: Emma Patterson, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (July)