Guest Post by Kevin Brown
How to Read Now, Elaine Castillo’s collection of essays comes from the lineage of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, a work Castillo references several times. She wants to show readers the assumed whiteness of their reading and writing, the assumed whiteness of their world, essentially.
Castillo analyzes a wide range of writing (and texts in a wider sense), from the controversial Nobel-prize-winning Peter Handke to Jane Austen to the Cinderella story to Homer’s Odyssey, with many stops in between.
Like Morrison, Castillo points out numerous places where writers assume characters are white without any description of their being so and the effects that has on readers and how they see the world. She reminds readers to look for the gaps in texts, the places where authors are silent about the reality of the world in which they write, such as Austen’s father’s involvement in the buying and selling of those who were enslaved.
Her main point, which underlies all others, is that white writers/readers get the benefit of seeing their work as universal, while writers of color are educational material, something one reads to learn about a particular culture, not work that conveys any ideas about simply being human. After reading Castillo’s collection, a reader can’t help but look at the world and their reading differently, high praise for any book.
How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo. Viking, July 2022.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite