Impossible Owls: Book summary and reviews of Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips

Impossible Owls

Essays

by Brian Phillips

Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips X
Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2018
    352 pages
    Genre: Short Stories/Essays

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Book Summary

A globe-spanning, ambitious book of essays from one of the most enthralling storytellers in narrative nonfiction.

In his highly anticipated debut essay collection, Impossible Owls, Brian Phillips demonstrates why he's one of the most iconoclastic journalists of the digital age, beloved for his ambitious, off-kilter, meticulously reported essays that read like novels.

The eight essays assembled here - five from Phillips's Grantland and MTV days, and three new pieces - go beyond simply chronicling some of the modern world's most uncanny, unbelievable, and spectacular oddities (though they do that, too). Researched for months and even years on end, they explore the interconnectedness of the globalized world, the consequences of history, the power of myth, and the ways people attempt to find meaning. He searches for tigers in India, and uncovers a multigenerational mystery involving an oil tycoon and his niece turned stepdaughter turned wife in the Oklahoma town where he grew up. Through each adventure, Phillips's remarkable voice becomes a character itself - full of verve, rich with offhanded humor, and revealing unexpected vulnerability.

Dogged, self-aware, and radiating a contagious enthusiasm for his subjects, Phillips is an exhilarating guide to the confusion and wonder of the world today. If John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead was the last great collection of New Journalism from the print era, Impossible Owls is the first of the digital age.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Long-form narratives both diverting and engaging...Smooth and smart relief for the screen-weary." - Kirkus

"Entertaining, eclectic, and often insightful ... Phillips's narrative voice is consistently appealing, and often laugh-out-loud funny ... Phillips's essays leave readers with newfound appreciation for subjects they may not have considered before." - Publishers Weekly

"Phillips's essays are not only fascinating and thoroughly researched but written in a distinctive voice that conveys humor, awareness, and vulnerability." - Library Journal

"There is a section in Impossible Owls where Brian Phillips writes about tigers, and he notes that what's most astonishing about the animal is not its size or power or beauty, but its capacity to disappear. This is an excellent description of a tiger, but also an excellent description of how Phillips writes. These are big, powerful, beautiful essays - but no matter how personal the content, he just seems to disappear into the paragraphs." - Chuck Klosterman, author of But What if We're Wrong? and Eating the Dinosaur

"I most love Impossible Owls for how it sends me returning to the central question that I enjoy most in any work I find chasing after: what do we, as writers, owe a single idea, but to stretch it out beyond whatever our imaginations thought possible - I love that this is a book of highways and historical touchstones and large geographic shifts. But I also love that at the heart of those bigger things, there is the gentle touch of Brian Phillips underneath it all, creating a landscape for a reader to see not his work, but to better see themselves." - Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

"Impossible Owls takes you deep into worlds both far-flung and familiar - tiger trails, tiny towns of the Yukon, Route 66, a Walmart parking lot. Brian Phillips riffs and reports with abiding curiosity and incisive humor. A fantastic, transporting read." - Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

"The journeys that make up Impossible Owls lead us to some remarkable, unpredictable places...these far-flung tales all share the same inspirational spark: Brian Phillips' soulful, intrepid spirit, and his masterful ability at turning everyday curiosities into epic quests that you can't stop reading." - Hua Hsu, author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific "Brian Phillips's essays are out of this world: big-hearted, exhaustive, unrelentingly curious, and goddamned fun. It's about time he graced us with this collection." - The Millions

"Again and again, Impossible Owls proves that Brian Phillips is a cultural codebreaker of the highest order, unlocking the hidden systems of our mad world. Hilarious, nimble, and thoroughly illuminating." - Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad

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Author Information

Brian Phillips

Brian Phillips is a former staff writer for Grantland and a former senior writer for MTV News. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and Poetry, among other publications, as well as in Best American Sports Writing and Best American Magazine Writing. He lives in Los Angeles. Impossible Owls is his debut book.

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