NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. SEMI-FINALIST FOR THE PEN/DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL AWARD FOR ART OF THE ESSAY.
One of Amazon, Buzzfeed, ELLE, Electric Literature and Pop Sugar's Best Books of 2018. Named one of the Best Books of October and Fall by Amazon, Buzzfeed, TIME, Vulture, The Millions and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.
“Hilarious, nimble, and thoroughly illuminating.” —Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad
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.
Former Grantland staff writer Phillips brings together entertaining, eclectic, and often insightful essays for a collection with room for considerations of both the datedness of sci-fi television and the ethical ambiguity of ecotourism. He often approaches topics from a pleasingly oblique angle, as when describing Queen Elizabeth II in "Once and Future Queen" through the people who serve and surround her, and the items she's known to carry in her handbag, including a "five-pound note, crisply folded, for the church collection plate. Sometimes ten pounds; never more." He also likes to play a central role in his own essays, an effective strategy for personal pieces, such as one about his hometown of Ponca City, Okla., "But Not Like Your Typical Love Story," but distracting in farther-flung pieces, such as one on the Iditarod, "Out in the Great Alone." Despite this misstep, Phillips's narrative voice is consistently appealing, and often laugh-out-loud funny ("The backyard was a jungle. I don't mean We'll spend a weekend weeding and then plant some hydrangeas.' I mean there were creatures out there that had lairs"). At their best, Phillips's essays leave readers with newfound appreciation for subjects they may not have considered before, including sumo wrestling and Russia's greatest living animator.