Impossible Owls (FSG Originals)
Brian Phillips’s Impossible Owls is a globe-spanning, ambitious book of essays from one of the most enthralling storytellers in narrative nonfiction. In his highly anticipated debut collection, Phillips demonstrates why he’s one of the most iconoclastic journalists of the digital age, beloved for his 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.
Praise for Impossible Owls
“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
“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, from the Alaskan wilderness to a supermarket parking lot in southern Japan, from an old movie palace in Moscow to the underground histories of northern Oklahoma. But 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
“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
“Brian Phillips’s Impossible Owls takes the American essay in new direction—these narratives are simultaneously stories of questing and strandedness. Characters and landscapes become knowable and disorienting. Tigers, royals, mysterious Russian artists, and foreign countries are subjects of Phillips’s close, careful journalism, as well as representatives of all the glittering, ungraspable things that lie outside us. Witty, pensive, sometimes whimsical, always truthful, Impossible Owls is testament to Phillips’s gift for enchantment, and his genius for knowing exactly where our alienation from the world meets our sympathy for it.” —Supriya Nair
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 The Best American Sports Writing and Best American Magazine Writing. He lives in Los Angeles.
Amy Nicholson is a film writer and critic for Variety, The Guardian, and the Washington Post, and the host of the movie podcasts "The Canon" and "Unspooled." Her first book, Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, was published by Cahiers du Cinema.
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