Impossible Owls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

Essay collections are often hard to review, especially ones like this with lengthy essays, but I will say that out of these were reliably solid.  This starts out with a beautifully descriptive essay about the Iditarod Race with details about Alaskan life and scenery. There is one about England's royals that was cheeky but also very perceptive and one about his hometown in Oklahoma that exemplifies a place and time in the American West.  Overall this was a solid collection and one that I will probably dip back into for rereading.  I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Review available at Book Riot, "20 Great 2018 Essay Collections": https://bookriot.com/2018/10/25/great-2018-essay-collections/
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A really excellent collection of long form journalism on an interesting variety of topics. Each essay is full of odd details and little bursts of humor that make every story engaging, no matter how much you know (or don't) about the subject at hand.
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Brian Phillips has an unquenchable thirst for experiences and the ability to share them with clear prose and wit.  Here we go along with him in a Super Cub as he follows the trail of the Iditarod, and in the process we learn not just about Alaska, dogs, and the thrill of flying with visual flight rules with a limited window, but also of the character of the mushers and the history of the race itself.  We learn about the intricacies of the handling of the Queen's standard, as well as that of her grandson, and we learn much more about the personality and background of William and Kate beyond their photogenic smiles and immaculate grooming.  He has hunted tigers on an eco tour and goes behind the India of the raj, and the importance of the tiger to the black market, and experience an encounter with a protective mother elephant.  We learn much more about the oil history of Northern Oklahoma, where he was reared, essays which read like novellas.  I haven't read his work before, this being his first compilation, but I plan on tracking it down.
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Steinbeck did it, Orwell did it, Hemingway and Mark Twain, and so has this author, Brian Phillips, that is reportage, truth work from the world, layered out in great prose lucid and rhythmic, insightful and evocative, myriad of lives, nature, and peoples all vividly brought to life and memorably left to ruminate.

Interesting first essay amongst denizens of Alaska, a bear, sled-dog racing and the mysterious connection of disappearances and an underground pyramid.

Illuminating essay, Sea of Crises, where he mentions on a sumo wrestler, Hakuho, the greatest sumotori in the world, “It is time for Hakuho’s first match of the hatsu basho, the first grand tournament of the year.” Then goes to explain Tokyo with some great sentences, and his odd search for the novelist Yukio Mishima’s kaishakunin.

There is the haunting search and travel through New Mexico in Lost Highway essay, visiting the Trinity site where first atom bomb detonated, on UFO things and Area 51. Then stark informative and terrible stain of man’s wrongs, he mentions of things partaken around American histories of Route 66.

The Man-Eaters essay is walking with tigers, and in its path, through India he writes, “Of the twelve tigers I saw in India, one might have been a ghost; two were in water, eight were on land, and one was sleeping in a tree.”
The terrible fate of killed Tigers and the $10,000 price of the skin sold in Tibet, and the rest of the Tiger in Beijing for $100,000. The man-eating Bengal tigers, and the death toll in a village, and one Jim Corbett, a past author and hunter turned conservationist and the national park named after him.

There is a memoirist piece, In the Dark: Science Fiction in Small Town, he reflects on his Wrath of the Titans, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and X-Files viewing enjoyment, and days of youth that revolve around them.

Once and Future Queen, he opens with the weather and describing London with great craft with prose then goes on to lay out an originally done brief sketch and portrait of queen and family.

Revitalized essay writing of world histories that are revealing, stark, nostalgic, deep and informative.
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This is a wonderful collection of essays. I think Brian Phillips could write about any subject and make it compelling and relatable. I have already recommended it to friends and family because this is the kind of collection that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. I'm going to have to buy a print copy because there are so many lines I need to underline and come back to (those last few sentences of Man-Eaters just took my breath away). 
(I posted this to my Goodreads review of this book)
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Brian Philips knows how to write. The first essay was the best in my opinion. Still, the topics were of no interest to me. For anyone loving his online pieces, this essays will also enchant you.
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Brian Phillips can write and it’s his writing that kept me reading. But, his topics just didn’t hit home for me. I don’t quite know how to put a finger on what didn’t quite work for me. There was a journalistic distance even with the more personal essays that kept me from falling in with these stories.
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The two bookends of this collection of eight essays begins with Out in the Great Alone and finishes with But Not Like Your Typical Love Story.  Both very good essays and most likely will prove in the long run to be quite memorable.  Adding another six more essays with the degree of such personal bent would have been welcomed wholeheartedly. 

Though sufficiently adept at capturing the essence of his middle subjects, Brian Phillips fails to hold the interest for me that John Jeremiah Sullivan routinely achieves.  It is unfortunate the publisher dared compare these two essayists. Granted, both men do choose subjects a bit off the mainstream, but Sullivan ventures closer to my own proclivities. Even after completing this book-length collection I still feel removed with only a distant feeling of intimacy with the writer Phillips. Not so with Sullivan.  For me, a writer’s personality must come through on every page.  And it helps if that personality is attractive enough to be at least liked, if not loved. Brian Philips has the skill to eventually achieve this, and perhaps he will one day. However, a mere twenty-five percent success rate will meet failure in reaching that goal.
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Impossible Owls is a really entertaining book of essays. It succeeds in making you interested in whatever the author has chosen to write about. Brian Phillips is wryly observant about the world.  
He really makes you care about the Alaskan dog racing, the sad life of Lydie Marland and the Russian animator who has spent thirty years making one film. You understand Phillips’ wanderlust when he writes about the town he grew up in.
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I recently joined Netgalley and this collection of nonfiction essays was one of my first requests. Brian Phillips is journalist who has contributed to publications like The New York Times, Grantland, and more. He’s undeniably talented as a story teller and I love a good essay from an embedded journalist in unique parts of the world. However, there were only a few gems in this book while the rest felt like honest-to-God work to trudge through. My favorite essay is the very first one, where Phillips chronicles his breathtaking experience tracking the Iditraod in Alaska, via his bird’s eye view from a plane. I learned more about Phillips, his sense of humor, his commitment to exploration, than I did from any of his other essays combined. Most of his essays ended on a perfunctory note that left me feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.
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I have been on a pretty big essay kick here lately. My verrrry part time job is near completely mindless which lends itself well to reading about more standout individuals and experiences. Phillips writes with real humor, humanity, verve, or insert whatever praise word you’d like. My fav essays tackled things I thought I could care less about prior like sumo lwrestling, seeing Wrath of the Titans alone in a theater loopy on pills, and the Iditarod.
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