cover image Impossible Owls: Essays

Impossible Owls: Essays

Brian Phillips. FSG Originals, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-17533-7

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. (Oct.)