Skip to main content

Impossible Owls



In general, essays are long enough to make a point, but short enough to make for easy reading. Unlike short stories, they don't require me to suspend disbelief in order to feign concern for characters, nor am I left to make up my own denouement just for the sake of making it short. A collection of essays isn't necessarily cohesive, yet it requires its readers to consider whether it achieves some continuity.

Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips is a collection of essays on various topics. Right away, I was dismayed to find myself reading an essay based on the Iditarod because I am perpetually cold and Brian Phillips is a good writer. If you're ever hot on a summer day and need a little psychological relief from the summer oppression, pick up this book and read the first essay for its description of the setting.

The other essays were about sumo wrestling, extraterrestrial visits to Earth, Russia, tigers, television, the British royal family, and the fascinating story of Lydie Marland.

Coincidentally, the chapter about Russia gave a succinct summary of The Overcoat by Gogol, which is the book and author heavily referenced in The Namesake, which I read earlier this year. I also read a book about coincidences! There were no indications ahead of time that these books were related in any way. Originally, I planned to read The Overcoat, but Mr. Phillips's synopsis made that unnecessary. In order for my reading to suggest other reading, I will likely choose a different title by Gogol in the future, possibly The Nose.

In many ways, continuity is achieved in this collection. The essay about the royal family being admired from afar is contrasted with the essay about Lydie Marland where she is temporarily admired from afar and then watched with disbelief and horror as her life takes a series of odd turns (this is described as the "new cannibalism" where your private life is exploited and can happen in people we idolize as well as people we shun). There is also a nice contrast in his description of the vast undeveloped territory in Alaska vs the dense urbanism of Tokyo. Obviously owls are a part of the cohesion as well -- I remember them being mentioned in all but one essay. When they appear, it is with mystery and wonder -- in dreams or as omen bearers. In the end, we were cautioned us against constant learning without getting the whole picture with Lydie Marland's disjointed magazine clippings and diaries as an example. It's only possible to keep learning and to try to synthesize information, which is something the author stretches us to do in this collection of essays.

In case anyone is keeping track:
-I got this book from the Marion Public Library through my method of standing in the new non-fiction section and looking for something interesting
-I read this book as part of my two-person book club
-3/8 books I've finished so far this year have been written by people named Brian or Bryan




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A New Direction

Over the course of time, I have had quite a few different blogs with different themes and styles. My domain (www.uberfrau.net) is up for renewal. I thought about not renewing it because I haven't updated this blog since April. In the end, I decided that I'm too sentimental to let it go. I've had this website in all of its various forms for about 20 years. As you can tell (see posts below), I gave up summarizing books back in April. I decided quickly that I preferred reading to summarizing the books in writing afterward. The entire process of writing my thoughts on the books was slowing down my reading pace! As soon as I finish a book, I have another one or two lined up to read next. Stopping to summarize and offer my pithy (I wish) thoughts was a drag. On average, I finished a book every 4.93 days in 2019. Some of these were audiobooks (they still totally count), but most were not (I say that because audiobooks don't really count - lol). Some people read many more b

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Since this book won the Pulitzer and has been made into a movie, it is likely that most people are already familiar with it. However, I was a little late to the game on this one. The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of a father and son trying to survive. They try to beat winter by heading south while attempting to do so without being noticed by others, some of whom have turned to cannibalism to survive. It's bleak. The manner and style of writing is unique as there are no chapter delineations, no quotation marks, no character names, and infrequent apostrophes. In that way, the style of writing mirrors the unfolding of the story -- going and going with few interruptions, going south, getting to the end, stunted conversation. Just survive. Get through. Simplify things. I found that I moved quickly through the book, which is the opposite of what happens when the chapters are long. Instead, this had no chapters but frequent spaces or gaps in the text, which made it seem OK to

The Collected Schizophrenias

As far as diagnoses go, there's nothing more frightening that schizophrenia -- at least in my book. Some could argue that cancer is scary -- it is certainly a tyrant, but schizophrenia's symptoms can be so unpredictable, bizarre, and varied that is scares me more. In addition, people with schizophrenia may not even know they are ill, which makes any kind of treatment very challenging. As a person trained to work with people with disabilities, I have been taught to use "person first" language. Did you notice above I said, "people with schizophrenia" and not "schizophrenics?" This is evidently a rule you can break if you are a person with schizophrenia as Esmé Weijun Wang is. She makes the point in the book that even the language we use about the disease shows that we fear it -- there is no adjective for cancer that relates to people. So, you may say that someone has cancer, but you wouldn't say that they are  cancer or even cancerous. But