The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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Toward a Somewhat More Possible Owl

Hi, friends. Here’s the cover of my new book, Impossible Owls, which you can preorder here, as of today. This is the first time I’ve been able to share either the cover or the preorder link, which makes this a good, exciting, and also really quite terrifying day here at my house — so much so that I’m reviving this website after what Google tells me is 2,288 days (can that really be all?? feels like at least 2,581) to talk about it.

I should say up front that none of the essays in the book come from Run of Play. None of them are even about soccer, though the set of topics they are about is almost equally far-fetched, from Area 51 to man-eating tigers to the suicide of Yukio Mishima. I met a legendary Russian animator who’s been working on the same film for forty years. I followed Will and Kate around the Yukon Territory. A lot of the book, more than a third, is previously unpublished, so if you’ve missed reading new work from me over the past year, please know that this is where it all went.

Here’s what the publisher says:

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.

(“Highly anticipated” is industry code for “misses deadlines,” by the way. “Off-kilter” is industry code for “off-kilter.”)

But even if the essays don’t come from Run of Play, they started here, spiritually. I mean that both as a matter of sensibility — blogging here for four years is how I learned to write for the Internet, and the book collects the best of what I was able to do as an Internet writer — and as a matter of the arc of my career, if you can use words like “arc” in my case. (Also “career,” hahahahaha.) In 2011 I was a near-broke soccer blogger shoehorning Emily Dickinson jokes into posts about Newcastle United for Adsense money. Then Grantland hired me because someone there knew this site, and 18 months later the Walt Disney Company was paying for me to cross illegally into Russian territory over sea ice.

It’s been 2,288 days, you guys.

I worked for MTV for a while? I don’t even know.

Anyway, I really like the cover. Jamie Keenan, who’s made lots of very cool books for Ishiguro and others, designed it. Over at the FSG site you can see an animated version by Sungpyo Hong. The queen winks at you. I’m taking this as a sign that she doesn’t mind being depicted as a shapeshifting were-tiger/were-owl hybrid with four eyes. I hope not — it’s the theme of so much of my writing!

I have a feeling I’m going to be bad at selling this, but it would mean the world to me if you wanted to preorder a copy. And/or share it on social media, write an Amazon review (seriously, please write one), whatever. Spread the word in your own special fashion. If this book sells well enough, they’ll let me write another one, is the thing. And I’m dying to. I can’t really handle the web these days, and I have ideas not even Disney would accidentally bankroll.

More on all of this soon. For now, I want to say that I know a lot of you who are reading this have been reading me for a long time — more than 2,288 days, even. I’m not sure exactly where we are, but I know we got here together. Thanks for being there.

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Toward a Somewhat More Possible Owl

by Brian Phillips · March 22, 2018

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