Pulphead
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Pulphead

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  4,130 ratings  ·  583 reviews
In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us—with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that’s all his own—how we really (no, really) live now.

In his native Ken...more
Paperback, 365 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by FSG Originals (first published 2011)
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Gabe
Wildly uneven. There are 14 essays in the book. By my count, there are five excellent essays (including one bonafide genius essay), three good essays, and six essays that did nothing for me, including one essay that, after I'd finished the book and was looking back over the table of contents, I couldn't for the life of me remember reading. That genius essay I mentioned is "Violence of the Lambs," which is principally about the increase in unexplainable animal attacks in recent years. Stingrays h...more
Kinga
There is this strange thing with the US and its culture. We all know all about them and they know not a thing about us. If two people from different countries or even continents meet up, the conversation often gyrates around American (usually pop) culture. It’s the common ground. When I moved to America for a year when I was 18, I didn’t suffer a severe cultural shock (although I was a little frightened by the size of hamburgers). I knew the TV shows those kids watched, the music they listened t...more
Mike Puma
Apr 03, 2012 Mike Puma rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: most anyone
Shelves: 2012

John Jeremiah Sullivan is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The Paris Review and Harper’s Magazine. Pulphead gathers a diverse assortment of essays on various topics—each told with a generous consideration of the personalities involved, nothing harsh or mean-spirited. Sullivan has gentle, easy-going flow as if listening to a friend. Good stuff. Entries preceded by a √ might be of interest to those musically inclined or with an interest in music.

√ Upon this Rock—A fond recollecti

...more
David
This winter I've been reading a lot of nonfiction collections, hitting a lot of "big names" along the way - Updike, Hitchens, Schama, Didion. John Jeremiah Sullivan was someone I had never heard of until I stumbled across this collection in the bookstore, but I'm happy to report that his writing has an idiosyncratic charm that puts him right up there with the big guys.

As with any collection of essays, there are a few duds in this collection. Sullivan's pieces on Axl Rose and on Michael Jackson s...more
Alan
Jun 05, 2014 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alan by: Kinga
Shelves: non-fiction
one for the plane going over to the States. I thought I'd better read something American, and this has been on my to read list for two years and finally came in at the library.

One measure of a non-fiction book could be what it makes you go and do. After (or during) this one I was looking up Native American cave paintings in Tennessee, downloading Joe Higgs’ Life of Contradiction, listening to Billie Jean and contemplating Disney’s attempts at whitewashed utopia. The book is full of fascinating e...more
Elaine
Oct 06, 2013 Elaine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Let’s get one thing out of the way. John Jeremiah Sullivan can write. Really well. About almost anything. So, already, that makes this compilation of long form essays worth exploring. But then there’s the way that (for someone of our generation), he captures the zeitgeist of our youth so well, especially the guilty pleasures. There are a lot of moments where I said “wow! I was at that Axl Rose show at Hammerstein Ballroom that night he made his come back!” “wow, I loved The Real World, and Mike...more
Tuck
Mar 12, 2012 Tuck rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
nice new voice of essays dealing mostly with the weirdness of low class usa. christian rock festivel ; big brother's near death experience ; author apprenticing himself to andrew lytle (sewanee review) ; driving around after katrina ; 'real life/road rules" aftermarket business ; tea party marches, and on and on. things to like about jjs: smart, includes interesting details in his narrative (rafinesque became really fat after getting a job at transylvania university) ; looks in to interesting ph...more
Jakey Gee

It’s always a good sign when you’re reading a piece of non-fiction to find yourself adding titles that the writer mentions to your Amazon wish-list. Or when you realise that there’s a whole subject area that you could just do with reading around more in general (in my case, Disney and – bizarrely – the Blues).

This is a rich, thoughtful immersion in a choice spread of subjects including pop culture, history, politics, environment and music. Oh, and one sort of (very promising) semi-SF riff. I’m...more
Patrick Brown
This book, without going overboard, exploded my brain. In one of my progress updates, I said it was like an album where every song is perfect and the sequencing is exactly right. And that's still how I feel about it. The scope of this collection kept telescoping out as I was reading it. At first, it seemed like a book about the American South, and the role it plays in both the author's life and that of America today, but as I read on, it expanded. It was about America, really--where it's at now...more
Todd
I wanted to give this guy five stars, but the two stories in the middle were snoozers and a few of the endings were rushed and, accordingly, awful. Of the latter, the ending to the essay about Axl Rose—such a good essay—was so disappointingly bad that I almost didn't like the essay.

What I like most about this guy is that he isn't a sarcastic, cynical prick. After having just read a few stories by George Saunders, I appreciate this fact and Sullivan even more.

Three things:
(From the first essay...more
J.
John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essays have featured in the Paris Review, New York Times and G.Q. This is an eclectic mix of light and deep pieces. Sullivan speaks to the tenuousness of pop culture. He wants to hold onto things that little bit longer. For example his piece on the writer Mr. Lytle is an elegy and an attempt to hold him in the world a little bit longer.

He doesn't like journalists who give a clear judgement, he says he 'likes seeking out places of ambiguity and crawling around in them'....more
Adam
It took me a while to get around to this. I love this genre, but my love of it has led to way more disappointments than I experience while reading, say, fiction. John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead seems to have drawn an endless number of comparisons to other essay writers. Some, to mostly uninspiring writers like Chuck Klosterman, have not caused me much excitement. Others, to Hunter S. Thompson or David Foster Wallace, are what led me to finally sitting down and reading this thing.

It turns out...more
Austin
This collection contains essays of varying quality. There is at least one 5-star work in here, many 4-star, more still of the 3-star variety, and unfortunately a couple that were worse than that, so consider the rating an average across the board. It's hard not to compare any young, intelligent, funny, contemporary essayist to David Foster Wallace, and in the case of Sullivan this comparison is even more difficult to avoid (which is unfortunate as he is a very good writer standing in the shadow...more
Hank Stuever
No need to add much of a review, since Goodreaders have already done such a fine job of articulating the same thoughts I had while reading "Pulphead": There IS an uneven-ness here. There IS a desire to reach for a red pen and help John Jeremiah's prose find a quicker way to get at what John Jeremiah is trying to say. (I wonder: Does he really go by John Jeremiah? Do friends leave phone messages for "John Jeremiah"? Do baristas call out "John Jeremiah" when his coffee is ready?) And, most notably...more
Kevin
Reading these stories brought to mind the image of Chuck Klosterman kidnapped, stuck in a hotel room, pumped full of Ambien, and forced to write less about music pop culture. That's not as much of a criticism as it sounds, I suppose, because Klosterman is frequently eager to the point of breathlessness in his essays and I find myself wishing he'd slow down and take his time. Well, I mean I used to think that until I got my hands on this book that approximates the results of said experiment and f...more
Gus Sanchez
When an essay on a Christian Rock festival starts off a bit slowly, then suddenly sneaks up on you, you know you've got a skilled essayist grabbing your attention. The first few essays from John Jeremiah Sullivan's collection of essays, Pulphead, do exactly that: keep your attention focused on his narrative shifts and vivid descriptions, all the while aware that the subject matter may or may not be of interest

Halfway through, however, he lost me. The last 3 essays were no longer exercises in nar...more
Tom
It's not worth pointing out which essays disappointed me, because there were really only a couple, and so many of the others just totally knocked me out.

In the best ones, Sullivan gets deeply personal, demonstrating the empathy and humanity that lifts these pieces above your standard weird-American-culture fare. This is evident from the first essay, "Upon This Rock," about his trip to a Christian rock festival. And anyone who can write about a Tea Party rally with care, without ridicule, as he m...more
Drew
Non-fiction essays. Excellent writer. Humorous--sometimes I laughed out load. Contains life wisdom. The author is a person I would like to know. He has a wide range of interests, especially music and performers. I read some of the essays aloud to Elizabeth. I'll continue to read his work. Thank you, Brandon, for recommending this book.
Chad
They weren't lying (re: all the kudos and hype draped all over this book when it came out last fall). This is interesting, engaging, even at times amazing stuff. All over the map subject-wise, Sullivan seems well-equipped to fill the gaping hole left in the non-fiction essay world when David Foster Wallace died a few years ago. I can't wait to read whatever he writes next...
Marian
Well, *that* was much ado about not so much. There are a few quite fine essays here but I could've happily done with about two-thirds of the book. Or at least half. Yes, I was bamboozled by James Wood's New Yorker swoon wherein he opined that Sullivan's essays beat out Foster Wallace's. They don't. Now, without that encomium murmuring in my ear, I might feel more kindly toward these essays . . . but, I suspect, not all that much. For me, the book starts strong and after a few essays begins to di...more
Jason Coleman
And so, armed with a head full of both pulp and nutrients, Sullivan encounters a world of Tea Partiers, infatuated naturalists, Christian-rock fans, Katrina survivors, and the wife of the guy who "does pyro" for Bon Jovi. The deep background here is that he has more in common with these people than you'd think. In his Axl Rose profile he describes Indiana as "the most nowhere part of America," and before you start calling Sullivan a snob, know that Axl Rose isn't the only one from Indiana: despi...more
Scott
I had dreams about these essays, several times, actually, during the week or so I spent with Pulphead. They were those vivid kind of dreams in which you relive an event in your life--a party, an intimate encounter, a vacation--but, you know, in a more crazy, dreamy sort of way. So I'd wake up and be like, wait, when did I hang out with Axl Rose...?? Or: why was I in those caves...?? Anyway, the point is that John Jeremiah Sullivan is an wonderfully immersive writer, with a pinpoint eye for the t...more
Billpilgrim
Anthology of magazine articles. I would have liked it if the book included at least the date that the pieces were originally published.
I first encountered Sullivan (at least to my knowledge) last year when I read a piece that he wrote for the NY Times Magazine about going to Disney World with his young daughter and some friends (read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/mag...). It is a very funny piece. Also, after hearing about this book, I checked him out further and found a review he wro...more
M. Sarki
May 16, 2012 M. Sarki rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: DFW fans
Many really good pieces in this collection. A book worth reading. I wrote a complete review of this book here:

http://mewlhouse.hubpages.com/t/30494a

7 May 2012: Hard for me to understand any negativity about this book as a whole. I am more than half way through it and the only subjects Mr. Sullivan has failed to interest me in has been Axl Rose and the fellow Miz and The Real World. I would think my disinterest in these two similarly juvenile subjects has something to do with my advanced age thou...more
Paul
Jun 20, 2012 Paul rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
About half the essays here are great. The ones I'm calling not-great are not-great only because I suppose I'm less interested in odd historical ephemera than odd pop-cultural ephemera, which anyway is where I feel Sullivan excels. Unfortunately(?), the strongest essay here is the first, so I began the collection downright giddy, and slowly realized as I moved on that things would never be the same again. Still, impressive for its variety; Sullivan is hilarious in that first essay (about a Christ...more
Emily
Pulphead is more of a 3.5-3.75 star book than a 4 star, but the rating system will not allow me to award partial stars so I'm rounding up.

I found Pulphead on the Guardian's "Best Books of 2011" list and I was itching for something new to read. The review pimped it out as being analogous to David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again." To be fair, this pushed my expectations a little high because almost nothing except, perhaps, Hunter Thompson's "The Great Shark Hunt" com...more
Christopher Bundy
I've been meaning to post about this smart collection of essays -- Pulphead -- from John Jeremiah Sullivan for some time but then I find and read another essay by him and would rather just read him than talk about him--I think I've finally exhausted what's available out there. And now I'm in line behind dozens of other writers and readers who have already championed this guy's work, someone whose prose is so intimate and immediate that I feel as if we have a relationship.

He writes in the traditi...more
Bernd Thümmel Thümmel
Das wunderbare Buch von John Jeremiah Sullivan ist kürzlich auch in deutscher Sprache erschienen.

Es ist ein hervorragendes Werk, das einem Ausländer wie mir einen wunderbaren Einblick gibt, in die Amerikanische Welt des Irrsinns der dortigen Gegenwart und Kultur. Der Autor schreibt perfekt über diejenigen Details, die nicht in den umfangreichen Werken und Zeitungsartikeln des, von mir einfach mal so genannten "Mainstream-Journalismus" zu finden sind.

Der Autor schreibt sehr abwechslungsreich, kl...more
Evan Rail
I nearly didn't finish this, and I'm glad I did. It gets better towards the end.

The pluses: sharply crafted prose. A sly wit. (I laughed out loud more than once.) A remarkable sense of observation. An appreciative sense of awe and —often —a graceful lack of cynicism. Some of the essays strike emotional chords that are refreshingly earnest, almost naive, in the very best way. I bet I'll remember the story about Mr. Sullivan's brother ("Feet in Smoke") for years.

The not-so-muches: the magazine-so...more
Lorenzo Berardi
I had never read a single feature written by John Jeremiah Sullivan before buying 'Pulphead'.
To be completely honest with you, despite Mr Sullivan being a regular contributor of excellent papers such as 'The Paris Review' and 'The New York Times' for a number of years, his name was unknown to me til a few months ago. My apologies for that, John Jeremiah.

It took a score of praising reviews for 'Pulphead' I spotted here (thank you, Kinga) and there (thank you, Guardian and Independent) to make m...more
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John Jeremiah Sullivan is an American writer and editor. He is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, and southern editor of The Paris Review.

Sullivan's first book, Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, was published in 2004. It is part personal reminiscence, part elegy for his father, and part investigation into the history and cul...more
More about John Jeremiah Sullivan...
Blood Horses : Notes of a Sportswriter's Son Mister Lytle The Best American Essays 2014

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“We live in such constant nearness to the abyss of past time that the moment is endlessly sucked into.” 7 likes
“People hate these shows, but their hatred smacks of denial. It's all there, all the old American grotesques, the test-tube babies of Whitman and Poe, a great gauntlet of doubtless eyes, big mouths spewing fantastic catchphrase fountains of impenetrable self-justification, muttering dark prayers, calling on God to strike down those who would fuck with their money, their cash, and always knowing, always preaching. Using weird phrases that nobody uses, except everybody uses them now. Constantly talking about 'goals.' Throwing carbonic acid on our castmates because they used our special cup annd then calling our mom to say, in a baby voice, 'People don't get me here.' Walking around half-naked with a butcher knife behind our backs. Telling it like it is, y'all (what-what). And never passive-aggressive, no. Saying it straight to your face. But crying...My God, there have been more tears shed on reality TV than by all the war widows of the world. Are we so raw? It must be so. There are simply too many of them-too many shows and too many people on the shows-for them not to be revealing something endemic. This is us, a people of savage sentimentality, weeping and lifting weights.” 5 likes
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