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really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,402 Ratings  ·  651 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
Paperback, 365 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by FSG Originals (first published 2011)
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Ready Player One by Ernest ClineThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern11/22/63 by Stephen KingBossypants by Tina FeySteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson Best Books of 2011: The Top 100
33rd out of 100 books — 184 voters
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster WallaceNaked by David SedarisSex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck KlostermanMe Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisA Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Best Book of Essays
17th out of 120 books — 104 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 16, 2011 Gabe rated it liked it
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
Dec 23, 2012 Kinga rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it
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 recollection

Jun 05, 2014 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 30, 2015 Elaine rated it really liked it
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
Feb 13, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
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
Mar 12, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it
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
Patrick Brown
Jan 18, 2012 Patrick Brown rated it it was amazing
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
Jakey Gee
Nov 05, 2012 Jakey Gee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Feb 16, 2012 Todd rated it really liked it
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
Dec 25, 2013 Drew rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 02, 2014 J. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, non-fiction, 2012
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'.
Hank Stuever
Jun 03, 2012 Hank Stuever rated it liked it
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
Mar 04, 2013 Kevin rated it it was ok
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
Sep 07, 2012 Gus Sanchez rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
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
Mar 31, 2012 Chad rated it it was amazing
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...
Oct 19, 2013 Adam rated it really liked it
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
May 23, 2012 Austin rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
M. Sarki
May 26, 2016 M. Sarki rated it liked it
Recommends it for: DFW fans

This morning on the CBS Morning Show Charlie Rose was reporting on an exotic animal compound in Oklahoma City and how dangerous to humans it could be since it is situated in the heart of the country's Tornado Alley. There are over one hundred lions and tigers fenced in together in this so-called largest rescue reserve in the nation. The compound's owner expressed his displeasure in the government's possible cracking down and limiting of these types of oper
Christopher Bundy
Jul 25, 2013 Christopher Bundy rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 13, 2012 Tom rated it it was amazing
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
Tess Malone
Feb 07, 2016 Tess Malone rated it it was amazing
I didn't have time to finish this book over my winter break because I was so mind blown by every essay that I took my sweet time absorbing it. So much time that I had two essays left to go by the time I had to return to college. My mother forced me to leave the book behind because I told her she had to read the Michael Jackson essay. I don't regret it. Everyone needs to read this book. I don't even feel horrible for accidentally leaving one of my copies in a plane seat pocket because at least so ...more
Aug 04, 2014 Keith rated it it was ok
Shelves: will-never-read
I thought I would finish this book. I was wrong. The first four essays are interesting, then it starts to go downhill as I learned that mostly the guy is just a pop culture columnist. A pop culture columnist with an ear for sharp prose, to be sure, but I'm sorry -- nothing excuses forty-page diatribes on reality TV, Michael Jackson, and Axl Rose. It's like if Entertainment Tonight was written by one dude - a bunch of thoughts on things I really don't feel the need to think about any more than I ...more
Alan Chen
Mar 31, 2016 Alan Chen rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
I love this genre. Non-fiction essays about inane stuff with a slice of memoir and a dash of commentary. Klosterman does it best in the way he writes about music, relationships, tv shows and then adds his own personal experience that really puts it into the zeitgeist of the period. Sullivan comes close in a couple of the essays that I enjoyed: Upon this Rock, where he goes to a Christian Rockfest with tens of thousands of people and relates his experience to his own experiences with faith and Ge ...more
Feb 18, 2014 Marian rated it liked it
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
Jun 30, 2012 Jason Coleman rated it really liked it
Shelves: greatest-hits
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
Jul 10, 2012 Scott rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 15, 2012 Billpilgrim rated it really liked it
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 It is a very funny piece. Also, after hearing about this book, I checked him out further and found a review he wro
Jun 20, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it
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
Dec 27, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it
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
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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
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“We live in such constant nearness to the abyss of past time that the moment is endlessly sucked into.” 9 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.” 8 likes
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