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Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan
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Jul 10, 12

it was amazing
Read in July, 2012

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 telling detail, the sums-it-all-up anecdote, the image or observation you would never think of but, once said, is so obvious you can almost convince yourself that you've thought that way all along. I loved Pulphead, clearly, which didn't really surprise me, but what I didn't expect was that the essays I would have bet I would have enjoyed least, I enjoyed most. Or almost-most. Sullivan's biting piece on Axl Rose, the funny and moving (yes) one on Michael Jackson, the unashamedly enthusiastic one on MTV's The Real World and its "stars"... I didn't want these to end. But everything's great here: the essay about the incredibly dorky (and likely insane) Constantine Rafinesque, a naturalist of the 1800s who almost figured out evolution before Darwin; the one about the caves in Tennessee, with all of the ancient artwork; the piece on Bunny Wailer, for whom Sullivan scored some ganja on the streets of Kingston, as a present; the one on Geeshie Wiley, some old-time bluesman whom I'd never heard of, but now want to track down and listen to. That's Sullivan, and Pulphead, in a nutshell: he teaches you a lot, and leaves you eager to learn more.
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