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really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  6,927 ratings  ·  756 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
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  6,927 ratings  ·  756 reviews

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Dec 15, 2011 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
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
Adam Dalva
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Uneven collection of essays, but when they're great, they're especially great. I've taught Feet in Smoke ( to my Rutgers class for a couple of years and it always makes an impact - the contrast between Sullivan's story of his brother's near-death experience and RESCUE 911's rendition is an argument for creative writing. "American Grotesque' is an uncanny reading experience in 2019, about the tea party in 2010. And "Peyton's Place" is a great story - Sulli ...more
Mike Puma
Mar 14, 2012 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 recollecti

Jun 24, 2013 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
Feb 19, 2013 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
Patrick Brown
Nov 10, 2011 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
Feb 05, 2012 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
Feb 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
Spied twice in one week on CoverSpy, called a badass by an FSG staffer, and listed on Flavorpill's 25 Greatest Essay Collections of All Time. Why haven't I read this already??

Well, because I forgot all about it. I wrote the above in 2012, when the book came out, and since I didn't rush out to buy it right away, it vanished entirely from my brain. So much so that when I was at a friend's house scanning her shelves for something to read on a flight and she suggested this one, I said, "What, isn't
Jan 11, 2012 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
Mar 12, 2012 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
Benoit Lelièvre
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
The good about PULPHEAD is really great and the bad about it is not exactly bad either. It never is boring, stupid or offensive. It's just that is starts with such a bang and awed me with the profound and moving vision John Jeremiah Sullivan has of America, so when the collection abruptly stops doing that a little bit past halfway through and start talking about 19th century botanists and cave paintings, I've gradually lost interest. Not that these subjects are not interesting, but they don't ha ...more
Jake Goretzki
Nov 05, 2012 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
Hank Stuever
Jun 03, 2012 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 12, 2012 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...
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is really as good as everybody says. Really, really.
M. Sarki
Apr 21, 2012 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 ope
James Murphy
Aug 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Well, Sullivan is a writer who writes with an infectious energy well-seasoned with humor. He's fun to read for a while. These are personal essays ranging in subject matter from Christian rock to reality TV. There are many stations in between. I like it that he seems to write mostly about the South. My favorite is "Mr. Lytle: An Essay" about Andrew Lytle, the last of the old Agrarians, Fugitive Southern writers revolving around John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. My least favor ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, non-fiction
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'.
Feb 28, 2013 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
Mar 14, 2012 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 03, 2017 added it
Shelves: essays
The Wallace comparisons are made more often than they ought to be, and there is a certain line of comparison -- Sullivan, after all, is the sort of guy who regularly flip-flops in his writing from academic perspective to ordinary-as-all-fuck perspective, and writes extensively on Axl Rose. And they manage to publish books of essays, not something a lot of folks are doing nowadays, and especially not something a lot of folks who actually have anything interesting to say are doing nowadays. But th ...more
Sep 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I almost feel bad for only giving it 3 stars. I thought a couple of the essays were really very good, but they just couldn't make up for how mediocre I found the rest. I really enjoyed Feet in Smoke, Michael, Unnamed Caves, Violence of the Lambs and Peyton's Place, but the rest were pretty forgettable. Take my rating with a grain of salt, I am unusually hard on essay collections (short story collections as well).
Dec 25, 2013 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.
Oct 17, 2012 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
Christopher Bundy
Jul 25, 2013 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
Jul 10, 2012 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
Nov 02, 2012 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
May 23, 2012 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
Tess Malone
Dec 22, 2011 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
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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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