Pulphead: Essays


Pulphead: Essays Cale H.
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Product Description

John Jeremiah Sullivan leads readers on a mind-bending tour of American culture: popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten. On an addled quest for some kind of American enlightenment, Sullivan takes readers from a joyous Christian rock festival to the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, across the Southeast in pursuit of lost blues musicians and nineteenth-century botanists, and to Indiana, tracking the origins of Axl Rose and Michael Jackson. As Sullivan wrestles with the deep strangeness of our moment in history, a unifying narrative starts to emerge, a story about this country we haven’t heard before, haven’t heard told this way. Sullivan is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the southern editor of The Paris Review. 369p.

Editorial Reviews

Though many of the articles collected here illuminate the surfaces of popular culture, the best of them go deeper into the heart of America.

Most of these essays are reported pieces, some of them profiles (of musical artists Bunny Wailer and Axl Rose), others long-form feature stories (on a Christian rock festival, reality TV, the Tea Party revolt). Yet New York Times Magazine contributing writer Sullivan (Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, 2004) is always inherently a part of these stories, conscious of himself as an observer and of his perspective as an interpreter, though never gratuitously or self-indulgently intrusive. As a writer for publications ranging from GQ to the Paris Review (where he is the southern editor), the native Kentuckian now living in North Carolina shows his familiarity with what one piece terms "the tragic spell of the South," whether he's writing about his complicated relationship with a literary mentor or rekindling memories of an evangelical past while bonding with believers at a music festival. Throughout, he recognizes the danger of "a too-easy eloquence," and his appreciation of the "unknowable" Michael Jackson in particular challenges a facile understanding. As is usually the case in such collections, some of the pieces are slighter than others, though none seem journalistically dated. Even "At a Shelter (After Katrina)" comes alive on the page through the vividness of its sensory detail. Sullivan's ambition is evident and suggests that he has a much bigger book in him, whether he's examining "a historical portal [where] you could slip into it and get behind the eyes of the American mind for a minute" or contemplating "the future of the human race" (hint: It involves a war against the animal world, which may have some scientific basis or may be a flight of fantasy).

Mostly impressive work from a writer who frequently causes readers to challenge their own perspectives.


Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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