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16 Reviews
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously great essayist
This is a brilliant collection of essays. The last time I was this overjoyed at discovering a writer was reading David foster wallace's Consider the Lobster, another collection I'd recommend in a heartbeat.

There are a couple profiles here - one on Michael Jackson, the other on W.Axl Rose - that I thought were just stupendous. The account of his weekend at a...
Published on 23 April 2012 by Kennedy

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting collection of journalism focusing on American popular culture and cultural history
'Pulphead' is a collection of long-form journalism by a well-established American journalist and editor. The fifteen pieces here cover a wide variety of subjects and settings, but are broadly linked by the writer's Southern identity and knowledgeable enthusiasm for American popular culture and history.

The result is always readable, whether Sullivan is...
Published 22 months ago by Paul Bowes


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously great essayist, 23 April 2012
This review is from: Pulphead (Paperback)
This is a brilliant collection of essays. The last time I was this overjoyed at discovering a writer was reading David foster wallace's Consider the Lobster, another collection I'd recommend in a heartbeat.

There are a couple profiles here - one on Michael Jackson, the other on W.Axl Rose - that I thought were just stupendous. The account of his weekend at a christian rock festival is one of the funniest, and most moving things I've read in a long time. And his description of a night out with a reality TV star is awesome.

This is a fantastic, humane, funny and wise book by a writer whose future work I greatly look forward to.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best non-fiction I've read in years., 14 Mar 2012
This review is from: Pulphead (Paperback)
I must have recommended this book to half a dozen people already and I'm still reading it. I bought it on the strength of reading one of JJS's essays online, and the rest of the book has been even better than I expected. I didn't know what any of the other essays were about, and when I began reading some (most) of them, I kept thinking "I don't know anything about this subject, I don't know if I'm interested". But by the end of each one, not only was I interested in the subject, but I had about a million cool anecdotes about it to tell the next person I met about.

Seriously - this book is ace. I'll be sad when I've finished reading it. But I'll probably read it again in about six months, once it's come back from all the folks I have to lend it to in the meantime.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thrilling, cool and funny, 10 Aug 2012
By 
Andrew Dunn (london) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
The best essay collection since David Foster Wallace's A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I'LL NEVER DO AGAIN. Like DFW, Sullivan is a midwesterner, and he is drawn to the underreported, the flyover subject. Whether it's cave art, a Christian Rock festival, the teenage skirmishes of Axl Rose or an obscure 19th century botanist, he makes it fascinating. Often very funny, Sullivan's voice is supple, smart, and occasionally engaged to the point of going gonzo (if you love Hunter S. Thompson then the opening essay in PULPHEAD will be swooping and screeching and diving right up your street).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch this space..., 16 Aug 2012
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
The brilliant writer Edward Docx raved about this book in the weekend press and I ordered it from Amazon straightaway.

I am only 11 pages in and I can tell just from the quality of the writing that this is going to be a great read.

Watch this space...

Update 1:

Pulphead is a series of essays by American journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan. In the first essay, "Upon This Rock", Sullivan travels 500 in a 29ft camper van (the journey is hilarious) to cover a Christian rock gathering called Creation. There is a certain style of writing that is unique to America: writing that wears its intelligence lightly and is therefore full of charm. And funny. Did I mention that? Very, very funny.

Update 2:

This is a short essay about a terrible accident that happens to the author's half-brother. It manages to be hugely touching without being remotely maudlin. No mean achievement.

Update 3:

Having now finished Pulphead, I felt that I had to reduce my rating to 4* because I thought that the subject matter of some of JJS's essays were a little esoteric for a UK audience, or to be more precise, for this reader. Having said that, I do think this guy's a great writer and even if you skip a couple of the essays, as I did, you'll still find plenty in it to enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Engaging, 24 Jan 2013
This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead has been universally praised, which is strange, for collections of essays rarely get that much attention. But are they any good? Well, yes, they are, and the book deserves its laudatory notices. In reality, though, these verdicts are given in relief, as Sullivan proves the existence of authentic writers who don't want to jump on the novelist bandwagon (although he will undoubtedly go there). These points, however, shouldn't detract from the success of this book, for the essays are sophisticated and eloquent, funny and engaging, a veritable mishmash of the high and the low.

Whereas Martin Amis, in The Moronic Inferno (1986), came at America with the Englishman's ironic detachment, Sullivan, a proud Southerner, gets right in there with his fellow countrymen (and women). The opening essay, 'Upon This Rock', gives a fair representation of his modus operandi. The piece sees the author go to Creation, a Christian rock festival. It may be an easy target for satire, but Sullivan avoids this pitfall by empathising with the people he meets, people on 'fire for Christ'. That he admits to having had a '"Jesus phase"' himself only authenticates the openness and veracity of his approach: an honest journalist is no longer an oxymoron.

The other articles in this collection follow the autobiographical method. Sullivan, however, doesn't overwork the gonzo element and writes in a variety of different registers. The slangy piece on MTV's The Real World, 'Getting Down to What is Really Real', sees his voice morphing into that of its viewers, whereas the essay on Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, 'La*Hwi*Ne*Ski: Career of an Eccentric Naturalist', explores that strange polymath's career in a scholarly prose. 'Feet In Smoke', a memoir recording his brother's near-death from electrocution, is a touching account of mortality, while the dispatches on Michael Jackson and 'The Final Comeback of Axl Rose' transcend the faults of mere fandom.

Sullivan, then, can easily adapt his language and approach to suit the multifarious subjects under review. Some essays, such as 'Unnamed Caves', are too long; some are too short ('Mr. Lytle: An Essay' could easily become a book). But the imbalance is easily forgiven. Where, though, will he go from here? The essay format is his natural playground, and he's nimbly fused the novelistic flourishes with a blurring of fact and fiction. Will this be enough? Who knows, but it will be interesting to see where he goes next...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting collection of journalism focusing on American popular culture and cultural history, 9 Jan 2013
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
'Pulphead' is a collection of long-form journalism by a well-established American journalist and editor. The fifteen pieces here cover a wide variety of subjects and settings, but are broadly linked by the writer's Southern identity and knowledgeable enthusiasm for American popular culture and history.

The result is always readable, whether Sullivan is celebrating W. Axl Rose or Andrew Lytle, last of the 'Twelve Southerners': considering the improbable career of the early nineteenth-century naturalist Constantine Rafinesque; or bringing out the significance of the cave art of the SECC, the so-called 'Southern Death Cult'. Sullivan is an alert, intelligent and occasionally very funny writer, somewhat in the mode of Greil Marcus, prone to going off at odd tangents but with a central core of recurring concerns.

This book has been much talked about, but in my opinion has been somewhat oversold. It's a useful collection of Sullivan's superior journalism, but no more than that. It suffers the problem of all collections of miscellaneous pieces in being best read in sections than continuously. The final three short pieces are of considerably less interest than the body of the book and gave me the impression that they had been tacked on to bulk it out - an unnecessarily irritating conclusion to what up to that point had been an enjoyable experience. In general, Sullivan is most interesting when he himself, and his family, are least central.

Nonetheless, the main pieces are well worth reading for anybody interested in Americana. The essay on Axl Rose and Michael Jackson in particular is as good a piece of popular music journalism as one might wish to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everybody I've asked thinks this is great!, 25 Oct 2012
By 
Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
In amongst all the serious stuff about going on holiday, you have to mix in some fun, so when I saw this reviewed I thought it might make a suitable companion on my long-planned Deep South Musical Odyssey between Mobile and Austin. Specifically I thought it would be good for the flights between London and Houston, an antidote to all those government papers and intelligence briefings I usually carry with me.

Some of Pulphead was particularly apposite, given that I was finally bound for New Orleans, seven years after my original visit was postponed by Katrina, with a chapter about post-Katrina New Orleans: the dead animals, the new camaraderies, the stories of near death, and of how WWIII nearly breaks out in the queue for gas, an episode which prepared me well for the driving etiquette on I10.

What's really striking, and skilful, about much of Sullivan's writing is the way each article slips seamlessly and almost unnoticed away from its supposed subject. So the first chapter, supposedly about a Christian rock festival, is used as a vehicle (no pun intended) for a cautionary tale regarding the perils of driving oversize RVs. Here also is revealed the author's enviable ability to quote the scriptures, without believing a word, an ability which also comes in useful in a later chapter when he catches a Christian fundamentalist attributing to Marx a mantra actually originating in the Bible.

In previous times I have, despite his political leanings, enjoyed the writings of PJ O'Rourke (I have shamelessly stolen the joke he uses as epigraph to Republican Party Animal, and refer ad nauseam to Holidays In Hell, especially that teasing farm animals is the national sport of Spain, though I did find his explanation of The Wealth Of Nations rather dull). Sullivan, it transpires, I can enjoy guilt free, as in American Grotesque, for example, he manages to confirm for me all my prejudices about the Tea Partiers, with their dog-whistle racism, superstitious opposition to Obamacare and general antipathy to government, usually to their own detriment. (In fairness, I'd guess PJ himself would do a job on the TP, and possibly has.) But Sullivan is mostly quite subtle in his put-downs, applying the judo approach of using his targets' own numbskullery to tell its own story. Give `em enough rope...

Four of the standout chapters deal, one way or another, with the music industry. There's a touching chapter in defence of Michael Jackson, in which both barrels are levelled at those involved in the Martin Bashir-inspired witch-hunt against the singer. There's an amusing account of how the author succeeded in interviewing just about everybody ever involved in Axl Rose's life except Axl himself. The account of his interviews with Bunny Wailer is interesting for the insights into the story of reggae in Jamaica, especially those dealing with Bob Marley, and chilling for the insights it gives into the politics of the island. And he provides an impressive textual analysis of a blues country song as a lead-in to an essay on the blues industry as possibly invented by whites, which also gives a fresh look at Robert Johnson and his lyrics, in a chapter inviting comparisons with Amanda Petrusich's It Still Moves, a book examining Americana music which nevertheless manages to spend a whole chapter looking inside the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

Sullivan's Epilogue is set in Disney World, which is portrayed as little less dystopian than the theme park in Westworld, a movie in which Yul Brynner, playing a robot gunslinger, goes rogue and, somehow overriding the park's safety features, starts killing people. Just like, in fact, the world's animals will soon start doing if you believe the chapter Violence Of The Lambs. Hilarious.

I'd almost say there was something for everybody, but then I realise the everybody I've polled here is just me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mentioned in every conversation, 27 Sep 2012
By 
Chris Cope (Cardiff, Wales) - See all my reviews
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There are a number of ways to judge the quality of a book. I think one must be how many times you bring it up in conversation. By that standard, Pulphead is one of the best books I've read this year; I find myself referencing it constantly. By other standards, as well, it is a very good book. Well-written, interesting and often quite funny. Sullivan half pitches himself as a voice of the US South, which can only be a good thing for the much-maligned region, but I think he is more than that. He has greater scope and greater appeal.

For my own part, I found his style to be very close to that which I am trying to develop in my own writing. So I find him to be an inspiration. But I recommend this collection of essays for even the most casual reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting..., 10 Jan 2013
By 
MCDee (Perth,Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
Well-balanced, fascinating and evenly paced.

Some particular insights I would have happily read more of, while only one or two felt a bit too long.

Not a format of book which I often read, but very good all the same.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 10 July 2014
This review is from: Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America (Paperback)
Husband raved about this book
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Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America
Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America by John Jeremiah Sullivan (Paperback - 2 Aug 2012)
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