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on 12 December 2014
Sullivan's Pulphead is extremely compelling, on music. cave-paintings, American eccentrics, anything he has cared to write about, whether you were interested in his subject beforehand or not.
Maybe this is even more interesting: such an intense personal record of American racing, although, heartlessly, I can always give or take the memoir aspect. Your parents, why I should I care?
When he's in Kentucky and going to races the book is at its best, and all he has to say about the horse and its history is a great introduction to the subject, with moving literary touches about its sufferings as a warhorse, and its veneration as a hobbyhorse.
Certainly young writers should emulate great ones, but I'm not sure Sebald has done so many young Americans many favours. We could lose the blotchy photos in all their books, they bring nothing, in Sebald they serve as poetic symbols. But Sullivan has really learnt from Sebald's discursive melancholy, and his writing has its own original beauty and clarity.
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Sullivan was celebrated last year for his book of essays, Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America, which must be why a publisher finally picked up and published this earlier account of a very American horse-racing scene. Yellow Jersey should be commended for doing so, and this isn't the first book I've read from them which seems to blur with great success the edges of the sports book genre they started out concentrating on. The son of a sportswriter, this book is both history of racehorses and sentimental family memoir. Sullivan writes absolutely beautifully about his father, who you end up wishing you could have met. Sullivan Snr sounds hilarious, frustrating and likeable. He was also terrible at taking care of his own health, which left his son with a whole lot of filial ambivalence, which is also expressed with great affection and poetry in the book.

Led by what seems almost a chance remark his dad made, about seeing the great American racehorse Secretariat, Sullivan embarked on a post-funeral quest to learn all about horse racing. He's no slouch. He manages to provide the reader with lots of factual information about training and racing, at the same time as quoting Proust, Kafka, DH Lawrence, Hitler and Nietzsche, referring in offhand asides to Sappho, Theognis and Jessica Simpson, amongst others. There are lots of intriguing side-meditations and wanders-off-the-beaten-track - including some great bits about cultural attitudes to eating horses, which suddenly illuminated the current UK dramas about horse burgers.

Very enjoyable, sweet and at points moved me to tears. Highly recommended.
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on 30 January 2015
First of all, I'm a massive horse racing fan and therefore the theme of the book is interesting for me. Surprisingly though, the strongest part of the book is the authors personal story, the thoughts on his father, their relationship, and the sad ending of it. It is emotional and really made me feel it. There are interesting parts about the history of the horse as well as breeding and racing itself. When he talks about the evolving pedigree lines, about the Triple Crown, bringing in his own experience from the Derby.

However, I can only give 3* after all because as captivating the book was in parts, so though it was to stick with it in other parts. There is a clear lack of focus and direction. This switching back and forth, memoirs, history, quotes... there is too much content cramped into this book unfortunately and there were a point where I was seriously considering to discontinue reading it. There were exciting parts, and there were plain boring, pointless parts. Sometimes less is more.
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on 12 March 2016
Prattles on a bit without really gripping you. Provides an interesting enough snapshot to a time and place but ultimately not a book I'd go back to or recommend.
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on 16 April 2016
A bit discombobulated at times –– Sullivan seems eager to try to link two things that don't really link together –– but brilliant writing, as you would expect.
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on 4 January 2015
Great odd marvelous memoir.
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