In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Sullivan shows us―with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that's all his own―how we really (no, really) live now. Named A Best Book of 2011 by the New York Times, Time Magazine, the Boston Globe and Entertainment Weekly.
[Sullivan] seems to have in abundance the storyteller’s gifts: he is a fierce noticer, is undauntedly curious, is porous to gossip, and has a memory of childlike tenacity. Anecdotes fly off the wheels of his larger narratives ... No decent writer could go wrong with what we imagine to be the heady hideousness of a Christian rock festival, and these West Virginians on fire for Christ are juicy material: Just-So Stories from the unfathomable evangelical jungle, waiting to be written up by the compensated connoisseur once he has returned to civilization. But not only does Sullivan avoid condescension; he admires his new friends, listens to them, and quietly compacts an enormous amount of acquired information into his prose ... the gulf vanishes when Sullivan writes ... Unlike Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion, who bring their famous styles along with them like well-set, just-done hair, Sullivan lets his subjects muss and alter his prose; he works like a novelist ... On the Geoff Dyer-scale, he is a fairly old-fashioned essayist. And, anyway, his talent is beautifully for the real; or, rather, for the real fictions that people make of the real, and which they live by.
In January, John Jeremiah Sullivan entered my life like a crashing meteor ... My reaction — and, I now discover, the reaction of many new arrivals at the church of John Jeremiah — was simple and confounded: where had this guy been all our lives ... The subject matter of these essays is wildly various...unified only in the personality of the author, who is by turns curious, waspish, sentimental, maudlin, faux-naif, warm-hearted and urbane ... Despite its pop-culture references and ostensibly banal subject matter, there is something daring, high-minded about his writing ... Sullivan is consistently surprising, not least to himself ... In 'Upon This Rock', the jewel of the collection, both we and the author expect certain things to happen ... What begins as a typical New York magazine assignment — snarky urban writer documents credulous brainwashed hicks — turns into something much stranger, and richer. The effect is devastating.
A few months ago, the writer John Jeremiah Sullivan published, for all intents and purposes, the perfect magazine piece ... The bad news is that 'A Rough Guide to Disney World' does not appear in Sullivan's new essay collection, Pulphead. The good news is that 14 other stories do, and they're all almost as good — which is to say, they're among the liveliest magazine features written by anyone in the past 10 years ... The essays in Pulphead ... What they have in common, though, whether low or high of brow, is their author's essential curiosity about the world, his eye for the perfect detail, and his great good humor in revealing both his subjects' and his own foibles ... a collection that shows why Sullivan might be the best magazine writer around.