Review: Pulphead

For me, reading Pulphead was the experience of discovering a great new writer.  I know others have already realized that John Jeremiah Sullivan is a great writer – these pieces have all been out in the world in some form or another for a while – but for me this was a slow pleasant immersion in his thoughtful, personal, intellectual explorations of American culture.

The topics in Pulphead range from the nakedly personal –  an essay about his brother recovering from a traumatic brain injury – to the glossily fluffy – a description of a personal appearance by people on MTV’s Real World reality franchise.  The breadth of the topics is not remarkable; we live in a world of stunt authors willing to dive into unusual situations and drag a book out of it.  What is remarkable in Sullivan’s essays is how he invests himself personally and intellectually in each situation.  These are personal essays in the very best sense of the word.  He brings his unique perspective to each encounter fearlessly while balancing the personal with keen analysis, introspection, and consideration.  Each one is a compelling cozy conversation with an interesting thinker.

The range of topics encourages a range of tone, though, that shows off Sullivan’s range admirably.  He can be a surprisingly playful writer and each essay offers opportunities to show off different aspects of his style.  To his credit, these aspects are not the ones one might expect from the essay topics.  It brings a certain sense of discovery to each one.

While Sullivan works some of the same territory as Chuck Klosterman, they are very distinct writers.  I do suspect that Klosterman fans who have not read Sullivan are in for a treat.  As are readers who have not read Sullivan for any other reason.

Strongly recommended.


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