The first time the name John Jeremiah Sullivan pierced my consciousness was after reading a piece he'd written in GQ* about the sharp rise in attacks on humans by animals. It was called "Violence of the Lambs" and it was well-written and utterly fascinating and included a plot twist just near the end that helped to further cement John Jeremiah Sullivan's name in my brain, both because the piece was ingenious and because his name was later featured in the letters written by readers, some angry, some appreciative, in response to the piece.
That piece is included near the end of the essay collection Pulphead. On the way there, we travel with Sullivan to a Christian rock festival, we meet a literary legend with whom he had a troubled (and troubling) relationship, we hear his thoughts on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose.
Though the topics in these essays are all over the (geographical, philosophical and cultural) map, the one common thread is Sullivan's unbridled intellectual curiosity. He approaches topics as diverse as prehistoric cave art in Tennessee and an interview with former The Real World castmate turned professional wrestler, "The Miz," with equal enthusiasm.
The enthusiasm is contagious and you may just find yourself (as I did) reading intently about the 19th century fringe naturalist/pathological liar/borderline lunatic Constantine Rafinesque, who had an unexpected (and slight) connection with Sullivan's own distant past. I had never heard of Rafinesque, and going into the essay, would've professed little to no interest in botany and natural history of the 1800s, but once I'd begun the essay, I was irritated by every interruption from the outside world until I'd finished the piece.
How one man could be responsible for that essay and an equally un-put-down-able piece on renting out his home as a set for the teen drama One Tree Hill is one of the universe's unsolvable mysteries as far as I'm concerned, but I look forward to more opportunities to try to figure it out.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Engaging.
*Yes, yes, it's a men's magazine, with occasionally annoying hints of chauvinism and even whiffs of what some might interpret as misogyny. But, it's also full of intelligence and wit that are sorely lacking in many women's magazines.
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