I am really looking forward to meeting my latest houseguest. I met John Jeremiah Sullivan serendipitously via Twitter or, more accurately, because my friend Sasha Frere-Jones posted a link on Twitter to A Rough Guide to Disney World, a New York Times Magazine article by John; if this doesn't capture, with wry irony and humor, the hollowed-out-head-slapping-mind-numb that is Disney World, then I don't know what does.. Here's the opening paragraphs:
Something you learn rearing kids in this young millennium is that the word “Disney” works as a verb. As in, “Do you Disney?” Or, “Are we Disneying this year?” Technically a person could use the terms in speaking about the original Disneyland, in California, but this would be an anomalous usage. One goes to Disneyland and has a great time there, probably — I’ve never been — but one Disneys at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. There’s an implication of surrender to something enormous.
One night my wife, M. J., said I should prepare to Disney. It wasn’t presented as a question or even as something to waste time thinking about, just to brace for, because it was happening. We have some old friends, Trevor and Shell (short for Michelle), and they have a girl, Flora, 5, who is only a year older than our daughter, Mimi. The girls grew up thinking of each other as cousins and get along beautifully. Shell and Trevor also have a younger son, Lil’ Dog. He possesses a real, dignified-sounding name, but his grandparents are the only people I’ve ever heard call him that. All his life he has been Lil’ Dog. The nickname didn’t come about in any special way. There’s no story attached. It was as if, at the moment of birth, the boy himself spoke and chose this moniker. When you look at him, something in him makes you want to say, “Lil’ Dog.” He’s a tiny, sandy-haired, muscular guy, with a goofy, lolling grin, who’s always about twice as heavy when you pick him up as you thought he was going to be.
I read the article, became hooked, searched the web for more and discovered links to John's essays and articles and read them all. Some of the essays appear in his new collection Pulphead: Essays, of which the New York Times Book Review says "...(It) is the best, and most important, collection of magazine writing since David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again… Sullivan’s writing is a bizarrely coherent, novel, and generous pastiche of the biblical, the demotic, the regionally gusty and the erudite."
John had reached me by email in July of this year after reading a post of mine, A History of Horse Racing and Our Current Political Climate, wherein I had somehow managed to be inspired enough by his book, Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, to weave together a discourse on Obama, John Boehner, Hegel, Krugman, the Kentucky Derby, the Tea Party, Mitt Romney, Wall Street and the Greek debt default problems for the Euro Zone. Perhaps reading Sullivan makes one do that..
I will be at Powells Books in Portland on November 17th to hear John give a reading from his new book; I highly recommend you do the same and if you can't make it that night, do yourself a favour and buy his book. You won't regret it.
Here's the official blurb from the book's publisher:
A sharp-eyed, uniquely humane tour of America’s cultural landscape—from high to low to lower than low—by the award-winning young star of the literary nonfiction world
In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us—with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that’s all his own—how we really (no, really) live now.
In his native Kentucky, Sullivan introduces us to Constantine Rafinesque, a nineteenth-century polymath genius who concocted a dense, fantastical prehistory of the New World. Back in modern times, Sullivan takes us to the Ozarks for a Christian rock festival; to Florida to meet the alumni and straggling refugees of MTV’s Real World, who’ve generated their own self-perpetuating economy of minor celebrity; and all across the South on the trail of the blues. He takes us to Indiana to investigate the formative years of Michael Jackson and Axl Rose and then to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina—and back again as its residents confront the BP oil spill.
Gradually, a unifying narrative emerges, a story about this country that we’ve never heard told this way. It’s like a fun-house hall-of-mirrors tour: Sullivan shows us who we are in ways we’ve never imagined to be true. Of course we don’t know whether to laugh or cry when faced with this reflection—it’s our inevitable sob-guffaws that attest to the power of Sullivan’s work.