I read various things online about books. I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting to read, something out of the ordinary, or just plain old good writing. Everyone is doing their end of the year reviews (don't worry. Mine is coming soon.) and time after time I have been coming across the name of John Jeremiah Sullivan. I don't think I have read a single negative thing on his newest book, Pulpheads, which is his second book. Blood Horses is his first and given my love for the horsies, I thought I would read it first.
If you couldn't care less about horsies, you'd still love this book. I've been trying to communicate my feelings about this book to a few people and I haven't been able to adequately express it. Reading this book made me feel smarter. This is different, I think, than what you think. There are many books that I read where I learn something. That makes me more knowledgeable. Sullivan makes me feel smarter. It's as if he found a way to ignite my brain cells to understand and explore things in ways I never have.
I think a lot of this comes from Sullivan's style. While this book is about horses, it's really about everything. Sullivan grew up in Kentucky and his father was a sportswriter so he has had a lot of personal connection with the sport of horse racing. He weaves his own personal history into his own personal present and ties it in with historical and current equestrian issues. He'll be talking about his Dad and next thing you know he's talking about Hitler. And even though you're suddenly reading about something you don't think you were reading about a page or two ago, you really are. Sullivan entwines everything marvelously. The changes aren't jolting. There are no non sequiturs. The transitions are smooth.
Sullivan does fantastic research and tells great stories. He has a gift for detail which is just amazing. After finishing the book, I found that I had made note of four books he referenced in the text that I wanted to read some more. Two are on their way to me now through Interlibrary Loan. And readers of this blog know that one of the things I look for in good non-fiction is how much it makes me want to learn more about whatever it is the author covered.
The book itself is really comprised of a lot of different essays of various length. They work so well together, you don't even realize that these are all separate components. It reads like a book, not a collection of essays, if that makes sense.
The only downside of the book were the illustrations. There are a large number of them but they are all in black and white and very little, if anything, was done to them to enhance the image quality. Some are so dark as to be undefinable. There are some neat photos and some interesting piece of equine art pictured and it would have been nice if more effort had been made by the publisher to showcase them rather than make them seem like filler.
If you received an Amazon or Barnes and Noble's gift card for the December holiday of your choice and are looking for something on which to spend it, it will be well worth using your card on this book. As for me, I'll probably try and read Pulpheads in 2012 and will review the two books that Sullivan led me to sometime in January.