The Fan Who Knew Too Much by Anthony Heilbut

98%

14 Critic Reviews

The Fan Who Knew Too Much is a fine collection, but it's chiefly notable for one essay..."The Children and Their Secret Closet,"...
-NPR

Synopsis

A dazzling exploration of American culture—from high pop to highbrow—by acclaimed music authority, cultural historian, and biographer Anthony Heilbut, author of the now classic The Gospel Sound (“Definitive” —Rolling Stone), Exiled in Paradise, and Thomas Mann (“Electric”—Harold Brodkey).

In The Fan Who Knew Too Much, Heilbut writes about art and obsession, from country blues singers and male sopranos to European intellectuals and the originators of radio soap opera—figures transfixed and transformed who helped to change the American cultural landscape.

Heilbut writes about Aretha Franklin, the longest-lasting female star of our time, who changed performing for women of all races. He writes about Aretha’s evolution as a singer and performer (she came out of the tradition of Mahalia Jackson); before Aretha, there were only two blues-singing gospel women—Dinah Washington, who told it like it was, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who specialized, like Aretha, in ambivalence, erotic gospel, and holy blues.

We see the influence of Aretha’s father, C. L. Franklin, famous pastor of Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church. Franklin’s albums preached a theology of liberation and racial pride that sold millions and helped prepare the way for Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend Franklin was considered royalty and, Heilbut writes, it was inevitable that his daughter would become the Queen of Soul.

In “The Children and Their Secret Closet,” Heilbut writes about gays in the Pentecostal church, the black church’s rock and shield for more than a hundred years, its true heroes, and among its most faithful members and vivid celebrants. And he explores, as well, the influential role of gays in the white Pentecostal church.
In “Somebody Else’s Paradise,” Heilbut writes about the German exiles who fled Hitler—Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Marlene Dietrich, and others—and their long reach into the world of American science, art, politics, and literature. He contemplates the continued relevance of the émigré Joseph Roth, a Galician Jew, who died an impoverished alcoholic and is now considered the peer of Kafka and Thomas Mann.

And in “Brave Tomorrows for Bachelor’s Children,” Heilbut explores the evolution of the soap opera. He writes about the form itself and how it catered to social outcasts and have-nots; the writers insisting its values were traditional, conservative; their critics seeing soap operas as the secret saboteurs of traditional marriage—the women as castrating wives; their husbands as emasculated men. Heilbut writes that soaps went beyond melodrama, deep into the perverse and the surreal, domesticating Freud and making sibling rivalry, transference, and Oedipal and Electra complexes the stuff of daily life. 

And he writes of the “daytime serial’s unwed mother,” Irna Phillips, a Chicago wannabe actress (a Margaret Hamilton of the shtetl) who created radio’s most seminal soap operas—Today’s Children, The Road of Life among them—and for television, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, etc., and who became known as the “queen of the soaps.” Hers, Heilbut writes, was the proud perspective of someone who didn’t fit anywhere, the stray no one loved.

The Fan Who Knew Too Much is a revelatory look at some of our American icons and iconic institutions, high, low, and exalted.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Anthony Heilbut

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Anthony Heilbut received his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University. He has taught at New York University and Hunter College and is the author of Exiled in Paradise, The Gospel Sound, and Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature. Heilbut is also a record producer specializing in gospel music and has won both a Grammy Award and a Grand Prix du Disque.
 
Published June 19, 2012 by Knopf. 368 pages
Genres: Other, History, Political & Social Sciences, Arts & Photography, Gay & Lesbian, Religion & Spirituality. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Fan Who Knew Too Much
All: 14 | Positive: 14 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Excellent
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on May 01 2012

A cook’s tour through the passions of an expert whose style is as eclectic as his subject matter.

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WSJ online

Excellent
Reviewed by EDDIE DEAN on Jun 29 2012

These essays form a highly personal epilogue to "The Gospel Sound" and allow Mr. Heilbut to deploy a confessional mode that suits his elegy for a dying American art.

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Michael Schaub on Jun 26 2012

The Fan Who Knew Too Much is a fine collection, but it's chiefly notable for one essay..."The Children and Their Secret Closet,"...

Read Full Review of The Fan Who Knew Too Much | See more reviews from NPR

The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Louis Bayard on Aug 03 2012

Without breaking a sweat, he swings from the plight of modern academia (“a world of downsized intellectuals and lapsed wunderkinder”) to the enduring values of the daytime radio serial...

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Ian Crouch on Jun 21 2012

Heilbut’s various obsessions are weaved through this deeply personal collection, giving it the charismatic stamp of a single man and a single mind.

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Slate

Excellent
Reviewed by Noah Berlatsky on Jun 29 2012

The devotional nature of Heilbut's writing comes through most clearly, perhaps, when he chronicles the great passion of his life: the music, the voice, and the soul of gospel performer Marion Williams.

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The Daily Beast

Excellent
Reviewed by Luke Kerr-Dineen on Jun 11 2012

The passions that drive the cultural historian Anthony Heilbut become clear in this collection of essays by a rapacious fan of gospel music, Jewish immigrant culture, and German literature.

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PopMatters

Excellent
Reviewed by Mark Reynolds on Aug 17 2012

...but the book itself is largely a compendium of extensions from his previous work. Subjects that he only touched on previously, such as pioneering soap opera creator Irna Phillips, get a longer look here.

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Shelf Awareness

Excellent
Reviewed by Tom Lavoie on Jun 07 2012

The eight essays collected in The Fan Who Knew Too Much further reveal Heilbut's polymath talents, as he meditates in surprising ways on a wide range of topics.

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Lambda Literary

Excellent
Reviewed by Rashod Ollison on Jul 29 2012

The first part of the book, which consists of two long and gloriously detailed essays on the black church and the career of Queen Aretha, is the most absorbing.

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Straight.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Alexander Varty on Sep 05 2012

...but it’s Anthony Heilbut’s insight into the stirring, shouting world of gospel music that makes The Fan Who Knew Too Much a must-read.

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The Paris Review

Excellent
Reviewed by Sadie Stein on Jun 08 2012

I finished The Fan Who Knew Too Much wondering how, without it, I’d ever thought I understood a thing about America in the twentieth century.

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Tablet Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Samuel Freedman on Jun 22 2012

What might seem on first inspection to be a miscellany is on deeper reading a kind of artistic autobiography, one that traces Heilbut’s path from a childhood among the displaced...

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Deep Roots Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Bob Marovich on Nov 13 2012

Reading The Fan Who Knew Too Much is a revelatory and stirring experience. It is an elegy for, and ode to, the émigrés and exiles...who despite their suffering contributed significantly to the richness of American culture.

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Reader Rating for The Fan Who Knew Too Much
89%

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