Shoshana, January 25, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
+ An affectionate romp through candy nostalgia, not omitting biting commentary on the politics of big corporations vs. independent manufacturers
- Frequent forced humor
Not the easiest book to read on the treadmill, filled as it is with virtually pornographic paeans to a variety of candies. Motivated by his great love of candy, Almond tours several independent candy companies still hanging on in the U.S. If you like Americana or still bore your friends with tales of a local candy you enjoyed in your youth and have never seen again, you'll enjoy this book. Almond's love of candy is endearing and the book is both entertaining and informative.
Almond is at his worst when he strains to be funny rather than trusting that his observations are amusing on their own, or in juxtaposition with his rather pathos-saturated analyses of what sounds like a reasonably average American childhood. I?d rather read a book that simply includes exposition on the author?s various inadequacies and failures without also having to suffer his attempts at wittiness. The Prologue and Chapter 1 particularly suffer from what I can only describe as a failed attempt to emulate Woody Allen. Don't let this dissuade you from plowing onward to the rest of the book, which is considerably less self-conscious.
The most critical observation I have to make about Candyfreak is that Almond's nostalgia for the golden age of American candy is paired with his contempt for today's analogue of the family-owned candy company of yore: The small organic, gourmet, or specialty candy manufacturer. Though he uses a candy-sampling vocabulary that would do a wine snob proud, Almond presents himself as a proletarian kind of guy who wants nothing to do with the bourgeois piggery of new small candy concerns, and prefers instead to bemoan the crushing of the old candy companies by the Big Three large candy corporations. Yet confusingly he praises and appreciates Lake Champlain Chocolates. Other reviewers have criticized him for his self-disclosures and personal narrative in this book; I'd have liked to hear more, particularly about this seeming paradox, which I can only understand as a conflict between his image of himself and self-conscious image management versus how he actually behaves in the here-and-now. It reminds me of people who enjoy a local microbrew but want to complain about how much it costs; how stupid everyone is to drink it; and how when they were a teen "local beer" meant Ortlieb's, which by god cost $5 a case and wasn't any good, but still evokes one's callow youth. (Note: Not that I know anything about "Joe's beer.") I don't mean to suggest by this comment that Almond's book isn't fun to read, but that there's an inherent schism between what he wants and what he chooses to do. If candy is about the little guy, Almond should visit the little guys who have figured out the niche market for specialty candies; if it's about nostalgia, he should own this as his personal, Proust-like odyssey. The book would be better for it.
Note to Algonquin Books: It's really obvious when you spell agar agar both correctly and as "ager ager" several times in two pages. For a modest fee, I'll correct your proofs.
Note to the author: You consistently eat a great deal of candy, don't gain weight from this, and describe hypoglycemic reactions. Get your blood sugar checked now and then, Steve. I'm not a doctor but you sound like somebody at risk of developing adult-onset Type I diabetes.
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martinkato, August 30, 2006 (view all comments by martinkato)
Steve Almond takes us on a sweet ride to rediscover every American's childhood obsession. Doesn't each of us have at least one happy long ago moment in which CANDY played a pivotal role (ok, at least a walk-on role)? Aren't we all a bit reluctant to admit that we still love candy, conditioned by dentists, parents and authority figures to think CANDY = DECAY + OBESITY? Only a self-described ecto-morph like Almond would dare to reveal that he never outgrew his obsessive reverence for CANDY and celebrate it!
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Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
0 stars -
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill -
Here's a great recipe: Take one often-obsessed-upon food item, one aptly named author, and an enormous amount of writing talent. Mix them all together and you have Candyfreak. A great book that melts in your mind, not in your hand.
by Publishers Weekly,
"There are enough anecdotes from Almond's lifelong fixation that readers will feel as if they know him....Almond's awareness of how strange he is...is strangely endearing."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Almond...details with mouthwatering descriptions his visits to the minor league of candy makers who continue to churn out their distinctive products....Sweet, never sickly — and quite informative."
by Mark Knoblauch, Booklist,
"The decidedly regional nature of American candy production takes Almond to all sorts of destinations where he encounters those tastefully inventive minds who satisfy the country's sweet tooth."
by Library Journal,
"Flavored with the author's amusingly tart sense of humor, Candyfreak is an intriguing chronicle of the passions that candy inspires and the pleasures it offers. Recommended."
by Amy Sedaris,
"I got a real sugar rush and a cluster headache reading this bittersweet book by Steve Almond-joy, the sugar daddy himself. I won't sugar coat it — this book is one sweet treat."
by John Thorne,
"Steve Almond is the Dave Eggers of food writing."
Almond embarks on a hilarious, sugar-high tour through America's last-remaining, independent candy companies.
Perhaps you remember the whipped splendor of the Choco-Lite, or the luscious Caravelle bar, or maybe the sublime and perfectly balanced Hershey's Cookies 'n Mint. The Marathon, an inimitable rope of caramel covered in chocolate. Oompahs. Bit-O-Choc. The Kit Kat Dark.
Steve Almond certainly does. In fact, he was so obsessed by the inexplicable disappearance of these bars—where'd they go?—that he embarked on a nationwide journey to uncover the truth about the candy business. There, he found an industry ruled by huge conglomerates, where the little guys, the last remaining link to the glorious boom years of the candy bar in America, struggle to survive.
Visiting the candy factories that produce the Twin Bing, the Idaho Spud, the Goo Goo Cluster, the Valomilk, and a dozen other quirky bars, Almond finds that the world of candy is no longer a sweet haven. Today's precious few regional candy makers mount daily battles against corporate greed, paranoia, and that good old American compulsion: crushing the little guy.
Part candy porn, part candy polemic, part social history, part confession, Candyfreak explores the role candy plays in our lives as both source of pleasure and escape from pain. By turns ecstatic, comic, and bittersweet, Candyfreak is the story of how Steve Almond grew up on candy—and how, for better and worse, candy has grown up, too.
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