Synopses & Reviews
Driven by his obsession, stubborn idealism, and the promise of free candy, self-confessed candyfreak Steve Almond takes off on a quest to discover candy's origins in America, to explore the little companies that continue to get by on pluck and perseverance, and to witness the glorious excess of candy manufacturing.
From the Twin Bing to the Idaho Spud, the Valomilk to the Abba-Zaba, Almond uncovers a small legion of singular handcrafted candy bars made by unsung heroes, working in old-fashioned factories for tiny profits to produce something that they love. Fascinated by the emotional power of these confectionary delights, the primal and persuasive experience of the world in our mouths, Almond describes our candy cravings in sensuous and titillating detail. Though the road is laden with free samples, he discovers that the world of candy making is not the sweet world of childhood reveries but one beleaguered by stiff competition, closely guarded secrets, and increasingly limited markets. But no matter. As he also finds, every candy maker, even when poised on the edge of failure, is happy, indulgent, and childlike. For finally, even the darkest market forces, even the clout of the Big Three candy companies that threaten to wipe out all others, cannot lessen our desire to lose ourselves in chocolate.
Candyfreak is the bittersweet story of how Steve Almond grew up on candy and how, for better and worse, candy has grown up, too. Almond gives us a hilarious, sugar-high tour of those old-fashioned candy companies.
"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." Publishers Weekly
"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." Kirkus Reviews
"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." Mark Knoblauch, Booklist
"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." Library Journal
"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." Amy Sedaris
"Steve Almond is the Dave Eggers of food writing." John Thorne
The appropriately named Almond goes beyond candy obsession to enter the realm of "freakdom." Right up front, he divulges that he has eaten a piece of candy "every single day of his entire life," "thinks about candy at least once an hour" and "has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at all times." Indeed, Almond's fascination is no mere hobby—it's taken over his life. And what's a Boston College creative writing teacher to do when he can't get M&Ms, Clark Bars and Bottle Caps off his mind? Write a book on candy, of course. Almond's tribute falls somewhere between Hilary Liftin's decidedly personal Candy and Me
and Tim Richardson's almost scholarly Sweets: A History of Candy
. There are enough anecdotes from Almond's lifelong fixation that readers will feel as if they know him (about halfway through the book, when Almond is visiting a factory and a marketing director offers him a taste of a coconut treat, readers will know why he tells her, "I'm really kind of full"—he hates coconut). But there are also enough facts to draw readers' attention away from the unnaturally fanatical Almond and onto the subject at hand. Almond isn't interested in "The Big Three" (Nestle, Hershey's and Mars). Instead, he checks out "the little guys," visiting the roasters at Goldenberg's Peanut Chews headquarters and hanging out with a "chocolate engineer" at a gourmet chocolate lab in Vermont. Almond's awareness of how strange he is—the man actually buys "seconds" of certain candies and refers to the popular chocolate mint parfait as "the Andes oeuvre"—is strangely endearing.
—Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly
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.
About the Author
Steve Almond is the author of the acclaimed story collection My Life in Heavy Metal. He has published stories and poems in publications ranging from Playboy to Tin House to Zoetrope, and they have been widely anthologized. He is a regular commentator on the NPR affiliate WBUR in Boston, teaches creative writing at Boston College, and has eaten at least one piece of candy every single day of his entire life.