Synopses & Reviews
"You're married, you're getting older, and your parents are looking more and more like the grandparents they are pestering you to make them. It's getting embarrassing. Your pathetic renter's mailbox — the one with three former tenants names crossed out — is stuffed with your friends baby shower invitations. Just a few months ago, right after my grandmother died, five different people mentioned the word
Ultrasound to me on the same day. It was both onomatopoetic and devastating."
In the cruel, cruel summer of a recent year, this was the condition in which Matt Batt and his young wife, Jenae, found themselves. Transient residents of higher-education-inspired locations like Columbus, OH, Madison, WI, Boston, MA, and eventually St. Paul, MN, they were, quite unexpectedly, living, working and renting in Salt Lake City, UT. And when a vicious series of deaths in their respective, immediate families set their anxious sights on some semblance of stability, they landed upon a flamboyantly dilapidated house in the Sugarhouse section of Salt Lake. With a shaky young marriage and a full-blown ¼ life crisis on their hands, these perpetual grad-students/waiters/non-profiteers with no homesteading experience whatsoever, decided they would turn this yellow former crack house into a home. Dizzy with despair, doubt and the side effects of using the rough equivalent of napalm to detoxify their house, Matt and Jenae found themselves fighting for their marriage, alternately dodging and accepting the burdens and joys of becoming fully committed adults, while trying to figure out how the hell a rented power sander works.
"A fixer-upper is just the thing to usher a young couple into adulthood, in this winsome memoir. Writing professor Batt and his wife, in the midst of the housing bubble, found their dream home and when that deal fell through, settled for a Salt Lake City crack house that came complete with an eye-watering stench, tacky wood paneling, and hidden structural defects. The ensuing renovation gave the neophyte handyman an epic test of masculine resolve, a new appreciation for the aesthetics of slate flooring and poured-concrete countertops, and insight into the foundation of a successful marriage namely, complete submission to female authority over decor. Meanwhile, Batt weathers upheavals among his extended relations deaths, tensions, his cantankerous grandfather's embarrassing fling with a younger gold digger that form an alternately antic and glum commentary on the ricketiness of the home-building enterprise. Batt's home-rehab picaresque is hilarious, engrossing, and stocked with a cast of squirrely tradesmen and manic realtors. At times the use of real estate as a metaphor for marital commitment is overdone, especially given the glibness with which he and his wife sell their castle. Still, his is a charming take on domesticity. Agent, Jim Rutman. (June 19)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Whether the focus is on the installation of a hand-cut slate floor tile or Grandpa's new floozy girlfriend, Batts retelling is fast-paced. Everyone has a crazy family, but who has a crazy family and a crack house to renovate into a first home at the same time? That takes guts or insanity, and the fun of this book in finding out how it all ends up. VERDICT His description of 'I don't belong here' aisles in Home Depot feels so familiar. While it's no how-to, this book makes it fun to follow Batts how-we-did-it, warts and all." Publishers Weekly
"It's hard to write funny, especially when your world is crumbling around you, but in this utterly compelling memoir, Matt Batt makes it look easy. This is a sweet and deeply memorable debut by a writer who's clearly the real thing." Library Journal
"Sugarhouse is hilarious. It's also sad. And uplifting. Ultimately it's a story about the most quotidian and most important thing any of us will do: make a home. Anyone who has ever argued over floor tile, loved a willful grandparent, or wondered what an orbital sander is, will enjoy this charming book." Andre Dubus III, author of Townie
"Matt Batt proves himself an oddball cousin to Thoreau and Tracy Kidder in Sugarhouse, a charming and compelling memoir in which a professor of writing decides to renovate a disaster of a house. Read the first two chapters, and you are likely to sign on eagerly for the rest of the telling, which shuttles easily back and forth from theory to practice, from humorous narrative to deepening meditation." Billy Collins, poet laureate of the United States, 2001-2003
"Batt makes the story feel fresh through a combination of lively storytelling, some very funny misadventures, and a goodly portion of real human drama, for the decision to buy a house wasnt a whim, being prompted by some pretty dire circumstances. A thoroughly enjoyable variation on a venerable theme."
"Batts home-rehab picaresque is hilarious, engrossing, and stocked with a cast of squirrely tradesmen and manic realtors...a charming take on domesticity . "
--Publishers Weekly "Whether the focus is on the installation of a hand-cut slate floor tile or Grandpas new floozy girlfriend, Batts retelling is fast-paced. Everyone has a crazy family, but who has a crazy family and a crack house to renovate into a first home at the same time? That takes guts or insanity, and the fun of this book in finding out how it all ends up. VERDICT His description of "I dont belong here" aisles in Home Depot feels so familiar. While its no how-to, this book makes it fun to follow Batts how-we-did-it, warts and all."
"Its hard to write funny, especially when your world is crumbling around you, but in this utterly compelling memoir, Matt Batt makes it look easy. This is a sweet and deeply memorable debut by a writer whos clearly the real thing."
— Andre Dubus III, author of Townie "Sugarhouse is hilarious. It's also sad. And uplifting. Ultimately it's a story about the most quotidian and most important thing any of us will do: make a home. Anyone who has ever argued over floor tile, loved a willful grandparent, or wondered what an orbital sander is, will enjoy this charming book."
-Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall
"Sugarhouse is a whale of a book -- an uproariously funny and deeply affecting account of home ownership and its discontents. Matt Batt has written a must-read manifesto for anyone who's ever faced off against a fast-talking real estate agent, an impossibly stubborn varnish, or a family on the brink of heartbreak. I'm still not sure how he managed to stuff so much life into one little book, but I'm dazzled at his achievement."
-Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak
"Matt Batt proves himself an oddball cousin to Thoreau and Tracy Kidder in Sugarhouse, a charming and compelling memoir in which a professor of writing decides to renovate a disaster of a house. Read the first two chapters, and you are likely to sign on eagerly for the rest of the telling, which shuttles easily back and forth from theory to practice, from humorous narrative to deepening meditation."
-Billy Collins, poet laureate of the United States, 2001-2003
"Winning, funny, and crackling with life, Sugarhouse is a can't-put-down chronicle of a bad house gone good and a good family gone in directions the author didn't expect. Batts book about glue, grace, gumption, and the grit it takes to keep on living is an unforgettable and sweet read."
-Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild "This is one charming book, told by a self-effacing Midwesterner way over his head, who leads the reader through the quotidian experience of buying and renovating a house in such a fashion that it takes on all the dire import and difficulty of Hercules' famous tasks. While Batt doesn't have to clean the Stygian Stables to get his house in order (in every sense of that phrase), his feat seems nearly as difficult and should not go unheralded. A DIY book to end all DIY books, full of wit and generosity and mercy for the foibles of family members, friends, hucksters, and most importantly himself."
- Robin Hemley, author of Do-Over!
PRAISE FOR CANDYFREAK
"Hysterically funny . . . A delicious read."-PEOPLE
"Combines the patter of a stand-up comic with the soul of a 10-year-old whose allowance is burning a hole in his pocket . . . A story as all-American as the aroma of peanut butter and milk chocolate wafting from its pages."-THE BOSTON GLOBE
"This is gonzo food writing at its best. Candyfreak is like a good candy bar: a piece of delicious, ephemeral fun." -SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
This witty and affecting memoir relays the misadventures of a commitment-phobic couple who, on the heels of a heartbreaking year, try to catapult themselves into adulthood by purchasing a dilapidated former crack house and attempting to turn it into a home.
An improbably funny account of how the purchase and restoration of a disaster of a fixer-upper saves a young marriage
When a season of ludicrous loss tests the mettle of their marriage, Matthew Batt and his wife decide not to call it quits. They set their sights instead on the purchase of a dilapidated house in the Sugarhouse section of Salt Lake City. With no homesteading experience and a full-blown quarter-life crisis on their hands, these perpetual grad students/waiters/nonprofiteers decide to seek salvation through renovation, and do all they can to turn a former crack house into a home. Dizzy with despair, doubt, and the side effects of using the rough equivalent of napalm to detoxify their house, they enter into full-fledged adulthood with power tools in hand.
Heartfelt and joyous, Sugarhouse is the story of how one couple conquers adversity and creates an addition to their family, as well as their home.
A self-professed candyfreak, Steve Almond set out in search of a much-loved candy from his childhood and found himself on a tour of the small candy companies that are persevering in a marketplace where big corporations dominate.
From the Twin Bing to the Idaho Spud, the Valomilk to the Abba-Zaba, and discontinued bars such as the Caravelle, Marathon, and Choco-Lite, Almond uncovers a trove of singular candy bars made by unsung heroes working in old-fashioned factories to produce something they love. And in true candyfreak fashion, Almond lusciously describes the rich tastes that he has loved since childhood and continues to crave today. Steve Almond has written a comic but ultimately bittersweet story of how he grew up on candy-and how, for better and worse, the candy industry has grown up, too.
Candyfreak is the delicious story of one man's lifelong obsession with candy and his quest to discover its origins in America.
About the Author
Matt Batt's work has appeared in Tin House and on The Huffington Post and elsewhere. The Missouri Review recently called him a "heavy hitter" of nonfiction, and he's been nominated six times for the Pushcart Prize and is the recipient of an individual Artist Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Table of Contents
Some Things You Should Know about the Author xv
The Author Will Now Rationalize 1
Chocolate = Enabler 8
In Which an Unhealthy Pattern of Dependence Is Established 10
An Ill-Advised Discussion of Freak Economics 16
Night of the Living Freak 21
Mistakes Were Made 25
Caravelle: An Elegy 29
I ™ Manny 39
Feeding the Beast 45
A Top-Secret Chocolate Situation 51
The Politics of the Rack 56
The Last Man in America with Black Jack Gum 62
The Capo Di Tutti Freak 71
The Love Song of Ray Luthar Broekel 76
Welcome to the Boom 82
There Are Men upon This Earth Who Tread Like Gods 90
Feuilletine, Revealed 97
Freak Fetish 105
The Official Dark Horse Freak of
Wee Willie and the Pop-a-Licks Rage 115
Southern-Fried Freak 123
Chocolate Haiku 130
Freak Retentive 139
In the Belly of the Freak 142
The Unstoppable Freak Energy of Mr. Marty Palmer 145
Southbound with the Hammers Down 163
The Candy Bar on Your Chin 168
The Marshmallow Parallax 177
A Depressing but Necessary Digression 189
Boise: Gateway to . . . Boise 191
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Idaho Spud 195
Huckleberry, Hounded 206
American Lunch 214
How Will the Spud Survive? 218
The Past Is Just Ahead 224
Remember This Name: Banana-Zaba 231
A Second Depressing but Necessary Digression 238
A Little Hidden Bomb in My Idaho Spud 240
A Few Final Relevant Facts 244
freak appendix 255