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Review: Candyfreak by Steve Almond

Review: Candyfreak by Steve Almond post image

Title: Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
Steve Almond
Narrative Nonfiction
Bought from Barnes & Noble
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: In Candyfreak, Steve Almond goes on an exploration of how the world of candy in the United States in changing and what that might mean.

One Sentence Review: Candyfreak has lots of mature themes about corporate takeover and the role of food with memory, but it’s best feature is the fact that it’s a book that loves and glorifies candy – yum.

Why I Read It: Candy is my favorite part of Halloween, so this seemed like a perfect sort of read to pick up around this time of year.

Long Review: Going trick-or-treating was always my favorite part of Halloween. I loved the feeling of running down the street, a pillowcase heavy with candy bumping against my calves, then getting home and dumping the haul out on the floor. I’d spend the next hour, two hours, sorting the candy piece-by-piece into piles – “Don’t Eat This Or I’ll Scream” and “This Is Ok To Sneak” – and unwrapping the most delicious.

Late, late that night I’d go to bed a mix of exhausted and high on sugar, only to wake up the next morning and sneak a Hershey Bar before breakfast. Unfortunately, my sweet tooth has never really abated, which is why I had to read Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond.

Candyfreak is about a lot of different things – the connections between food and memory, the impact of corporate takeover of small businesses, and nostalgia for simpler times – which are all lovely and mature topics for a book.

But even more obviously, Candyfreak is a book that celebrates delicious, scrumptious, candy. It’s like chocolaty food porn, except with an actual narrative told by a really funny guy. It’s a love story to candy, and for all those reasons I thought this book was awesome.

Steve Almond is a novelist and nonfiction writer who starts out Candyfreak with the following facts: he has eaten at least one piece of candy every day of his life, he thinks about candy at least once an hour, and he has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at any given time.

However, Almond recognizes this obsession is unhealthy – for his body and for the health of the nation. He notes,

I have a hard time defending the production of candy, given that it is basically crack for children and makes them dependent in unwholesome ways, and given that much of our citizenry is bordering on obesity (just about what we deserve) and given that most of the folks who grow our sugar and cocoa are part of an indentured Third World workforce who earn enough, per annum, to buy maybe a Snickers bar, and given that the giants of the candy industry are, even as I write this, doing everything in their considerable power to establish freak hegemony over what they call “developing markets,” meaning hooking the children of Moscow and Beijing and Nairobi on their dastardly confections.

So, the question: Given all this moral knowledge, how can I lead the life of an unbridled candyfreak?

The rest of the story follows Almond’s exploration of candy culture and its changing demographics. He visits small candy factories that are being gobbled up by conglomerates, candy lovers preserving candy culture, and his own history and growth as it connects to candy. It’s a meandering journey, to be sure, but it’s just decadent to read.

If you need any more convincing about how much I enjoyed this book and how good the food writing actually is, I offer you the following anecdote – after reading an especially mouth-watering passage about a candy called Five Star Bars, I went online, did a Google search for the bars in question, and was one click away from dropping $17.95 on the assorted five pack which includes hazelnut, fruit and nut, peanut, caramel, and granola. That’s a little much, even for me.

But that’s what Candyfreak makes the reader do – celebrate having a sweet tooth, remember a favorite candy that’s long gone, and take a journey through the story of chocolate that can’t help but make you smile.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jen - Devourer of Books October 29, 2010, 7:45 am

    Okay, I was already really interested in this book after we had coffee and you told me about it, but now I’m totally sold.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:43 am

      Jen: Yay, so glad! I really liked this book, and it keeps growing on me the more I think about it.

  • Belle October 29, 2010, 10:47 am

    You got me with “love story to candy”! Adding this one to my want-to-read list.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:44 am

      Belle: Awesome, so glad! I think part of what makes the book is the way that Almond is so upfront about how much he loves candy, and that love for the subject comes through all of the book.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) October 29, 2010, 11:22 am

    I’m hungry just reading your review. I think my favorite part of Halloween was sorting all of my candy.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:45 am

      Kathy: I loved sorting candy – easily my favorite part of Halloween. I miss getting to get lots of candy for Halloween.

  • Scott Rassbach October 29, 2010, 12:00 pm

    We got to see Steve Almond at Wordstock here in Portland. He was hilarious, self deprecating, and just a great guy. I’ll make sure to recommend this book to Emily.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:46 am

      Scott: Wow, that’s so cool. That’s exactly the kind of personality he has in the book, so that’s cool. I hope you guys get to read and enjoy the book.

  • Ash October 30, 2010, 1:48 pm

    This sounds great! I have a ridiculous sweet tooth– it runs in my family. My grandmother woke up one morning with a snickers bar on her back. That proves it right there. My only fear is that I would want to eat candy all the time while reading this!

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:47 am

      Ash: I was worried about wanting to eat candy all the time, but I actually didn’t. I think the book is just so decadent and awesome, you almost don’t want to eat any candy that’s subpar compared to what he’s writing about 🙂

  • softdrink October 30, 2010, 5:15 pm

    Yum! (To both the candy and the book.)

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:48 am

      softdrink: Agreed!

  • Anna Marie October 30, 2010, 10:43 pm

    This was a great book. I when in search of one the candies mention too, but fortunately I found my at the Dollar Store. Where I live, this title is an option on one of the school reading lists.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:49 am

      Anna Marie: That’s so great – I would love to be able to find any of the candies, but I don’t think any of them are close to Wisconsin. It did make me want to seek out some local WI candies, but haven’t done it yet.

  • Erin October 31, 2010, 9:03 am

    I’m pretty sure I can’t read this book, for fear of the amount of candy I’d end up eating! It sounds really fun, and a perfect read for the sweeter side of Halloween!

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 6:51 pm

      Erin: Lol, it is a fear I had when read it, that’s for sure. It was pretty delicious to read, and I actually didn’t each much candy, I think because none of the candy I had seemed as good as the candy he was describing.

  • Beth F October 31, 2010, 5:40 pm

    Love. love, love this book and must get me a copy to read. Wow. One of the best parts of Halloween was trading candy with my brothers so we each got more of our favorites.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 6:52 pm

      Beth F: Yes, read this book! It was really fun. I loved trading candy too, although my sister and I had almost the same taste in candy so it was mostly getting rid of the gross stuff for my dad to eat 🙂

  • Heather Pearson October 31, 2010, 6:25 pm

    i have this book sitting upstairs buried in Mount TBR. I had better un-earth it after reading your terrific review. Thanks.

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 6:52 pm

      Heather: Yeah, I think so, it’s a quick and really fun read.

  • Christy (A Good Stopping Point) November 6, 2010, 11:36 am

    I read this book a number of summers ago. Very fun, and yes, it made you want to track down some of those candies made by the small manufacturers. I also loved his list in the beginning of the candy he hates. He had a mini-diatribe about the evils of Peeps that had me laughing even though I will eat Peeps.

    • Kim November 6, 2010, 7:49 pm

      Christy: Yes! I forgot all about that party in the beginning. I also LOVE Peeps, even if they are sort of disgusting 🙂

  • christa @ mental foodie November 7, 2010, 10:18 am

    I read this book 2-3 years ago. Like you, I have to google all the candies mentioned in the book! I didn’t grow up here so hadn’t heard of a lot of them. But it was definitely fun to read 🙂

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 6:54 am

      christa: I don’t think I’d heard of any of the special candy he went to visit. I searched for a lot of them, but the Five Star Bars were the only ones I serious considered buying 🙂