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Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America [Kindle Edition]

Steve Almond
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Picture a magical, sugar-fueled road trip with Willy Wonka behind the wheel and David Sedaris riding shotgun, complete with chocolate-stained roadmaps and the colorful confetti of spent candy wrappers flying in your cocoa powder dust. If you can imagine such a manic journey--better yet, if you can imagine being a hungry hitchhiker who's swept through America's forgotten candy meccas: Philadelphia (Peanut Chews), Sioux City (Twin Bing), Nashville (Goo Goo Cluster), Boise (Idaho Spud) and beyond--then Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, Steve Almond's impossible-to-put down portrait of regional candy makers and the author's own obsession with all-things sweet, would be your Fodor's guide to this gonzo tour.

With the aptly named Almond (don't even think of bringing up the Almond Joy bit--coconut is Almond's kryptonite), obsession is putting it mildly. Almond loves candy like no other man in America. To wit: the author has "three to seven pounds" of candy in his house at all times. And then there's the Kit Kat Darks incident; Almond has a case of the short-lived confection squirreled away in an undisclosed warehouse. "I had decided to write about candy because I assumed it would be fun and frivolous and distracting," confesses Almond. "It would allow me to reconnect to the single, untarnished pleasure of my childhood. But, of course, there are no untarnished pleasures. That is only something the admen of our time would like us to believe." Almond's bittersweet nostalgia is balanced by a fiercely independent spirit--the same underdog quality on display by the small candy makers whose entire existence (and livelihood) is forever shadowed by the Big Three: Hershey's, Mars, and Nestle.

Almond possesses an original, heartfelt, passionate voice; a writer brave enough to express sheer joy. Early on his tour he becomes entranced with that candy factory staple, the "enrober"--imagine an industrial-size version of the glaze waterfall on the production line at your local Krispy Kreme, but oozing chocolate--dubbing it "the money shot of candy production." And while he writes about candy with the sensibilities of a serious food critic (complimenting his beloved Kit Kat Dark for its "dignified sheen," "puddinglike creaminess," "coffee overtones," and "slightly cloying wafer") words like "nutmeats" and "rack fees" send him into an adolescent twitter.

...the Marathon Bar, which stormed the racks in 1974, enjoyed a meteoric rise, died young, and left a beautiful corpse. The Marathon: a rope of caramel covered in chocolate, not even a solid piece that is, half air holes, an obvious rip-off to anyone who has mastered the basic Piagetian stages, but we couldn't resist the gimmick. And then, as if we weren't bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence: If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick

Candyfreak is one of those endearing, quirky titles that defy swift categorization. One of those rare books that you'll want to tear right through, one you won't soon stop talking about. And eager readers beware: It's impossible to flip through ten pages of this sweet little book without reaching for a piece of chocolate. --Brad Thomas Parsons

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2407 KB
  • Print Length: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (May 4, 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004OR1U2C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #441,192 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Laughed Myself Silly At the Beginning June 9, 2006
Format:Hardcover
If Steve Almond is a candyfreak, then I'm a candywhore. I'll take it where I can get it and I'm not half as discriminating about its origins.

That said, you can't help but laugh outright at the sugar-fanaticism of a man who gets faint with joy witnessing the birth of chocolate bunnies and is rendered speechless at the thoughtless waste of even one piece of chocolate, recalling, "I stood there in a cloud of disillusionment...I'm someone who has been known to eat the pieces of candy found underneath my couch."

Goaded by the disappearance of his adored Caravelle bar, Almond (yes, he talks about the name) tours independent candy companies (read: anyone other than Mars, Nestle, or Hershey) to, "chronicle their struggles for survival in this wicked age of homogeneity, and, not incidentally, to load up on free candy."

The best laughs are all in the first five chapters. I giggled, chuckled and guffawed my way through the author's confessions of freak-like candy-hoarding, reveling in the kind of sweet self-effacing wit only a candy junkie could muster.

From there, it's mostly an historical tour of the four candy companies he visited, fascinating and richly detailed, yet interspersed with progressively more disturbing moments of personal crisis. At one point the author himself notes, "I realize that I am oversharing," a phrase that, in a work of humor especially, should be immediately followed by the words, "so I'll quit while I'm ahead." No such luck.
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47 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars witty & sweet. April 23, 2004
Format:Hardcover
Review: From Small Spiral Notebook
In Candyfreak, Almond parlays his own obsession with chocolate into a quest to seek out the sources and practices of today's chocolate confection, as well as to learn about the forces that have overwhelmed the artistry and pluck of individual chocalatiers into the mechanized behemoth of American mass culture. Throughout, Almond tempers his political urgencies with his own disarming awe and glee at the industry and its products, and he also deals with unfolding family tragedies. His grandfather is dying, while at the same time Almond realizes his lifelong zeal for chocolate both saved his life and "broke his spirit." If it sounds like too much to cram in, perhaps you've not read Almond's ambitious book of sort stories, My Life in Heavy Metal, a book that will give you faith in Almond's ability to multi-task, regardless of genre.
Almond's prose packs a sensory wallop at all times. It is also candid, direct, and muscular- he wastes no space. Because of his economy, his writing is akin to the best candy: all good stuff, no fill or the useless air that puffs up the wretched Three Musketeers bar. When he rattles off the names of regional candybars now gone to mass marketers, he says their names are "incantatory poetry." When he says he doesn't like coconut, he says it's like "chewing on a sweetened cuticle." The writing says it: candy, chocolate in particular, for Almond is a passion, a "freak." And like all freaks, Almond has his rage, and the loss of a particular candybar, the Caravelle, and his subsequent despondency and rampage after any sign of it led him to consider the book.
Almond meditates on the sources of his "freak," including its lineage.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not supposed to be a textbook on candy. June 17, 2004
Format:Hardcover
Those one-star reviewers put off by Almond's personal asides and political views clearly didn't read the editorial reviews or the jacket flap copy before buying: "Part candy porn [mostly this refers to the sensual descriptions of candy, of course, but it's a pretty good indication that there might be some--gasp!--four letter words and racy humor], part candy polemic [in other words, the author has an opinion about things, and doesn't hide it], part social history [hence the political views, like 'em or not], part confession [personal details, voice, humor -- in other words, the very soul of the book]."
If you're looking for a straight-up, just-the-facts book about candy, clearly this isn't the book for you, nor does Almond intend it to be. If you're looking for vibrant, edgy, witty writing and sharp, sometimes controversial insights, then it is. In other words, if you don't feel like thinking or being challenged a little (ouch! ouch!) don't buy the book!
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich, textured and delicious April 25, 2004
Format:Hardcover
Confessions of a candyholic. Steve Almond explores his lifelong love for and obsession with candy as he visits the regional candymakers who are struggling to survive amid the nearly obliterating presence of the big three (Nestle's, Mars, Hershey). Steve brings all of his talents to bear here -- as a reporter, social commentator, and crafter of meticulous sentences that simultaneously deliver humor and brilliant insights. As I read the book, I was sometimes reminded of Tony Horwitz books. Like Horwitz, Steve goes off in search of people who share his obsessions (the Civil War, Capt. Cook in Horwitz's case) and finds a host of interesting characters along the way. As an admirer of Steve's brilliant short-story collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well Steve writes about food. He can break down the experience of eating a Charleston Chew, for example, into perfect sensory details without resorting to the pretentious writing of snobbish afficionadoes (a trend he laments with the clever line of "expertise curdling into hauteur"). While reading the book, I went off in search of the Five Star bars which he describes. Unfortunately, the Whole Foods (formerly Bread & Circus) didn't have the Hazelnut he describes in such detail in the book. Now, I'm off to the Web sites Steve offers at the end of the book to get a sample direct from the manufacturer, along with a few others. I can't wait to try to a Twin Bing or Valmomilk. (By the way, jump at any chance you can to have Steve come to your local bookstore for a reading. It's an experience not to be missed.)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Read if Interested in Economics and Candy
Candyfreak is a great book if you want to know more about candy regarding the history of candy, the process of candy, the economy of candy, and the sweet irony of candy. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Monse G
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderland for Candy Lovers
Steve Almond in his book, Candy Freak describes what it is to be a true candy enthusiast. While reading this novel, you get to see life through the eyes of a candy freak as he... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Martin Gutierrez
4.0 out of 5 stars You can imagine my total joy..
I didn’t set out to read this book in particular, but last week, Garageman called me to his office (i.e. the garage) to listen to an interview on sports talk. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sue J
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
If you like the mechanics of factory production and candy; you'll like this audiobook.
Published 6 months ago by Pangstadt
1.0 out of 5 stars Really didn't enjoy this book
Really didn't enjoy this book, and didn't finish it. I suppose it's humorous in a way, but I was looking for something more along the lines of the author's Against Football. Read more
Published 7 months ago by David A. Grandy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fascinating but a mystery to anyone who has not lived in the US.
Published 8 months ago by American Eyes Limited
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and profound
Candyfreak is the most delightful book about candy that also happens to record the author’s deteriorating mental health. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jill
3.0 out of 5 stars Best When Focused On The Candy Story
Steve Almond's look at the world of independent candy companies starts off like a love note to candy. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Geoffrey Kleinman
5.0 out of 5 stars if you love candy --
if you love candy you need to read / listen to this book and share it with everyone you know
Published 15 months ago by R. Crawford
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of Steve Almond.
I have met Steve Almond. He is as funny and wonderful in person as he is in this book. Candyfreak was the first book I read of his, and it was several years before I met him. Read more
Published 16 months ago by E. Rhoades
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