Candyfreak by Steve Almond
I have finally broken my 3-month reading drought! Let there be rejoicing! But…it was only an okay book. Let there be…party hats and maybe a noisemaker.
Okay. Two chapters in I decided that his premise was all very well and good, but I just didn’t really like him. I managed to overcome my initial distaste for the author and there were parts of the book that I liked very much. I liked his visits to the various candy factories (his descriptions of the candies really made me wish I could have chocolate…like reeeealllllyyyy wish I could have chocolate) and the musings on nostalgia and what it means to be a small business in this era of global domination by giant retailers.
But mostly I didn’t like him. Mostly for two reasons, one of which is not really his fault, he’s just the straw that broke my back, so to speak and the other one is something of a surprise, actually. And I’ll start with that one.
So, I should have started with this, the premise of his book is that he loves candy. No, seriously. He loves it. And prides himself on having eaten a piece of candy every day of his life (I’m not going to be pedantic and start arguing with him over that, I’m going to be the bigger person and let it go). So he decides to visit small, independent candy factories that produce regional treats (as opposed to the Big Three: Mars, Hershey, and…one other one, I suppose, Nestle?). And I know it’s sort of a memoir/travelogue/foodie talk/cultural observations sort of book, but all of a sudden he launches into a full-on Bush rant. Now I am as fond of Bush ranting as the next person, but for some reason, this one really bothered me. Maybe it was because it seemed so unsubtle, although one of the main themes is the problem of the giant corporations monopolizing the market and the evil of capitalism (or something like that, whatever) or maybe it was because I was in the middle of a nostalgic reminiscence, picturing these candies being made in copper kettles and chocolate flowing down, enrobing the sweet caramel or nougat or whatever and that was rudely interrupted by a subject about which I don’t like to think most of the time (Does that make me a bad person? It’s just so depressing!) because one person CAN’T change the world (There. I said it. I’d say it again if I had to.) and Homer Simpson is probably right – democracy doesn’t work (That ought to get me on some no-fly lists, huh?) – but it annoyed me to have to read about politics in the middle of my sweet daydream.
Or maybe I was extra-grumpy because I was daydreaming about something I can’t have, I don’t know. But still.
And the other. I am TIRED of people describing the midwest as being populated by sad, fat, uneducated, dead-eyed, ignorant people towing long lines of screaming, fast-food-fed, badly-behaved, fat, uneducated, dead-eyed, ignorant children. I live in the midwest and I’m almost positive that we are not all fat, uneducated, dead-eyed, or ignorant. And I don’t know any children, but if I did, I’m sure they wouldn’t always be screaming and badly-behaved (or the other stuff, but I don’t feel like typing it out all again). This shows up time and time again – Bill Bryson does it, Will Storr does it, Steve Almond does it, I think Dave Gorman does it, even the lovely Eddie Izzard does it! Maybe, Eddie, the reason the midwest doesn’t ‘get’ you is because you don’t COME to the midwest. You come to Chicago (which, uh, hate to break it to you, IS IN THE MIDWEST!) and then everybody between there and California who loves you has to drive to Chicago to see you! (I don’t know why I’ve turned on poor Eddie all of a sudden – he’s really not meant to be the target of my ire here.)
Back to Steve, the target of my ire. For the most part, the candy part, I really liked this book, but I sort of felt like he felt like he had to be more socially relevant or something instead of just writing about the nostalgia of candy and what it’s like to be a candyfreak (although, that said, if I see the word ‘freak’ one more time…) or just to have such an overwhelming obsession/love for anything, which would have been a much gentler, softer, chewier, gooeyer…sorry, I seem to have gone off the track there.
So read it if you want to, don’t if you don’t. But if you do read it and you’re not allergic to chocolate (which, by the way, Steve, does not make me a boring person), I think you should probably empty your house of all chocolate products beforehand, otherwise you WILL end up eating them all, probably in one sitting.
My rating: B-