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June 7, 2004

{     Candy Freak by Steve Almond     }    

As someone who trick-or-treated until the age of 19 (free candy = worth public humiliation), I thought I was the queen of candy. The truth is, I am a candy pansy. I know nothing about candy. I should be dunked in Lik-m-aid and run up the chocolate flagpole. Only now do I see that there are others out there, many others, who are hardcore candy thinkers. These people do not eat candy bars, they bask in them, extracting heady highs from analyzing the way the chocolate ripples just so on this bar, the way the peanuts sit unevenly on that bar. They do not let a single bite go unloved. And when the sad day comes that their favorite bar is rudely discontinued, never to be enjoyed again, they mourn with passion, often needing sugary therapy to get through such tough times. Steve Almond is one of these people, a candy freak by his own definition. He has consumed a piece of candy every day of his life. He stock-piles three to seven pounds of candy in his house at all times. But, although he doesn't like to share his candy, Almond isn't selfish. With this book, he's done a service for his freak brethren. He has given over an inhuman amount of his time to contemplating, with much delicacy, not only candy bar tastes, aesthetics, and textures, but candy brands, packaging, ingredients, historical variations, and manufacturing techniques. And if you are a candy freak like him, or if you just aspire towards candy freak greatness, you will want a big, gooey chunk of his knowledge. Almond takes a journey enrobed in chocolate and peanuts, from Boston to Vermont, Philadelphia, Nashville, Sioux City, Kansas City, Boise, and Hayward, California. He visits the headquarters of small candy manufacturers all across our great land, gathering details (and a slew of samples) of regional candy bars like the Goo Goo Cluster and the venerable Idaho Spud. He laments the disappearance of small-time candy companies at the hands of the Big Three (Hershey's, Mars, and Nestle), and describes how the great liberty of choosing from hundreds of local, regional, and national candy bars has been cruelly removed of much of its variety. Taken alone, the amount of knowledge imparted by Almond means we candy freaks owe him a lifelong debt. But Almond's writing style makes this book supremely fun from beginning to end. He's funny and he's got great timing. But he manages to make candy seem historically important, to give it cultural and emotional weight and make you think, YES, I MUST EAT MORE CANDY. CANDY IS GOOD FOR THE WORLD. But beware: I consumed a one-pound bag of Goetze's Caramel Creams while reading this book. That, along with some Trader Joe's peanut butter buckeyes, assorted bubble gums, and, desperately, some breath mints. Good thing it's a quick read. - Written by Vikki Warner

     » Steve Almond's site, with Candy Freak info and link to buy

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