Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by David Wanczyk

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
by Steve Almond
Harvest Books/Harcourt, April 2005
Paperback 288 pp., ISBN: 0156032937

For me, it's a Junior Mint snuggling between my gum and upper lip. Chocolate melts into cottony filling, and this present melts into a past in which I'm standing with my mother in the Big Y checkout line, begging with my eyes for a box, just the small size, of those magic little discs. Finally, she buys.

In his 2004 book Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, Steve Almond revels in these sorts of nostalgic moments and in the small pleasures of his own sugar-craving freakdom. For him, though, candy is both pleasure and opiate, a morsel he's always used to combat loneliness. So while he joyously recounts the history of American candy-making and hilariously details forgotten treats like Twin Bing, The Idaho Spud, and The GooGoo Cluster, those specifics are context for his own problems—romantic false starts, aching memories, and general inertia. And as he lurches from “hyper to disconsolate,” the book becomes a complex confection—sweet coating over a bitter center. The lingering flavor, though, is a delight.

Professing to have eaten a piece of candy every day of his life, Almond brings a geeky expertise and a superfan's enthusiasm to this tour of America's candy industry. His best sections put us inside the minds of like-minded candy collectors and inside the walls of independent factories. There, Almond (aptly named) introduces us to the Horatio Algers of the candy world, entrepeneurs like Russ Sifers and Dave Wagers (of Valomilk and Idaho Candy Company respectively), who are rebuilding regional candy empires left to them by their parents.

With panache (and ganache), Almond teaches us the sweet jargon and evokes the rich smells of these Wonka-ish wonderlands. We hear the tales of boom times after the world wars and see the Rube-Goldbergian workings of candy-making machines like The Nut Applicator, The Ball Beater, The Whipper, and Mogul. That these names sound like those of professional wrestlers wouldn't, I don't think, escape Almond, who's perfectly attuned to the potential silliness of candy language, production, and marketing.

Beyond punchlines, though, Almond bemoans the fate of the little guys and criticizes the gargantuan companies, like Hershey, who are greedily swallowing them up like so many Swedish Fish. And it's this mix—Almond's hilarity combined with his sadness, his celebration of candy culture combined with his criticism of corporations—that makes the book.

Almond's candy-obsession—forced in some places—is mostly charming, even when we watch him eating his dozenth candy bar and overstating, as if a Food Network personality, just how sublime it is. Occasionally his prose is purplish, but I think that's part of his point, too. He's bringing high-culture language to low-culture noshing, and making that noshing sexy in the process, as when he describes “the rich tumescence of the dark chocolate.” Foodies of all kinds should remember Almond's warning about this fetishization, though: “Those familiar with other luxury foods,” he writes, “are no doubt familiar with this process: the curdling of expertise into hauteur.”

In fact, the sharpest writing in the book attacks this food-snobbery and over-consumption. Almond, who declares himself to be politically “somewhere to the left of Christ, such that I find most of American culture greedy and heedless,” implicates the candy industry and himself as part of that greed, part of the exploitation of foreign workers, part of a corporatism that brands pleasure and punishes creativity.

Still pertinent now for those reasons, the book also addresses the double-edged sword of nostalgia—nostalgia for a caramel-coated American yesteryear that's become even more pronounced in the post-Bush years. So while he longs for Eisenhower-era candy bars and some of the go-getter spirit that helped produce them, while he romanticizes his own gluttonous childhood days, Almond's careful not to oversimplify. “I had decided to write about candy because I assumed it would be fun and frivolous and distracting,” he tells us. “It would allow me to reconnect to the single, untarnished pleasure of my childhood. But, of course, there are no untarnished pleasures.” Nostalgia and the idea of America both seem to leave a strange, aftertasty burp for Steve Almond—they're half delicious dark chocolate, half rancid coconut.

But while he may be right about untarnished pleasures, Candyfreak itself comes as close to the joy of a slowly-eaten Junior Mint as you're likely to get.

January 2, 2011