By: David Magee
Reviewed by: Catherine Alexander
Jefferson Press/University Press of Florida, 2006
$19.95, Hardcover; $14.95, Paperback
"Hey, Mister, I want a MoonPie!" David Magee’s book MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack demonstrates the significance of this phrase: it has propelled a family-owned business for three generations and a product that has relied upon word-of-mouth support rather than formal advertising. (The only official advertisements for the MoonPie appeared on Birmingham and Charlotte television in 2005.) Magee, who has previously explored American product advertising, marketing, and branding with books on Ford and John Deere, turns to the lone product of Chattanooga Bakery for his most recent foray into Americana. While Magee, a self-avowed "MoonPie freak," only hands out MoonPies in person, his biography delivers the goods on the MoonPie and the Campbell family who owns the bakery, and it discovers that advertising is superfluous when sentimentality, nostalgia, and a good bargain determine sales.
Magee brings the reader past the closed doors of the Chattanooga Bakery into the mystery and mystique of the MoonPie, its origins, evolutions, and ubiquity. Originally created as a response to miners’ needs for a filling, inexpensive lunch in 1918, the MoonPie has emerged as an American icon offering nostalgia in marshmallow and cookie form that is available in chocolate, vanilla, and banana flavors.
From an unprecedented tour of the Chattanooga Bakery, Magee takes the reader into the world of the MoonPie, how it’s made, and the family who makes the snack. Through this family, Magee creates a montage of the families who are devoted fans of the MoonPie through anecdotes which demonstrate the personal connections MoonPie consumers have with their own families through the snack. Magee carefully weaves the memories of MoonPie aficionados with the collective memory of Americans, invoking dusty roads and hot summers, using nostalgia to explain the four billion-plus MoonPies that have been sold within a competitive market.
Magee presents a carefully researched biography of the snack filled with quirky facts and trivia. He traces the evolution of the MoonPie from its Southern origins to its prominence as a national snack through his research on MoonPie sales. This is most apparent in the chapter that focuses on the relationship between the MoonPie and Wal-Mart. This chapter provides the details on how the MoonPie reached national prominence as a snack.
Magee’s approach to the MoonPie’s biography is in homage to the snack: playful, fun, and filling. The biography, like the MoonPie, is lighthearted but substantial and provides readers with interesting information in a satisfying way. Complete with recipes for the MoonPie, the book is a treat. Nov 2007
Catherine Alexander is an award-winning poet in Montevallo.