Read My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe Online


This warm and funny tale of an earnest preppy editor finding himself trapped behind the counter of a Brooklyn convenience store is about family, culture and identity in an age of discombobulation.It starts with a gift, when Ben Ryder Howe's wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decides to repay her parents' self-sacrifice by buying them a store. Howe, an editor at the rThis warm and funny tale of an earnest preppy editor finding himself trapped behind the counter of a Brooklyn convenience store is about family, culture and identity in an age of discombobulation.It starts with a gift, when Ben Ryder Howe's wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decides to repay her parents' self-sacrifice by buying them a store. Howe, an editor at the rarefied Paris Review, agrees to go along. Things soon become a lot more complicated. After the business struggles, Howe finds himself living in the basement of his in-laws' Staten Island home, commuting to the Paris Review offices in George Plimpton's Upper East Side townhouse by day, and heading to Brooklyn at night to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets. My Korean Deli follows the store's tumultuous life span, and along the way paints the portrait of an extremely unlikely partnership between characters with shoots across society, from the Brooklyn streets to Seoul to Puritan New England. Owning the deli becomes a transformative experience for everyone involved as they struggle to salvage the original gift—and the family—while sorting out issues of values, work, and identity....

Title : My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780805093438
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store Reviews

  • Matthew
    2019-01-24 04:43

    My Korean Deli is a self-absorbed, egotistical piece of literary sh*t. This carelessly thrown together selective memoir is not at all deserving of the attention it garnered over a year ago. Howe's condescending narrative almost makes you want the business to fail (view spoiler)[(which it does in less than two years) (hide spoiler)]. The author comes across as a whiny, over-privileged, uninspired yuppie "slaving" away at a cushy magazine editing job while moonlighting as an incompetent convenience store owner. There's nothing "Korean" about the deli other than his wife and mother-in-law. It's a run-of-the-mill convenience store in Brooklyn selling typical convenience store products like beer and potato chips. There's little insight into Korean business practices or even his wife's family's culture other than Rowe's consistent petty judgmental reminder of his mother-in-law's imperfect English and stubborn work ethic. As Rowe even points out in the epilogue, it almost seems like he bought the store just so he could write a book about it later; you know, the time he was "slumming it". I wasted my time on this garbage of a book. Don't make the same mistake I did.

  • RandomAnthony
    2018-12-29 09:09

    Ben Ryder Howe's My Korean Deli is about as New York-centric, East coast focused as a book can be. I live in Wisconsin. Even though I grew up in Chicago, this whole “shopping at local delis that sound like convenience stores” culture feels alien. Why don't people in New York City shop at supermarkets? Do supermarkets not exist in New York City? I'm sure someone will correct my ignorance. Are these Korean delis like, I don't know, 7-11 or whatever? They kind of sound like 7-11 or a fancy gas station convenience store without the gas. I don't know. I guess it's not important, really. The book is more of a AJ-Jacobs (who gives a back cover blurb)-esque “let's be whacky and intelligent but placed in cutesy sentence-generating scenarios” book. Although Howe enters the business voluntarily, he walks the line between a stunt experience (like that guy who ate at McDonalds for a month) and authenticity.Do I sound cynical? Sorry. Howe (Ryder Howe?) writes well. He smoothly intertwines his three different worlds. First, he's an editor for the Paris Review, replete with stories of George Plimpton in his underwear. Second, he lives in his wife's parents' basement on Staten Island. Third, he's a clerk at the Korean deli he and his and wife buy with his parents. Howe does a solid job describing his hours at the counter. I'd worry about fucking up the cash register, too, while customers waited in a long line. I'd both get bored and feel moments of connection with customers through small, courteous interaction. The crazy customers would piss me off and leave me feeling powerless. But, again, this Korean deli is outside my background and elements of the setting were beyond my understanding. Apparently people just...hang Korean delis. Watch tv. Stand in the aisles. The clerks at the convenience stores around here would call the cops after maybe ten minutes of a customer's lurking in the aisles. So I approached this book more from an outsider's perspective than someone who grasped the setting intrinsically. That's ok. The tension that emerged between the author and his wife's mom was compelling and their shared sojourns to weird, faceless wholesalers fascinating. Howe is out of his element, aware of his shortcomings (e.g. he's good at editing stories but screws up stocking shelves), but willing to keep his mind and eyes open. I can't say this book has a pressing reason to exist. It's more like a long, well-written magazine article than book-worthy. Three stars, light, read My Korean Deli on a plane or bus, but don't expect your world to rock.

  • K
    2019-01-23 09:00

    If this book had been fiction, it would have been way, way over the top. I mean, what the heck were these people thinking, abandoning prestigious white collar jobs to buy a convenience store in a semi-sketchy neighborhood in downtown Brooklyn with absolutely no experience? Having finished the book I'm still not sure, despite some vague explanation about a weird expression of gratitude from Ben's wife to her Korean parents. So you've got this bizarre and highly unlikely situation, starring the author as a Jess Walter-esque hapless protagonist in a business situation that's way too complex for him to handle, plus the indomitable character of Ben's Korean mother-in-law and the various kooky personages inhabiting the store in various capacities. If it were a novel I'd be rolling my eyes and shouting at the author, stop trying so hard to be funny! But since this apparently actually happened, somehow it was funny (I think I now have a whole new layer of insight into why people were so upset with James Frey). Not to mention the fact that the story was also charming, sweet, and surprisingly poignant at times. Plus the audiobook reader did a great job, which definitely added to my experience -- I wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much in print, actually, which is unusual for me because I'd normally rather read visually.But maybe this was the perfect audiobook -- not too demanding, not dumb, long enough to offer me something and short enough to hold my attention. It didn't change my life or anything, but it got me through some long nights of cooking and dishwashing and I really can't complain.

  • Terryn
    2019-01-03 03:47

    I was downright shocked by how much I enjoyed reading “My Korean Deli.” I read the book in a day, it was so good. It’s a memoir written about how Ben (Waspy Bostonian white boy), his wife Gab (first generation Korean), and his mother-in-law (Korean immigrant) decide to open a Korean deli in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. Ben works nights at the deli, and days at the Paris Review, a hoity toity literary magazine. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, but Howe does an amazing job of getting the reader to feel where he’s coming from and the changes he sees in himself and his family as a result of his work at the deli.The deli – a quintessential New York institution – is a gift from Ben’s wife to her mother as a show of appreciation. It ends up being a place where they all work through their issues, be they personal (Ben and Gab want to move out of Kay’s house, but can’t), financial (they owe a lot of money in taxes on the deli) or existential (should run a fancy deli for newly arrived hipsters, or a round-the-way bodega that serves the working class residents). In a completely unpretentious way, “Deli” lays bare what it means to be an outsider in a family or a neighborhood, what it means to be a true hustler, what gentrification looks and feels like (and its ramifications), and what community really means. The characters are vibrant and funny, particularly Ben’s strong-willed Korean mother-in-law Kay, and Dwayne, the eccentric deli employee that stayed on when the Howes’ took over the deli. These people and their struggles are the people that you see on any given day in any given deli in New York or anywhere else, and I found that to be the most compelling element of the book.

  • Franc
    2019-01-13 02:53

    I've only made it to page 30, I don't think that I will finish. Full disclosure - I am half-Korean and my mother used to own a carry-out with a steam table; just puttin' it all out there. Given that - i agree that an American, his Korean wife, and MIL opening a deli in NY to assuage some guilt she has about her Mother's sacrifices, could be a hilarious or at least, interesting story.Just a few chapters in and I'm kinda offended. Even the stereotypical deli-owning Korean family, I was going along with that. So here's the thing, well a couple things. 1 - dialect is a hard thing to do and do it well. He writes the speech of the Korean mother in the not-perfect English of an immigrant, and maybe it's kinda accurate, but I didn't like it. Yes, I admit, maybe I'm taking it personal.2 - The husband doesn't seem to appreciate his wife's culture. When married into a culture different than your own, of course, the differences will stand out, and one may not fully embrace the culture of the other 100%, but you've at least got to have some level of respect for it. Right, kimchi will stink up your refrigerator and this can be made into a funny joke (we do at my house) but for some reason, it was irksome in this book. Aside from his Korean-in-laws, he also goes on about North Koreans, Staten Island, and the ghetto.So. I might be stuck at page 30 unless I'm convinced that it will get better. *Note/edit- I did buy it knowing the premise of the story, but actually had forgotten it was a memoir, 'til I re-read the summary here on GoodReads. I don't know of this changes my opinion.

  • Susie
    2019-01-01 02:56

    I bought this book initially because I thought the premise was hilarious. A white guy working at a Korean deli? Hahaha. To be honest I wasn't expecting much, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. Without giving away too much, Ben Ryder Howe is a self-described WASP who marries a Korean woman, Gab. For whatever reason, they buy a deli for Gab's parents, Kay and Edward, which means that the whole family more or less signs their lives over to the deli. Howe meanwhile works as an editor at the Paris Review. What follows is a story of deli life, Paris Review life, and a study on Korean Americans. Overall the book is very well-written and often hilarious at times. I even found myself on a rainy, windy night in Harlem waiting for the bus, clutching the book, completely engrossed by what I was reading. Howe makes the mundane day-to-day existence of a deli interesting. The character of Kay, his Korean mother-in-law as someone who pushed through pain and is stubborn as hell reminded me of a few of my Korean family members. Other fascinating characters, include Dwayne, the sole black employee at the deli, who runs on "Asian people time" not "black people time" and George Plimpton, the eccentric former head of the Paris Review.In short, this is a good read and I'd recommend this to anyone wanting to read an offbeat memoir.

  • Paula Gallagher
    2019-01-09 06:09

    A light, popcorn read. Howe breezily walks us through the trials of an enterprise foisted on him by his Korean wife Gab and her mother Kay. Never fully invested (psychically, physically) in the scheme to open a Korean deli in New York City and reap the profits, Howe is able to keep some cool remove in his storytelling. He's an editor working for George Plimpton at The Paris Review who is mystified by the workings of the cash register, his clientele's fondness for really bad 65-cent coffee, and the sales tax system. The most interesting and fully realized "character" in this memoir is Dwayne, the longtime employee the family inherits from the previous owner. From his sixth sense about impending inspections and "stings" to his .37 pound sandwiches, sections that include Dwayne spark while others sputter along.What I'd like to read is a prequel: a fully realized account of his marriage into a traditional Korean family, and the trials of having to move into his wife's parents' basement on Staten Island.

  • Diane
    2019-01-20 07:41

    As someone who married a man who owned two fast food restaurants, I really related to Ben Howe's story. He perfectly captures the craziness, the back-breaking work, insanely long hours, the horrible bureaucratic obstacles and yes, the occasional rewards of owning your own small business in America.Howe tries to balance his work as an editor at the Paris Review, and the contrast between that world of the Upper East Side in NYC and the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Korean deli is located perfectly mirrors the patchwork of life in New York. His vivid portrait of his boss, George Plimpton, is so intriguing. What I know of Plimpton has mostly come from his reports of his own adventures (Paper Lion, etc.), so this look at him from Howe's point of view is fascinating. Then there is Howe's Korean mother-in-law, Kay. Howe's wife Gab wanted to buy a deli for her mother to thank her for the sacrifices she made to educate Gab, sending her to college and law school. While WASPy Howe doesn't quite get this, he supports his wife, and they extend their living in his in-law's basement to buy the deli for Kay. Kay and Ben clash immediately while trying to find a deli to buy, and when they do buy one, Ben is way too slow to pick up the nuances of working the cash register. He is relegated to stocking shelves.The deli is a meeting place for various characters in the neighborhood, some who hang around all day and night. Howe usually worked the late shift, so his customers were the creatures of the night. He grew to tolerate, and respect, these people, even while they exasperated him. One employee, an African-American man named Dwayne, came with the store, and while he was a good employee, always showing up for work, he frequently offended customers of the store with his language. In a book filled with colorful, interesting people, Dwayne is perhaps the most interesting. He knows everyone and everything about the neighborhood, and is a single dad trying to raise his daughters.Immigrants are the backbone of this nation, and Howe tells Kay and her husband's story with honesty and respect. Where they came from, how hard they worked to get to America and make something of themselves, it is a tribute to the people who work long, hard hours, doing work that many people refuse to do, that explain how many cultures come here and make a success of themselves for their families. Howe nails the difficulties of owning your own small business- the strain it puts on a marriage, the constant money worries- it's a 24/7 responsibility, much like having a child, which Ben and Gab are also struggling to do. His tales of the deli, what it means to the neighborhood, to his family, and eventually to him, give the reader a real appreciation of small business owners. I loved his story of Gab trying to get from Queens to Brooklyn during a horrible snowstorm, and of keeping the store open during the big blackout.Howe is a gifted writer, and this book is one I would highly recommend. It's a great American story.

  • V
    2018-12-31 07:07

    2.5 stars. On the one hand, Ben Ryder Howe writes competently. His prose isn't purple, and doesn't get in the way of the story -- but overall, it's not memorable. Which is to say, it's amusing, but ultimately bland.Howe's memoir is about taking the plunge into small business ownership with his Korean-American wife, who wants to purchase a deli to give to her mother. The plan is to get it up and running before turning it over to Howe's mother-in-law, who is stereotypically concerned with hard work, family loyalty, and money.Oh, this book had potential. It's a crazy situation, and I was looking forward to the "Korean" part of My Korean Deli. Unfortunately, it didn't deliver what I was looking for. I was expecting hilarious. What I got was vaguely amusing, with a side of attempted deep and meaningful.Howe's writing is not of the laugh-out-loud variety you'd expect with a cover like that. There are a few amusing lines, but overall the prose reads as though he's trying very hard to be funny, rather than actually pulling it off. There are also a number of extremely difficult situations throughout the book, including a few of the near-death (and death) variety, where there is a clear attempt at bringing a deeper meaning into the story. Yes, Howe brings some ruminations on life. They're a little more broad than deep.I also would have liked to see fuller characterization of Howe's wife, and the relationship between the two. After all, she is the one who brought on the idea of purchasing a deli in the first place. You have to be a pretty committed husband to go along with that, throwing most of your life savings into a project with very high rates of failure and moving in with your in-laws out of necessity. But this crucial relationship (and the changes that inevitably occur) falls into the background, making way for the flashier story of arguing about gourmet vs. traditional delis, and more expensive coffee.Sometimes amusing, but not the book to read if you're looking for the meaning of life.Final word: meh. It's not a necessary read.Source: I received an ARC of this title through the publisher.

  • Judy
    2019-01-03 06:02

    Ben Ryder Howe brings the reader along on his adventure of purchasing a deli in Brooklyn in order to allow his spunky mother-in-law to run the store. This memoir brings to light Korean traditions and anecdotes from living in the middle of a Korean extended family.My only knock on this book is that at times Howe tries too hard to be funny. Otherwise, a fun memoir revealing Korean-American culture in NYC.

  • Nancy Kennedy
    2018-12-27 02:43

    You know how when you walk the streets of New York, you keep your eyes straight ahead? You don't look left or right, and you certainly don't slow down to peer into some little shop in a skeevy neighborhood, let alone go in.Well, you don't have to go in. Ben Ryder Howe has gone into the store for you. In fact, he and his wife, Gab, bought the store. His wife quit her job as a corporate attorney to buy a deli in Brooklyn for her Korean mother, Kay ("the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers"), in a traditional gesture of gratitude.The move is cultural whiplash for Mr. Howe, a senior editor at the venerable Paris Review who is descended from a long line of WASPy Boston Brahmins. He's no less stunned by the move to his in-laws' Staten Island home, where the couple move to save up money for the store. There, they live in the basement, where relatives come and go, rendering privacy an unknown entity, and the pungent smells of Korean cooking permeate the air.Mr. Howe introduces readers to the hilarious cast of characters that parade in and out of their tiny convenience store. Who knew that regulars hang out drinking beer and watching TV until the wee hours at a deli? The most arresting portrait is that of Dwayne, the shop's long-time and loyal employee who insists sandwiches must include over a third of a pound of meat. "Dwayne has groupies, devotees and disciples, people from all over Brooklyn and every demographic in the neighborhood who come to see him," Mr. Howe says. They call him "Preach," but he packs heat.No less fascinating is the inside look Mr. Howe gives of the hothouse literary atmosphere of the Paris Review under the editorship of the legendary George Plimpton, the scion of "participatory journalism." Editors drift in and out of the offices in the basement of George's Upper East Side apartment, parties break out, George pronounces. You'll laugh out loud at the depiction of the dreaded "slush pile," those thousands of unsolicited manuscripts that pour into any literary establishment. Here it's actually revered for its possibilities of harboring the next literary genius.This is an edgier tale of the naife in the real world than Michael Gill's How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else. You'll enjoy Mr. Howe's tale of small business ownership and his struggle to survive despite police stings, spiraling debts, crime, punishing citations and the perils of trying to do something about his wretched coffee. Not least because readers can enjoy it all at a distance!

  • Katie
    2019-01-10 02:44

    I found this to be a real page-turner of a memoir about a guy who opens a Korean deli in Brooklyn, together with his Korean-American wife and Korean mother-in-law. He goes into a lot of explanation about Korean-American culture, and the culture of many other immigrants in NYC and how they make their living in various ways, often with really creative ways of gaming the system.I got to live vicariously through someone brave enough to open a small business, since I am way too chicken to ever do it myself. I thought it was so interesting reading about all the challenges (some that threatened the business) involving taxes, regulations, cops trying to catch them not carding people, delivery people scamming them, how they got their merchandise, how they decided what and what not to sell, how they angered some customers while at the same time pleasing others with various decisions, etc. And also just plain trying to stay in business and simply keep their heads above water, especially during the early days.I found all the parts about Kay (the mother-in-law) very interesting. Like many immigrants she has an extremely (almost to a fault, since it threatened her health) strong work ethic, and doesn't take any guff from no one. I loved reading about her background and how she got to this place in life. One thing I would've liked to read more about though is what happened to her after the end of the book--what new outlet for her work ethic is there?I also enjoyed the narrator's impulsiveness, which got him into trouble more than once. He's a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type person (which you almost have to be, to open a business like this), but boy did he get himself into trouble a couple times with some decisions that seemed extremely foolhardy. But it was fun to read about!

  • Kressel Housman
    2019-01-16 09:46

    A few of my Goodreads friends reviewed this book years ago, possibly when it first came out, and I was intrigued enough to add it to my to-read list, but I didn’t consider it a particular priority. I only remembered it recently, and that was because of the book Pioneer Girl, which is also about a small business owned by a family of Asian American immigrants, though it was a restaurant, and the family was Vietnamese. It was also fictional, not a memoir, but the most important difference is that the restaurant was just a fact of the character’s lives in Pioneer Girl. In this book, the deli is the main focus.The narrator is a Boston-born white man who married into a Korean family, so a constant theme is the toughness of immigrants versus the ineptitude of the spoiled American. He makes so many mistakes, it gets painful to read about after a while, even though the book starts off with a light, humorous tone. But both he and the family grow from the experience, so you can’t help admiring them. It’s hard to run a small business. The idea scared me off before I read this book, so now I’m doubly scared. But in these years of tepid economic recovery, you’ve got to give credit to anyone willing to take the plunge. So hooray for small entrepreneurs! They’re the ones keeping the economy chugging along.

  • Gail Goetschius
    2018-12-25 03:44

    My Korean Deli is the memoir of a WASP editor and his Korean wife who buy a deli in order to make enough money to gain independence from his wife's parents and then give the deli to his wife's mother. Living with his in laws and their extended family and owning and running a deli are about as far from Howe's comfort zone as he can get, yet his acceptance of the situations, his hard work, and his obvious love for his wife make him very likable narrator. I think I preferred the chapters about Howe working for George Plimpton at the Paris Review more than his experiences at the deli although both are amusingly told. I also liked his comments about the differences between his Boston Puritan background and his Korean family. They are funny and apt as well as loving and respectful .

  • Elizabeth
    2018-12-30 06:43

    What’s not obvious from the title of this book is that Howe was, at the time in which this book is set, a senior editor at The Paris Review. And thus while the memoir is ostensibly about the author, his Korean wife and mother-in-law buying and running a Brooklyn deli, there’s a subplot about the final years of the Review under its venerable editor, George Plimpton.Howe manages to weave his life at the Review, the trials of running a small business in New York, and, perhaps most compellingly, the tangle of emotion and obligation in his wife’s family’s life vs. his extremely Puritan New England upbringing. He’s a descendant of those who came over on the Mayflower (and his family never left Plymouth, MA) and as the book progresses he finds himself learning to understand and support his immigrant mother-in-law, and to give in to his wife’s sense of family duty. It’s an interesting perspective, and as a reader you can sense the anxiety it caused him. George Plimpton and the struggling Paris Review are another source of anxiety and stress, and yet Howe has written a humorous, loving memoir that displays both his discomfort with and respect for the ways Plimpton and his mother-in-law do things.The descriptions of the inner workings of The Paris Review are intriguing, sometimes funny. (They would, I suspect, be funnier if I wasn’t submitting my own work to lit magazines.) For example: "One of the quintessential Paris Review experiences is opening a cupboard to look for a coffee mug and having an avalanche of short fiction land on top of you. You open a closet meant for coats and there’s a stack of cardboard boxes containing unsolicited manuscripts. You sit down at your desk and stretch out your legs, and bump—there’s a whole milk crate of human creativity. There’s slush on the shelves in piles reaching up to the ceiling, slush in the basement in ice coolers and picnic baskets, slush under the toilet, slush over the sink … There’s so much slush it makes you wonder if everyone in the country, instead of watching reality TV and playing video games, is writing short stories."The magazine lacked any employees handling the business aspects — marketing and permissions, for example, which led to mistakes by and complications for its editors, including Howe. And Plimpton’s failing health presents challenges that no one at the magazine is prepared to handle. Meanwhile Howe and his wife are living with his in-laws on Staten Island, working night shifts at the financially teetering deli and watching his mother-in-law work harder than he ever imagined possible. He must learn about her past and understand why she is the way she is. She’s a force in the book, a character that Howe presents perhaps more completely than he does his wife, a corporate attorney who works shifts in the deli after a long day in her Manhattan office. The family learns to manage employees, how to handle deliverymen who try to extort them, and they battle undercover officers trying to catch them in the act of selling cigarettes to minors. Of course, as in any convenience store, there’s also the added concerns about crime, small margins, and difficult customers. You can’t help but want to know how it turns out.

  • Jennifer
    2018-12-28 04:56

    I raced to get this book after reading many reviews which promised hilarity and laughter. I was prepared to be regaled with personal stories of a topic i know little about, being married into an immigrant family which sacrifices all to own and operate a New York convenience store. Well, David Sedaris has nothing to worry about. There were so many opportunities and teasers for crazy stories, anecdotes even of wacky customers and then nothing. Just a few sentences on that, but more and more about the author's Puritan background, marriage and how he straddles the worlds of running a convenience store in a semi-gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood and being an editor on the Upper East Side hanging out with the estimable George Plimpton. It was interesting reading about the contrasting worlds of the immigrant situation, but it was just not as funny as I hoped. And it seemed like there was so much opportunity for it to be funny, if only we weren't hearing about the author's possible infertility, his sphincter, or his feelings of being an underachiever. I would have loved more stories of Dwayne, some more about Kay, the wacky mother-in-law, they were the best characters in the whole book and when they weren't on the page, I missed them dearly.That said, it was well written and I may recommend it to a couple of friends.

  • Theresa
    2019-01-17 10:59

    This is an really good book. The author does a nice job making the characters interesting with the dialogue and the narration is very good. (I listened to it on audio).The book held my attention which is difficult to do in nonfiction sometimes. I learned something about deli owners and how hard it is to run your own business. My favorite characters were the mother in law and Dwayne. I highly recommend this book especially the audio version.

  • Anna
    2019-01-23 11:00

    I read this book on the recommendation of a friend and because I live and work in an area with a large Korean population (NOT NY). I thought this might provide me further insights and knowledge of a culture I have only in recent years come to know. It did that in a lighthearted and humorous manner; I loved the way the author wrote! A fun and informative read!

  • Kate Z
    2019-01-05 10:05

    This is one of those books which really sums up the book club experience for me. I didn't *want* to read this and I wouldn't have but for it being selected by my book club as our December 2011 read. Memoirs aren't really my thing and that's even more true when it comes to reading a memoir for a book club selection. I have a very snooty attitude when it comes to book club selections - I like to talk about THE BOOK and one thing I really appreciate about the book club I'm involved with is how on point we tend to stay. The anecdotes told during our book club meetings tend to relate directly to the book being discussed and that's how I like it. With a memoir what is there, really, to discuss? By definition, a memoir is the larger conclusions about mankind and life in general that the writer has gleaned through living his or her life. It's hard to argue with those. They may not be the conclusions YOU would reach, but you haven't lived that person's life ... So I was a reluctant reader here but in the end, although I'm not willing to say this was a great book or an "everyone should read this book" kind of memoir, I enjoyed my time Howe's My Korean Deli.I was afraid of a pithy melting pot kind of book where all walks of life and socio-economic status walk though the titular deli (really, convenience store) and the writer's horizons are broadened beyond the literary, ivory towered world of the Paris Review. Happily, that wasn't what this book was.First, the Paris Review became *much* more appealing to me (I subscribed ... merry Christmas to me). Second, I fell in love with George Plimpton. Wish he was still alive - I'd probably try to follow more of his doings if he was. The reason I fell in love with George Plimpton says more about this book than it does about Plimpton's character (at least the character viewed through the lens of this book). What comes across in this memoir is that Howe believes that people are basically good. He actually LIKES people - and that comes across in every part of this memoir and it probably had the greatest amount to do with my own enjoyment of this otherwise pretty inconsequential book. Not a lot happens and the world view that Howe espouses isn't revelatory in nature - but Howe comes across as a good guy who likes people and sometimes, as a reader, it's nice to spend time in that kind of "space."I love sarcasm and social criticism as much as the next guy - one of my favorite books this year was Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story but if Howe had been a Calvinist I wouldn't have liked this book nearly as well.The book was a bit heavy handed with the whole Puritans vs. (Korean) immigrant point but, nevertheless, despite the lack of subtlety, that point was made. I found it a warm, likeable book by an author with just the right mixture of intellectual curiousity, self-deprecation, humor and appreciation and love for his fellow man. He managed to convey a love of his wife and in laws that combined with a realism without any trace of underlying dislike. He managed to revere and fear his mother in law at the same time (kind of how I feel about my own mother in law's super ability at all times) without the expected trace of hostility. This isn't a *great* book but it was easy to read and I'm glad I read it and feel enriched to some extent by the time I spent with Ben Ryder Howe and "[His] Korean Deli".

  • Malbadeen
    2019-01-07 06:45

    I'm listening to this book because this winter my mom got sick, and then she got sick again, and again and again. It seemed like every time one infection cleared up, she'd have another. And then her nostrils finally gave in from all the havoc they'd endured and she got chronic and prolific nose bleeds. She would wake up in the middle of the night choking on her own blood. At one doctors visit a bleed started and progressed to the point that the doctors dealt with it by calling 9-1-1 and having her transported via ambulance to the nearest hospital. After many doctors visits and lots of uncomfortable procedures, we learned that she has Chronic Lymphatic Lukemia. Her husband, who lost his first wife to Lukemia went into full on caregiver mode, ensuring her meals were as healthy as possible, that she got all the rest possible and that no unhealthy germs entered her path. When she was just making a turn for the better, her nose finally clear, her blood cells back to a healthy amount, and some of her energy returning, he started feeling worn down and went to the doctor for what appeared to have been a virus as well. We were quickly informed that our seemingly healthy, incredibly active step-dad needed a minor heart procedure. Minor heart procedure escalated to triple bypass surgery, triple bypass surgery was complicated by a minor malfunction which caused the need for another surgery on the same night, which seemed to get him through the worst of it until they took out his tracheotomy which caused so much internal bleeding that they had to perform a THIRD surgery in less than 24 hours. Through all of this, I watched my just barely healthy again mom struggle to remain hopeful and upbeat. I mostly set aside my own flash backs of when her first husband (my dad) died in a hospital 20+ years ago and tried to reassure her of all the ways this was so different. I resumed my roll as her "rock" as she put it and dutifully provided as many distractions as possible, I brought conversation, books, magazines, and snacks to the hospital as we all hoped and prayed that this wouldn't be yet another long drawn out and totally unexpected goodbye.It wasn't! He is home and recovering. Her last trip to the oncologist was only good news.But when you go through something like this, and you're reminded that you don't spend enough time with people that you love, and that you've taken your relationships for granted, and that there is only a finite amount of time in which you can get to know people, you tend to say, "sure" when they ask you if you'd like to listen to a book on audio that they recently enjoyed. I'm about 1/2 through the book now. It's fine. It's what I thought it would be a fairly well written, light hearted story, that wont shake my world, but will keep me good enough company while I'm going to and from work.

  • John
    2018-12-25 11:01

    The story opens with Ben's Korean-American wife, Gab setting out to buy a NYC deli (convenience store) for her mother to manage. Eventually, they settle on one in Brooklyn, which results in a wild series of disasters, until the end, when they're pretty much reduced to selling it. Much later in the book, we're told of Kay's (the mother) difficult life in Korea - long after I'd formed an initial impression of her as a (highly stereotypical) workaholic, money-obsessed Korean matron. I didn't "get" anything for Gabs to be especially grateful for? The whole mother-daughter angle seemed rooted in some sort of (self imposed?) guilt trip. At any rate, Kay came off as rather unlikeable to me. I had thought she was widow at first, until it's explained that her husband works nearly 365 days a year on the road with his own business.Though working full time in the business during much of their "adventures", I didn't really get much of a feel for Gabs, except for the above-mentioned aspect. She's pretty much restricted to cameo appearances - usually lamenting their growing financial straits - until the last section of the book, which moves away from the deli to her announcement that she's going to devote herself to having a baby; by then, she has gone back to working as an attorney to help bail out the sinking financial ship.Ben's presentation of himself, unfortunately, falls into the "lovable wimp" category. An editor at the Paris Review, he spends a considerable amount of time on his position there under George Plimpton (whom I admit freely I've never particularly cared for) - there, and at the deli, he messes up causing considerable headaches for all concerned on both fronts. He also goes in for a fair amount of self-examination regarding his WASP Yankee roots (as opposed to the Koreans' donchaknow), which almost seemed like filler to me at times.I suppose the bottom line is that I found myself frustrated that Ben and Gabs were academically brilliant, yet sunk everything into this venture with almost no idea of what they were doing, relying blindly on an assumption that the store would start turning a profit within a year, and they could bow out to let Kay have title to the business. I'll echo another frustrating aspect, mentioned by other reviewers: Ben would sometimes build up an issue for a sort of cliffhanger effect, which isn't necessarily resumed later.So, in the end, I'm giving this one three stars, though 2.5 would be closer to the mark. When Ben sticks to the actual deli-related stuff, rather than his personal life, the book works as promised.Audio note: this was the first time I'd heard Bronson Pinchot narrate, and I'd certainly try another of his books.

  • Bookworm
    2019-01-13 09:58

    A mixed bag from an author's first foray in writing books. The author looks at his time in a Korean deli, purchased for his mother in law. The book takes place over a period of years, looking at the day to day issues of running a store, the more interesting activities that happen and the customers that pass through. Not ever spending much time in NY, this was rather fascinating.However, the book is rather uneven, talking about the deli as well as the lives of some of the people in it as well as the author's personal life and other job. Sometimes it flowed really well and was very interesting to read, and sometimes I found myself skipping over passages, because I did not buy this book to read about the author's job at the magazine, but rather what he does at the deli. There does seem to be good social commentary as well. The author discusses how hard it can be to keep customers happy when they've been used to seeing the same prices and same employees (and will flip if they fire such employee...). That NY can make it VERY difficult to run a business with fees, enforcement and stings that sometimes are for legal purposes, and some that just seem totally wacky. The various type of people, from employees to customers will probably bring a smile or shudder of horror to anyone who has ever done customer service in retail, and the author points out it is something everyone should do.The book mostly fails when it tries to describe the life of a few people and their relationships to the author. One I grew to care less and less about and the other it was difficult to care as the book went on. I felt there was some attempt to parallel the author's time at the store and his other job to the times of these people, but it didn't quite tie in. Really, while the book initially started off very well, at times the book feels very much like a mishmash of stories that don't quite tie well enough together.Probably an interest if you have a daily deli you go to, live in NY or have experience with immigrant families and their stores.

  • Kay
    2019-01-20 09:42

    The narrator for this audiobook, Bronson Pinchot, did a fine job, bringing out the nuances of this memoir, in which a hung-up Boston-bred editor for The Paris Review morphs into a Korean-run deli owner. Actually, Pinchot's droll narration is probably the sole reason I finished listening to this book. On the whole, I think there is far too much of this "transforming a part of my life into a bestseller" phenomenon in publishing these days, and I can't help but wonder how many authors and would-be authors are sitting up late planning stunts that they can subsequently pitch to a publisher, or, having just come through some difficult or strange experience, decide, what the heck, to transform it into a memoir. How much of this sort of "memoir by default" publishing is truly memorable? Sadly, not much, even though there seems to be an inexhaustible market for it. However, there are some redeeming parts of the book, notably Howe's examination of his problematic relationship with his Korean mother-in-law, and his gradual unmooring from his WASPish inhibitions, bridging not only the cultural but class barriers and becoming less rigid and self-absorbed in the process. Still, it sometimes seemed Howe was exaggerating his ineptitude for comic effect. He just wasn't that engaging.

  • Joshua
    2019-01-17 10:59

    My Korean Deli started off with a loud bang as Ben Ryder Howe chronicles how he and his Korean-American wife take all their savings [30K], sign-up for a bunch of credit cards [is this a wise way to help finance a business start-up?] and buy a tiny, revenue challenged deli in Brooklyn with his mother-in-law. Howe happens to have a day job as an editor at the Paris Review literary magazine. By opening the deli, he will now have a night job too as he mans the 4-1am shift four nights a week. As the book goes on, it kind of loses its steam a bit as Howe goes on one too many off-shoots such as the immigrant experience v. WASP experience, trying to have a baby [I don't really care about your efforts to create a baby--I want to read about the deli!]. Fortunately for Howe, he's blessed with a couple of genuinely entertaining people--his mother-in-law Kay and longtime deli employee Duane. I especially loved reading about Duane--what a character. Oh, and George Plympton at the Paris Review too--another wonderful character that elevated the book. Wish it wouldn't have dragged so much toward the end as its a fairly short book, but on the whole it's a pleasant story about risk and what it's like to spend a lot of time in a Brooklyn deli. As I read it I thought to myself, I could see this being made into a movie and sure enough, film rights have been purchased.

  • Kim Sheehan
    2018-12-28 05:46

    I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could...I liked much of it, but there was a lot I could skip over.This is a non-fiction story of how the author, his wife, and her Korean family purchased and ran a Korean deli in Brooklyn for several years. At the same time, the author is struggling with a less-than-inspiring job at the Paris Review and his wife is trying to find an appropriate work/life balance...all while living in the Pak family basement. There's really about four different stories in this book, and they might have been stronger as short stories or articles. While the writing is strong and evocative, it's hard to drum up any sympathy for someone working for George Plimpton at arguably the most literary of literary magazines of our time. And while I could visualize the characters, I couldn't empathize with them.That said, anyone who has ever worked retail and wondered what it would be like to own a store should read this. It's a fast and interesting read, although not one that will stick with you long after you close the book.

  • Chris Aylott
    2019-01-07 04:45

    Ben Ryder Howe's memoir of helping buy and run a Korean deli reads like it should be a movie (and apparently it was, at least for a while, though the project seems to have gone dormant). A WASPy editor working for George Plimpton, Howe is married to a daughter of Korean immigrants who has decided to help her mother own a deli of her own. While Howe's mother-in-law is a lifelong retail expert, Howe and his wife are not, and they're quickly in over their heads.Howe's struggles with the deli brings back memories -- some fond -- of my own shopkeeping, but his Korean family are the stars here. He does his best to show what makes them tick, even though he doesn't fully understand them himself, and the story of his mother-in-law's life is fascinating. He also brings out the personality of New York, especially late-night New York when the expressway is empty and everyone still out on the street is probably a little bit crazy. The story sometimes seems a little too cinematic, but it's a compelling read.

  • Amanda
    2018-12-24 06:46

    If I could have given this another half star, I would have, but I didn't like it enough to round up an entire star. This memoir was occasionally funny, interesting, and quick to get through. My biggest complaint about this book was the author's wife. Maybe it's my tendency to fixate on things that aren't that central to the overall theme of the book, but I couldn't help feeling like she was overbearing and unapologetic with a need for constant validation. This drove me crazy and distracted me from some of the story. The author also has a tendency to explain parts of different situations and then never sum them up; leaving you to ask "wait, did I just miss how this was resolved?" My last complaint and where I think the book could have been really great, is the lack of insight into the people who worked and shopped at the deli. It seemed like the author teased us with little snapshots of quirky customers and employees. I would have really liked to have heard more about what seemed like a colorful, eclectic group of people.

  • Catherine
    2019-01-22 07:57

    Paris Review editor Ben Howe, descended from the earliest Bostonians, and his wife Gab, an attorney whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Korea, decide to use the money they’ve been saving to buy a house to make her mother’s dream come true. The dream happens to be becoming proprietor of a convenience store/deli in Brooklyn, and Ben and Gab have saved this money by living in her parents’ basement along with a rotating cast of other family members. Ben continues to work half-heartedly for his usually amenable boss (George Plimpton); Gab quits her job, and she, Ben, and Kay, the mom, settle in to run the deli. Although the story was told with humor, it was not the light, fun read I expected. The toll this venture took on the health and finances of the family was often stressful to read about. At the same time, their dedication toward both the business and one another was very sweet. I admire the Asian tradition of respect for one’s parents, but this might have been taking it a bit too far.

  • Kasa Cotugno
    2018-12-24 04:46

    This is a pleasant memoir, more of an extended blog, with situations beyond its original premise. When finished, I was surprised at the harshness of some of the other reviews since I didn't find it any more self-absorbed than any other memoir, and with its elements of cross cultural influence more compelling than most. Howe moves into his in-laws home in Staten Island so that he and his wife can help her first generation Korean family gain independence in a business of their own, a convenience store in Brooklyn. That alone would provide enough rich material for its own storyline (think "Smoke"), but initially he also tries juggling his current position as an editor at George Plimpton's Paris Review, commuting to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and therefore present the reader with three wildly differing environments, each in a different Borough with its attendant individuality. It was a fast informative read, at times funny, at times, sad. But engaging with likable people and their lives.

  • Andie
    2019-01-12 07:41

    4.5 stars. This is an incredibly enjoyable, quirky memoir that has about 10 other characters beyond the author- an unconventional memoir, and as such I really enjoyed it, as I am not a memoir person. Howe chronicles the conception, birth, lifetime, and ultimate death of the deli he decides to open with his Korean wife and mother-in-law in Boerum Hill. Meanwhile, he chronicles about ten other things- Boerum Hill as a changing neighborhood; his relationship with his wife, their desire to move out of her mother's basement, and eventually to have a baby; his relationship with his hardass mother in law; his relationship with his customers, his employees, the "snack thugs" that deliver food to his shop; running a business; and his job at the start, that becomes a side job and ultimately ends- an editor at the Paris Review. I could say more, but suffice to say it's a nice portrait of New York City and being a thirtysomething circa 2003, as well as a small business owner. I learned, I laughed, I recommend.