My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

Hi everyone. It’s Kelly’s husband here, and I have a book review for you.  It’s not a new book. It was first published in 2011, so it’s not like I’m sharing big news after reading an advance copy. This is more of a “Hey, have you heard of this book? It’s really good.”

When the paperback of My Korean Deli came out last year I heard the author interviewed on the radio (you can listen online here). Ben Ryder Howe wrote a memoir about buying and running a New York deli. The compelling thing about the situation was this: a) he isn’t Korean, and b) he had absolutely no experience running a store.

Howe was an editor at the literary magazine The Paris Review. He had married into a Korean family. His wife Gab wanted to help her mother open a store. They intended to to pitch in their money and time just long enough to get her started, but the Brooklyn deli quickly consumed their lives. It was a stressful situation, but Howe writes the story with a wry humor. Unpleasantness + time = funny.

The behind-the-scenes descriptions of the life of a deli were fascinating: choosing a location and inventory, dealing with pushy vendors and severe city officials, managing staff, coping with frustrating customers, and stressing about money. As a guy who works in publishing, I was really entertained by Ryder’s chapters about his job at The Paris Review where he worked with the quirky George Plimpton. Central to the story is a the contrast between the author’s WASPy reserved New England upbringing and his wife’s immigrant Korean family. The dynamic is quite like My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

My Korean Deli is an entertaining read, including stories about family, business, and culture that can be both funny and serious.

Andrew

P.S. You can read a book review on NPR’s site, another on the New York Times, and read an interview with the author on The Gothamist.

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