Bronson Pinchot's narration of Ben Ryder Howe's snarky story of the pitfalls of small business ownership truly makes this offbeat memoir come alive. Not only does Pinchot do an incredible job with Howe's own sarcastic, funny voice, he also manages to provide ample spice to characters as diverse as Kay, Howe's sassy Korean mother-in-law; Dwayne, a quirky deli clerk with a penchant for strange weaponry; and George Plimpton, the famed eccentric literary personality.
When Howe's wife, Gab, sets out to buy a deli for her first-generation immigrant mother as a token of appreciation for her personal determination and sacrifice, things get a bit madcap. Because of this, My Korean Deli ends up being a light-hearted look at leading a peculiar kind of double life. After all, there's something delightful about a story that interweaves the purchase and operation of a family-run bodega in Brooklyn with a part-time editorship at The Paris Review, Howe's day job. After his boss, George Plimpton, warns him of the dangers of duel identity specifically that one side of his existence will always be threatening to swallow up the other, Howe begins to delve deeper into his own personal values. The book gets meta when he starts to examine different modes of achievement in American culture, pitting the puritanical over-thinking of the author's New England upbringing against the aggressive, DIY ethos of his wife's family. Ultimately, he mostly opts for the latter in life, dedicating himself to the immigrant-run deli and, in a more haute way, the slapdash but impressive Paris Review.
Howe finds a way to balance the big ideas with clever, laugh-out-loud anecdotes. Some of the more hilarious moments come as dispatches from the deli itself, as he is forced to get right with the rowdy regulars, navigate a massive corner-store supply outlet with his cheeky mother-in-law, or come to legal blows with various state regulatory agencies.
There are also more than a few poignant moments, including Plimpton's death, Kay's health issues, and the downward spiral of treasured employee and revered neighborhood character Dwayne. These serve to temper the mood and illustrate that, even in the deli, there are life lessons to be learned. Gina Pensiero
This sweet and funny tale of a preppy editor buying a Brooklyn deli with his Korean in-laws is about family, culture clash, and the quest for authentic experiences.
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 to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets by night.
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.
©2010 Ben Ryder Howe (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“My Korean Deli is…about love, culture clashes, family, money, and literature. Plus, it happens to be very funny and poignant.” (A. J. Jacobs, New York Times best-selling author)
After reading so many glowing reviews of this book in print, I took a shot...and was well-rewarded. I had no idea Bronson Pinchot was such a terrific narrator. His abilities as an actor are put to full use in the various voices and accents required. The writing is terribly funny in most places, and moving and poignant in others; Pinchot's voice is perfectly expressive regardless of the scene being read. I find myself bugging my friends to try this book, but particularly in audio. P.S. The George Plimpton impersonations alone are worth the price of the book.
A button-downed, dreamy New Englander marries a driven Korean woman, who feels duty-bound to buy a deli for her mother to manage and run. The husband is the narrator of this wonderful true account of culture clashes and heart meshings. It's also a fascinating inside glimpse of the microcosmic world of the ethnic-run deli---the place all of us New Yorkers depend upon in our various neighborhoods for newspapers, coffee, and snack cakes. There's a drama behind every single one of these convenience items. The narrator is phenomenal, capturing Korean, Black, Middle Eastern, and Boston Brahmin accents with seeming effortlessness. I absolutely loved this book.
mostly nonfiction listener
Warning. If you read My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe as audiobook, and listen while walking across campus, you will inevitably end up looking like a crazy person as you break out into uncontrollable laughter just as a tour of prospective students and their parents passes you on the green. I'm just saying.
Other Dangers of Reading My Korean Deli:
If you buy this book now you will miss too many March Madness games, as NCAA basketball (or work or talking to your partner or children or other lesser pursuits) will not be able to compete.
If you have Korean in-laws, and/or a Korean-American spouse, you will find yourself vigorous nodding your head as Ryder Howe describes the culinary, cultural, marital, and son-in-law intricacies, complications and delights of marrying into a Korean family.
You may never complain about your difficult academic, technology, publishing, or whatever professional job again, as almost any gig seems infinitely easier than running a family owned convenience store and deli.
You may think about subscribing to the Paris Review (Ryder Howe is a senior editor during the time his family ran the deli), for no better reason than you are loving reading My Korean Deli.
You might decide to watch (on Netflix Instant) Paper Lion, the 1968 movie in which Alan Alda plays George Plimpton trying out for the the Detroit Lions. Plimpton, the founding editor of the Paris Review and Ryder Howe's boss, vividly and hilariously comes to life in My Korean Deli.
You may abandon your dream of finding a "simpler" life and walking away from the world of academia, medicine, publishing, technology etc. etc. to start your own family business (bookstore, restaurant, cafe, deli etc), after reading about what the life of a small proprietor is actually like.
You may put your idea on hold to move into your in-laws basement (particularly if they live on Staten Island) to save money for a down payment for your own home (as Ryder Howe and his wife did), deciding that on balance it might be wiser to remain a renter.
I'm nominating "My Korean Deli" for the funniest non-fiction book of 2011. Let's hope for some good competition.
This book works well on several levels: it is almost always gently (and sometimes) hilariously funny, it gives the reader a refreshing view of the interface of two cultures (WASP and Korean), and as its title portends, it is an interesting description of what it is like to run a deli. As a bonus, for some of us older readers, it gives us a glimpse into the bigger-than-life personage of George Plimpton. The reader is very good! Enjoy.
Quite entertaining really, the multicultural clashes are quite interesting. If it's not his mother in-law it's Dwayne the store employee, or even George, his boss, at the Paris Review. The narration is truly excellent, it is hard to believe that Bronson does all those voices.
This was a fun listen, I think if I had better knowledge of Brooklyn I would have appreciated the setting more. Having lived in NYC I could totally appreciate the intricasies of the bureaucracy the family had to deal with. Bronson Pinchot was a great reader too, his voices and characterizations were right on. This is definately worth a listen.
While the writing is excellent -- there's a reason the author was an editor at the prestigious Paris Review -- it's the narration that is breath-taking. How does Bronson Pinchot nail those voices so PERFECTLY. I never thought I'd re-listen to a book just for the narration but with this one I have. Each person I've recommended this book to has also had a 5-star experience.
Fascinating story of a family going into business.
When he decided to recommend the run-down deli for purchase.
I felt like he was the author. It was genuine.
The employee keeping everyone safe.
Loved the additional side story of George Plimpeton.
I listened to this one straight through. Although the author is introspective at times, he's funny about it and surrounded by perfectly cast extroverts. Loved the family, the stories from the Paris Review (the narrator does an incredible G. Plimpton) and customers. One of my favorites of the year.
Multicultural literary entertainment
No other book is like it.
Running a deli is harder than it looks. And I loved hearing about George Plimpton. Bronson Pinchot's rendering of the upper class New York accent was priceless.
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