My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

My Korean Deli, Ben Ryder Howe

Doubleday Canada, 304 pages

ISBN 9780385664127

Ben Ryder Howe has a double-barrelled last name, a wardrobe from the L. L. Bean catalogue, and family connections in Boston dating back nearly four hundred years.  True to his Puritan roots, Ryder Howe learned early on that the restraint and respect for tradition embraced by Strunk and White in The Elements of Style should be used as a guideline for living as well as for writing.   He listens to classical music, watches The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and works as an editor in Manhattan.  To save money to put towards their first house, Ryder Howe and his wife move in with her Korean family and he feels the beginnings of culture shock.  A little while later, they purchase a Korean deli as a short-term investment, and Ryder Howe is lost at sea.

The deli is located on a noisy street in an ungentrified part of Brooklyn.  Muzak blares out of the radio during the day and bad horror movies from the 80s play on the store’s television at night.  The deli sells prepackaged snack food, cigarettes and terrible coffee to middle-aged men who could do with a wash and a shave.  Its most longstanding employee, Dwayne, can tell who has been to jail, keeps the worst of the neighbourhood thugs out of the store, and has a cache of weapons hidden away in case of emergency.  It’s chaotic, colourful, and unlike anything that Ryder Howe has ever known.

My Korean Deli is the story of a perplexed Wasp trying to find his way through this new world of scratch tickets and cheez doodles.  Told with affection and humour, this memoir follows Ryder Howe as he gains a deeper appreciation for the cultures that surround him, learns to relinquish some control, and becomes more self-assured.    Readers who enjoy the work of Nick Hornby will recognize similar themes in this entertaining and enlightening book.

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