Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cactuseaters Book Club part four: Read this one next: My Korean Deli

I've read so many memoirs that skirt around issues like race, class, family dynamics and the "prestige track," the rut that can trap aspiring editors and authors into low-paying but impressive and privileged positions. Ben Ryder Howe's My Korean Deli jumps into these issues right from the beginning.

Here's what happens when an author and editor refuses to get off the prestige track altogether (he refuses to abdicate his low-paying position at the Paris Review) even while taking an extreme step toward possible financial independence (he and various in-laws pool their resources to buy a delicatessen in Brooklyn.) As the book progresses, you can see the author struggling to maintain his footholds in the store and at the magazine -- an increasingly difficult task, as you'll see.

I did not know that an author could extract so much narrative juice from store ownership. If you think it looks like a static enterprise, think again.

I've been to so many New York delis, and I had no idea what it took to run them, even though I've spent years of my life as a bag boy at places like Von's and Safeway. If you buy one of these places, beware. 1. You have to deal with tobacco enforcement raids. First offense: a thousand bucks. 2. You have to deal with the intimidations and strange behaviors of packaged snack cake suppliers. 3. You may find yourself inheriting pistol-wielding employees who are not afraid to take extreme measures if someone tries to rob the place.

Another thing about this book: It really captured (for me) the best as well as the most horrible aspects of living in NYC for several years. While reading it, I remembered the heights of my experience (martinis at the Temple of Dendur, hearing a talk by Joan Didion, staggering home from an all-night gathering somewhere in Brooklyn, etc.) and the staggering lows (having a rat jump over my foot, having my car break down in frozen weather in the middle of Broadway at 1 in the morning, eating horrible falafel in Williamsburg. The chef thought to put pickles in the falafel. I was drinking Maalox for three days straight.)

A good book club choice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

adding this to my book club list!