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August 2, 2012

Book Notes - Ben Ryder Howe "My Korean Deli"

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ben Ryder Howe's My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store is a remarkable book, combining the Korean immigrant experience, a family portrait, a truly New York story, and the perils of running a small business into a thoughtful and clever memoir.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"It's hard not to fall in love with My Korean Deli. First, it's the (very) rare memoir that places careful, loving attention squarely on other people rather than the author. Second, it tells a rollicking, made-for-the-movies story in a wonderfully funny deadpan style."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In his own words, here is Ben Ryder Howe's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store:


In my experience, when you walk into a convenience store you come out with three things: the item you intended to buy; a pretzel-shaped hamburger, which you succumbed to while standing in line; and the song playing on the store's radio inserted in your brain.

Most deli music reminds me of the time during the invasion of Panama when Noriega was hiding in a foreign embassy and the army drove him out by blasting him with Whitesnake and Dokken. Why do Korean deli owners choose to bathe their customers in the sonic equivalent of a food warming lamp? To keep them from freeloading air conditioning, of course. (And no, buying a pack of gum does not entitle you to stick your head in the refrigerator for ten minutes.)

Here are the three worst songs created by the music industry, and therefore the ones that got played the most often, during the two years (roughly 2003-4) that I owned a deli in New York City:


"Get Busy" – Sean Paul

I must have heard this song five hundred times, and there aren't four consecutive words of it at any point I fully understand. "Shake your . . ." No, I lost it again. "Yo sexy ladies want . . ." Want what? What?! I'll never know. And I'll always wonder, because this song doesn't just get inside your head; it recodes your DNA. Still, I applaud Sean Paul for getting a song about narwhales into the Top 10.


"When I'm Gone" - 3 Doors Down

Music is supposed to transport you, and for me this song would definitely do the trick. "Welcome to Chuck E. Cheese," I greeted the party of seven as they found their way in from the industrial park. "Is it just the children playing skill games today, or will the adults be needing coupons as well?" In other words, there aren't many settings more dismal than an empty deli selling sex potions and off-brand fun cakes, but Three Doors Down always managed to put me in an even darker place than the one I was already in.


"Right Thurr" – Chingy

This is one of those x-rated songs that always used to come on the radio when I was alone at the cash register. Some dignified older woman in a spectacular hat would come in on her way home from the church potluck, and the two of us would just stand there listening to the lyrics. "Do you like this music?" her expression would say. (She be shoppin' in Frontenac.) "Are you a fan of . . . Chingy?" (Girl, can I taste yo cat?) As soon as she was gone I would run back to the stockroom and scream at the other clerks, "NO MORE HOT 97, GODDAMMIT!" But the next day it would be on and I'd forget to change the station until it happened again, and again, and again . . .


Ben Ryder Howe and My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store links:

excerpt from the book

Barnes and Noble Review review
Christian Science Monitor review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
New York Observer review
New York Times review
NPR review
Serious Eats review
Toronto Star review
USA Today review

Gothamist interview with the author
New York Times interview with the author
New Yorker interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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