Ben Ryder Howe

Not many memoirs of the Manhattan lit life include George Plimpton as a major character. Yet Ben Ryder Howe was an editor at The Paris Review, run out of the late Plimpton’s brownstone, where cocktails and confessional chats seemed to have occupied the staff far more than, you know, putting out an actual magazine. But Howe had a second job that proved to be far more stressful and time-consuming. With his Korean-American wife and mother-in-law, he bought a Brooklyn bodega, as recounted in the entertaining My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store (Picador, $15). Howe is initially wary of the project, which is largely intended to keep his “compulsive nonprocrastinator” of a mother-in-law occupied; she’s a bootstrapping, chain-smoking workaholic who earns a city fine for putting out the deli’s trash too early. Casting himself as the WASP outsider, Howe is fully immersed in Korean-American immigrant culture, including the smelly food, the lack of privacy in a Staten Island home they all share, and the guilt and obligation felt by his wife (a corporate lawyer) toward her mother. His secondary tale is that of the Paris Review‘s (and Pilmpton’s) somewhat sad decline during the early ’00s; slaving away at the deli becomes a welcome distraction, bordering on self-reinvention, for the author. He’s admittedly more of a Plimptonesque dabbler than sociologist, better with a phrase than Barbara Ehrenreich-style analysis. The new deli provides an olfactory greeting that’s “a mélange of kitty litter, leaky air fresheners, pastrami, wood rot, and freon.” In gentrifying Boerum Hill, he dismisses a rival deli as being “full of people who look they’re on their way to a Weezer concert.” And during a potentially scary blackout, fearing looters, Howe instead finds “an intimate interaction: you and this stranger whose face you will never see, walking hand-in-hand to the canned vegetable aisle.” BRIAN MILLER

Tue., March 13, 7 p.m., 2012