My Korean Deli – by Ben Ryder Howe (2011)

My Korean Deli

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to own and run a convenience store with your family, wonder no more. Author Ben Howe describes in great detail the day-to-day experiences in their little Brooklyn store. Who knew that life behind a cash register could be so entertaining?

The plot is not as important as the individual people in the book. There’s Ben, of course, the WASP (white Anglo-saxon protestant) guy whose ancestors have lived in the Boston area for hundreds of years and carried the quiet, Puritanical mindset. He works as an editor for the Paris Review magazine. Then there’s his wife Gab, born to immigrant Korean parents. Gab is a modern woman with a college degree, but also a rock-solid dedication to the Korean traditions. Throughout the book, she is torn between wanting to be the successful American woman, and wanting to demonstrate perfect devotion to her parents. Gab’s father is an enigma who skulks around the background, mysterious and silent. Gab’s mother – Kay – is a spitfire woman who ran businesses back in Korea like a pit-bull, and wants to run one again.

Ben and Gab live with her parents in order to pay off college debt and save up some money for the future. To express their appreciation for the help, Gab convinces Ben that they should buy a business for her mother to run, and that the family can run it together. Thus begins the search for an affordable store in New York City, no easy feat. They finally find a small convenience store (or deli, as they call it, because they serve hot sandwiches) and open for business.

They keep one employee from the previous owner – Dwayne. Dwayne is scary, yet endearing. He is invaluable, yet capable of undoing the business. He’s always on time and works hard, but has to do things his way. Your feelings for Dwayne can change with every chapter.

The things I loved the most about this book were: One, the characters, from the crazy customers to the unpredictable Dwayne. Two, the back-and-forth conversations between Ben and his mother-in-law Kay. She was constantly arguing with him and bossing him around. It probably wasn’t too pleasant when it was actually happening, but it certainly was funny when put down on paper! And three, the message throughout the book that family is everything, even when they drive you crazy.




The Cross And The Switchblade (1962)

The Cross And The Switchblade

In the late 1950’s, David Wilkerson was the pastor of a small country church in Pennsylvania. One day he read the story of seven young men – “boys” as he called them – on trial for murder in New York City. Almost immediately, he felt God calling him to go to the city and talk to them. His attempts to meet the seven were thwarted repeatedly, but while David was in New York, he was introduced to gangs and the drug culture.

He went home to his wife and small congregation, but just couldn’t stop thinking about what he had seen. On his days off, he would drive to the city and just walk around. Before long, the Lord told him to move to Brooklyn and minister to those battling drugs, alcohol, and gang life. From that point on, miracle after miracle happened. David told gang members about God’s love and how He could change their lives. It started slowly, but one by one hardened gang members chose to leave their old lives and follow Jesus.

Then David started praying about buying a house where people who were trying to get off drugs could stay while they were detoxing and recovering. God sent just the right people and exactly the right amount of money to buy a run-down house. Former gang members cleaned it up, as a squatter had filled it up with eight garbage trucks’ work of junk.

That was the beginning of the Teen Challenge ministry. At that time, the average person living outside the big city had no idea how bad the gang problem was, or that an epidemic of drug addiction (primarily heroin) had begun. David’s description of being in a room with a few people who were shooting up heroin was especially vivid.  In the book, he says: “I had never felt so close to hell.” He also wrote users’ descriptions of how they were forced into gangs, and how easy it was to get sucked into using drugs and then selling them to support their own habits.

This much love could not be contained to one city. Teen Challenge houses sprang up all over the country. Other people grabbed the torch and ran with it, although David continued to be involved until his death in 2011. One man with almost no money, but endless love for his God and his fellow man, made the world a better place by the way he lived and loved. If ever there was a book to inspire us to help others, this is it!

Edge Of Apocalypse – by Tim LaHaye & Craig Parshall (2010)

Edge Of Apocalypse

It had been awhile since I’d read an apocalyptic novel, and this one caught my eye as I browsed the shelves at my public library. It’s the first in a four-book series, “The End”. The novel begins with New York City nearly being obliterated by nuclear warheads fired by North Korea. The United States fights back with an experimental weapon invented by Joshua Jordan, and the city is saved. Suddenly every country on earth wants it. Congress demands the schematics for the weapon, which Joshua is loath to give out, lest it fall into the wrong hands. That begins the political struggle between those who see Joshua as a hero, and those who want him arrested and punished for refusing to share the technology with the country and its allies.

Although I would call the book a political thriller, it does also include a fair amount about Joshua’s relationships with God, his wife, and his son Cal. There is also a friend who is struggling with addiction to anti-depression medicine in the story. The themes of globalism and big media control are also woven into the story.

Author Tim LaHaye is best known for his “Left Behind” series, which I read back in the 90s, when it was on the New York bestseller’s list. This series seems relatively unknown. I have read one other book by the co-author, Craig Parshall – Trial By Ordeal – and found it very entertaining.

If you like reading end-of-the-world book, you might give this one a try.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn – by Betty Smith (1943)

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

This classic novel follows the life of the impoverished Nolan family, living in Brooklyn during the early 1900’s. Johnny is the musical, fun-loving father, Katie the mother who is the main financial provider for the family, Francie the 11-year-old daughter, and Neeley the 10-year-old son. The reader is given an intimate look at what it was like to grow up in an overcrowded neighborhood with barely enough money to survive. The current welfare system had not been created yet, so poor families had to use all their wits to stay afloat.

The best thing about “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” is the depth of the characters in the story, especially Francie and her mother Katie. You are allowed to see what they see, feel what they feel as they tackle life. There are moments of despair, but also times of elation as they overcome difficulties.

My favorite part of the book was when the family was trying to help Francie with a horrible school situation. I loved what her father did for her, and how her Aunt Sissy stepped in to help as well. That was one spunky family!

The tree referred to in the book title is the “Tree Of Heaven”, which is basically a weed type of tree that can grow anywhere. It grows where nothing should grow – even out of cracks in the sidewalk. It represents people like the Nolans, where all the cards are stacked against them. No one expects them to succeed or better themselves. But against all odds, Francie – like the scrawny tree – struggles and grows and overcomes the circumstances that try to hold her down. If Francie could succeed, so can each one of us.