New York, seen from Plimpton's townhouse and a deli

Thu Feb 24, 2011 2:33pm EST
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Ben Ryder Howe, a young editor at the Paris Review literary magazine, told his boss, George Plimpton, that he was going into the New York City deli business, Plimpton reacted by asking for a job.

"Incidentally, can I work there? I've always wanted to be a stocker," said Plimpton, a journalist who famously wrote about taking on jobs, such as a professional golfer, despite any evident skill.

"As usual, I'd underestimated him," Howe said of Plimpton's reaction to the deli, in an interview. "George loved the amateur ethos, the idea of being one of the little guys."

Howe's memoir, "My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store," will be published in March. It details the two years he lived a "double life" -- combing through piles of manuscripts in the basement of Plimpton's Manhattan townhouse in search of a great new literary voice, while working shifts at a Brooklyn deli that he bought with his Korean-American in-laws.

It also offers a lens into the final days of the Paris Review under Plimpton, the magazine's co-founder and first editor who died in 2003 at the age of 76.

For Howe, it felt like whiplash, until he began to savor the contrast.

"The Paris Review was fun and at times a very social place. Famous authors were always dropping by, and George would encourage us to stop working and come have a drink with them," Howe said about the magazine which helped writers such as Philip Roth, V. S. Naipaul and Rick Moody.

"But nothing is as unpredictable as standing at the cash register of a New York deli. You have no idea who's going to walk in or what kind of situation is going to develop," he said.   Continued...