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Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters
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Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,259 Ratings  ·  221 Reviews
Meet Annie Choi. She fears cable cars and refuses to eat anything that casts a shadow. Her brother thinks chicken is a vegetable. Her father occasionally starts fires at work. Her mother collects Jesus trading cards and wears plaid like it's a job. No matter how hard Annie and her family try to understand one another, they often come up hilariously short.

But in the midst o
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 3rd 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published April 1st 2007)
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Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Makes me wish I had written this book, except I'm nowhere near as funny and talented as the author. Growing up Asian American, I've seen all sorts of embarrassing shit I've tried to bury in my past. Annie Choi brings that stuff front and center. Makes me think my family was way normal by comparison. But it's not just for people with a chinky background. Everybody will find something they can identify with, poke fun at, and even get choked up over. It's a quick read, but a lot of fun and even tou ...more
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who like Daria and/or Lane Kim? Ok weird target audience, but whatever.
I really love Annie's writing style; she feels like someone I'd be friends with. And her mom felt like someone I *want* to know! Each of her mom's quick retorts had me laughing as hard as Annie's "can-you-believe-this-crazy-lady" set ups.

I really related to a lot of the author's embarrassment about her family (which comes from a place of loving her family's quirks, obviously, not resenting/hating!) I went through the exact same thing with my mom when I wanted to wear thrift store clothes, becam
May 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: cultural-asian
This book was so-so. It wasn't the best memoir I've ever read but it certainly wasn't the worst (COUGH Klonopin Lunch: A Memoir COUGH).

Annie is just about as stereotypical as you could get, in a lot of ways. A vegetarian Berkeley graduate who disappoints her Korean parents, frequently. There were some cute essays that really make you adore her parents, but she herself sounds like a very boring person to know.

She wrote about trips to Korea that she didn't appreciate, she wrote about family func
Badly Drawn Girl
Apr 18, 2010 rated it really liked it

This book is truly a first, for me, ... a laugh out loud collection of essays! I am told that I have a great sense of humor but for some reason I never laugh while reading. Books that are supposed to be funny usually make me roll my eyes. I cannot tell you how many "funny" essays have left me cold. Too often what passes for funny is just sarcastic and over-embellished. Annie Choi has breathed new life into this genre. Here are essays that are not just funny but filled with warmth. Her love of fa
Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: asian-authors, memoir
This book is hilarious! I picked it up at the bookstore and had to buy it then and there. I read passages to anyone who will listen, and to anyone who can tolerate the interruptions of my laughter and wheezing.

This book is a collection of stories and anecdotes about being Korean-American, but you don't have to be Asian to appreciate Annie Choi's writing. She takes serious subjects like cancer and relationships and makes them humorous, manageable.

For anyone who has:
* been forgotten on a birthday
Jul 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: korean american girls everywhere
at first, i was afraid this book was all margaret cho-esque, as in, based solely on the humor of mom's inability to speak english. and it started out that way. but then, it got better. and it actually got funnier. it was witty and humorous but also something deeper than that. and of course, as a korean american 2nd generation girl, it resonated with me. i don't know that it would resonate as well with people from different backgrounds, though, especially as i noticed in many places the korean wo ...more
Jan 13, 2008 rated it liked it
I love Annie Choi's blog; love it. Love her funny voice and unique perspective on things. So I thought I'd really, really love this memoir. was okay, I guess. Good for a few laughs here and there. There was just too much emotional distance for me to really connect with it, though. Like, this big major thing happens in her family, and from reading the back of the book, it's a major turning point. Up till that point, Choi has mostly just made fun of her mom (and sometimes her fat brother
Kyusik Chung
Mar 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Hilarious read for Korean Americans and those with Korean-American friends.

Annie Choi's Happy Birthday or Whatever is hilarious! As a Korean American, I could hear the voices of her family and relatives and I could completely relate with their craziness. You don't even realize how crazy your culture is until someone collects all the stories in a single volume. It was also a great read for my wife, as she tried to understand my roots.

My main criticism of this book is that it ends abruptly. It's a
Jun 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Margaret Cho or readers of memoirs
This was actually an extremely fun book to read--Choi tells several stories about growing up with her (Korean) family, especially her mother, in a comic and engaging way. If you happen to be like me, and grew up watching the early comedy of Margaret Cho (WHAT IS THIS ASS-MASTER? DOES IT MASTER THE ASS?!), you'll probably really enjoy this book.
May 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
A painful experience.

I almost gave up on this book, but I was able to turn the book into something entertaining.

The only reason I finished this book is because of the Mom that was referenced in the book.

The mother is Korean. When I read the quotes from the Mother, I added a hilarious broken English accent in my head. It made me laugh.
Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: humor
Ho Hum.
While I love things that make me laugh, often times so called humor books, movies, tv shows fall flat for me. So feel free to ignore this review if you disagree, but humor that is forced, or in this case, painful doesn't work for me.
The ultimate test for me: I checked it out and read the first 41 pages and have renewed it twice without picking it up again because it is due soon.
Jun 01, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
pretty disappointing, especially since it has been on my to read list for ages.

(review pulled from lj.)
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved this one. It's a light read. The author's voice shines through and she is really able to convey her snarky sense of humor very well. It was a fun read.
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Laugh out loud funny. So many similarities to my own childhood- very relatable. I like the writing style with short chapters.
Megan Stolz
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I was looking for something light and humorous, and this book definitely fit that. Annie Choi has a very matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, and she has vivid details that make the story come to life.

Most of my issues stem from the fact that this book isn't really a memoir but isn't really a collection of essays. It doesn't have a narrative arc, and there's a major plot twist with her mother that is kind of a big deal, but then kinda of disappears later on. But
Aishwarya Kadri
An exercise in narcissism, that is what book felt like to me.
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Annie is a first-generation American born in Los Angeles to a colorful Korean family. From turning vegetarian to choosing Berkeley over the Ivy League, Choi has always insisted on choosing her own path in life, much to the chagrin of her parents, who have always hoped for a dutiful Catholic daughter. In a series of short stories, Choi recounts a lifetime of hilariously butting heads with her parents.

These stories were told with a lot of love, and even though Choi and her parents disagreed on a
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Annie Choi, you have to write more about your life! I need itttt!

This was great, I love how honest and fun Choi's writing is and how funny this book was. Though by the end of it her family was making me so mad, seriously I wanted to bitch out family members for her. It's the same with other biography's I have read on Asian culture and respect. Examples: not able to bring boyfriends home for fear of disappointing her parents, not speaking up or defending herself when being pushed into doings thin
Alisha Marie
Aug 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
Let me just start out by saying that Happy Birthday or Whatever was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author, Annie Choi, writes about her family with wit and sarcasm and you just can't help but laugh at her somewhat tense relationship with her mother.

The thing that I loved most about this book was that it was heartwarming and humorous. There are a lot of memoirs out there written about a dysfunctional family that are depressing. "My mom was a bitch to me. My dad left and didn't care that we had
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Happy birthday or whatever: Track suits, Kim Chee and Other Family Disasters is an autobiography (242 pages) written by Annie Choi, a Korean girl that was born and raised in the States. In this book, Annie talks about the important moments in her life and about her crazy family. With a brother who thinks that chicken is a vegetable, a father that occasionally starts fires at work, and a mother that collects Jesus trading cards, Annie finds it really hard to live a normal life. And, how can she f ...more
Tara Thai
Apr 27, 2008 rated it liked it
I picked up this book by Annie Choi on another of my quickies at the airport.
Not much time…just pick up what grabs your attention kind of deal.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular from this book…I was more after an easy, fun read than on a mission to discover the meaning of life.
And that’s exactly what I got. An easy, fun reading.
The book is about Annie’s family, strugglying in limbo between their new american culture and their strong korean roots.
The result…a long series of family disast
Mar 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Annie Choi’s memoir, Happy Birthday, or Whatever, was not the best I’ve ever read or anything, but it was cute and funny and a good distraction for a few hours. I snagged it off my sister’s bookshelf when I helped her move this weekend, and read it the next afternoon. Choi’s chapters move briskly, as she describes her upbringing in Los Angeles as the daughter of Korean immigrants, constantly straddling the line between two cultures.

Most of the stories take place in her childhood, with a few duri
Sep 04, 2007 marked it as to-read
I've looked at this book about three times in the stores...but have yet to buy it. (Only because I know that I should be spending reading time doing "school stuff," but that is SOOOO less fun than pleasure reading! :)

It's another memoir...I am thinking along the lines of the "But Enough about Me" here's the blurb from the back of the book:

Meet Annie Choi. She fears cable cars and refuses to eat anything that casts a shadow. Her brother thinks chicken is a vegetable. Her father occasio
Oct 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Essays about Annie Choi's life growing up in a loving buy dysfunctional Korean American family. This is not a bad book. As memoirs go, it isn't a great one either.

The funny parts are not as funny as Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament. The quality and selection of the funny/neurotic parts varies too much. The family stuff isn't as deep as Amy Tan. When you put it up against something like Angela's Ashes that has both in spades? It comes up sorely lacking. Granted, I don't think Choi set out to
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I give this book 3.5 stars.

I needed to read a memoir for a change. When I had first started Annie's book, it was a bit whiny. But as I settled into her memories, I started to enjoy her writing and growing up experience.

I am Asian-American but my ohana is very Americanized so I didn't really have the generation clash nor have to grow up with face. I found it interesting to read about the author's childhood. Her chapters on school, fashion, and Korean school had me rollin'! They were the funniest
Sandra Lopez
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Two words can only describe this book: Funny and Sarcastic.

Annie Choi compiles a wonderful collection of short stories about growing up and family dysfunction.

In “Spelling Bee,” we learn how little Annie must prove to her Korean mother that she won’t end up in the street holding a sign that reads “Will Werk for Food.”

In “Stroke Order,” Annie tries to “[reclaim] the language she once knew and then forgot and then rejected.” (pg. 75)

The family was absolutely hilarious when they tell Annie to on
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2010, korea
I really enjoyed this memoir about a Korean-American girl and her wacky (well, maybe just Korean) family (focusing on her mom) - it was pretty funny and authentic (seemingly rife with stereotypes, but what can you do when they're reality? Yes, Koreans are obsessed with Harvard and with their daughters marrying doctors or lawyers. True story: I had a college boyfriend who eventually went to med school. Years later, a family friend asked me why I broke up with him, pointing out in all seriousness, ...more
Nov 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-harper-books
I know I’ve been talking about Annie Choi’s incredibly funny memoir as the ideal book for the Asian-American audience that loved YELL-OH GIRLS and THE DIM SUM OF ALL THINGS. But while I still believe that it’s great for Asian American young women, I also think that this is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever been exasperated by her mother no matter their ethnicity. Annie’s stories about her mother’s growing fascination with golf clothes, how her mother still doesn’t understand that vegetarian ...more
Nov 14, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was light reading, and very fun. A memoir about growing up first generation Korean-American in California, with parents who expect you to go to Harvard and be a doctor or lawyer, or else you're a failure. To me, this was mostly about Annie Choi's relationship with her mother, and there are some really funny parts, and some touching ones. One scene that cracked me up was when Annie and her brother, as children, have to ceremonially bow in front of their grandmother, in Korea, at a huge ...more
Sara Scott
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Happy Birthday or Whatever is Annie Choi's story about her and her crazy Korean family. She describes what goes down when she gets a B+ on a spelling test, randomly decides to become a vegetarian, and still hasn't married at 28. Annie starts the book off with her parents forgetting her birthday, and them trying to play is off cool. Through out the book she talks about trying to learn Korean, having her mom annoy her constantly, and of course having to go to the family reunions. Happy Birthday or ...more
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