Read Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters by Annie Choi Online


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 oMeet 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 of a family crisis, Annie comes to realize that the only way to survive one another is to stick together . . . as difficult as that might be. Annie Choi's Happy Birthday or Whatever is a sidesplitting, eye-opening, and transcendent tale of coping with an infuriating, demanding, but ultimately loving Korean family....

Title : Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780061132223
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

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

  • Steve
    2019-04-12 17:23

    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 touching in spots. Buy this book!

  • susie
    2019-04-16 00:21

    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, became vegetarian, etc. and I really appreciate that Annie doesn't try to edit the image of her own behavior; at times she sounds whiny and intolerant (ie, on the Korean hiking trip) but that just helped a funny situation become funnier and more relatable. I also love how Annie articulated the classic frustration of understanding bits of your immigrant parents' native tongue, a recurring theme in the book. Example: "Since my Korean comprehension outshines my verbal skills, I can listen, but I can't react." YES! By the way, I'm sure our parents have felt the same way (feeling debilitated by language barrier) and she talks about that, too.Favorite line of the book: "No pants, I have no pants." --Annie's dadI also really admired how Annie found a way to talk about her culture (and write in her parent's broken dialect) without resorting to reinforcing cultural stereotypes about immigrants.The only part I felt kind of dissatisfied with was when she basically blamed her family for her inability to put her whole heart into relationships with non-Koreans. Basically, I felt like a family this caring and close-knit wouldn't actually shut her down if she were really in love, and if she's a rebel in so many other ways (vegetarianism, clothing, college, career, etc) I didn't really understand why she suddenly cares so much about parental approval when it comes to relationships. It was sort of an incongruous downer. Be a loner, Annie, a rebel! I sort of wanted to take Annie out for coffee to talk about it.Overall a great read!

  • Tima
    2019-03-20 17:18

    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 functions that made herself out to be a really spoiled bratty woman. (She threw fits about not getting to have her coffee, argued with her Mom about dressing conservatively to family functions). She really ended up coming off fairly unlikable.That being said, I grew up around a fair amount of Korean families and friends. So there were many parts of the book that were funny, endearing or just awkward enough to make you chuckle. I'd say that anyone who has had experience/exposure to cultural flubs will enjoy this book a lot more than those who haven't.

  • Badly Drawn Girl
    2019-03-22 00:05

    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 family shines through and the laughs come from real situations we've all dealt with. Another beef I often have with essay collections is that the essays themselves vary wildly. Some are wonderful, some are okay, others are lacking. This book is wonderful from beginning to end, although the final essay "New Year's Games" ratcheted up the laughs and was the perfect way to end the book. I was startled every time I heard myself laugh. I hope she writes more soon because I have a feeling there are more laughs to be mined.

  • nina
    2019-04-05 19:21

    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* had a friend or relative "really like" a toy* felt pressure to overachieve* worn hand-me-downs* tried to learn a second language* had an ugly piece of art* been worried about what her parents might think of her significant otherFavorite part: "I jump!"Pros: gutbusterCons: only 256 pages

  • olivia
    2019-04-03 22:07

    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 words were not explained. but all in all, by the end of this quick read, i was left with a happy warm and fuzzy feeling of family love. why do i feel like i just said a whole lot in this review without saying much at all?

  • Catherine
    2019-03-27 17:18

    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 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 too, who doesn't have much to do in this memoir except show up now and again and be fat). So when the Big Major Turning Point finally happened, I thought, Oh, goody, now maybe the story will deepen and I'll see how Annie Choi actually feels about things.Yeah, that didn't happen. The BMTP was just a blip in one of the essays, hardly to be mentioned again, and the rest of the story bumped along in its lightweight, yeah-okay-it's-funny-I-guess, making-fun-of-her-Korean-family, ha-ha-her-mom-can't-speak-good-English kind of way.Speaking of which, is it possible for someone to be racist against her own family?? Okay, okay, I won't go that far. But Choi certainly tries to get the most comedic mileage possible out of her mom's brand of Korean-influenced English. It actually made me kind of uncomfortable.Also, this is just a personal peeve, but I hated the editing in this book. Not just the story structure (cuz I do wish Choi's editor had wrung a little more emotion out of her as a writer and storyteller), but the copyediting. Sooo many words were misspelled--and repeatedly, so they weren't just typos. Come on, Harper Paperbacks! You're a big, major publisher! I know you can do better than this!

  • Kyusik Chung
    2019-03-27 22:28

    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 almost as if, one day, Choi decided she didn't feel like working on the book anymore, so that was that. Done. You're left looking for some kind of direction, some climax. It's not that the book needed to be profound, but it lacks the unifying thematic elements that would transform this from a collection of funny anecdotes into a single novel.That being said, I'm looking forward to Annie Choi's next book.

  • Brittany
    2019-03-24 20:17

    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.

  • Roadhouse
    2019-04-02 22:07

    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.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-12 19:23

    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.

  • lisa
    2019-04-02 22:21

    pretty disappointing, especially since it has been on my to read list for ages.(review pulled from lj.)

  • Molly
    2019-04-02 17:27

    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.

  • Melissa
    2019-03-30 20:21

    Laugh out loud funny. So many similarities to my own childhood- very relatable. I like the writing style with short chapters.

  • Megan Stolz
    2019-03-24 20:07

    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 the chapters reference things that happened in earlier chapters. So at the end of the book, I was looking for some sort of overall resolution or conclusion, and there kind of was, but kind of wasn't. The conclusion was "this is my family, and it's kind of messy, but we love each other" -- but that's present throughout the book. Maybe I was looking at this book too much like a novel or like a more traditional memoir, and I need to take it more for what it is.But again -- fun, funny book. I still recommend it, especially if you need a break from heavy subject matter.

  • Aishwarya Kadri
    2019-04-02 17:26

    An exercise in narcissism, that is what book felt like to me.

  • Lauren
    2019-03-29 21:13

    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 lot of subjects that I couldn’t really relate to (ie, the importance of piano lessons, the failure of getting a B+, the shame of being unmarried at 28, etc), there were plenty of disagreements that I think many readers could sympathize with (wearing clothes your mother hates, dating someone your parents don’t like, having to be polite to difficult family members, etc). Choi tells all of these stories with a humorous voice that allows one to recall these disagreements and laugh along with her. Choi’s parents, especially her mother, are such interesting and funny characters that reading this book really felt like having dinner with a friend’s family and laughing with them over stories about growing up. I also appreciated the cultural lessons this book offered. Having lived abroad myself, I could relate to some of the humorous cultural gaps Choi shared from her childhood, and I think anyone can appreciate the struggles everyone faces when moving to a new country and trying to fit in. For anyone who can relate to that new culture experience or who is just in the mood for a laugh, Annie Choi’s stories are sure to entertain. And on a separate note, having recently complained about how Rainbow Rowell wrote Eleanor & Park to be so racist towards her Korean protagonist, I would like to say that this is a wonderful example of a way to poke fun at one’s culture with love and grace instead of loathing.

  • Brenna
    2019-04-03 16:24

    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 things she doesn't want to do, having to keep quiet and show respect to her bitchy grandmother. Some of these things may sound familiar for any culture but we all have memories of finally growing a backbone when we reach adulthood and don't take it anymore. Choi never reaches this point in the book. Because in this culture, it can never end.So besides it making me mad in many parts of the book, Happy Birthday or Whatever it super fun. I can relate to Choi so much in many instances involving family and I love how she depicts her mother in the book. Though I hated the part where her mother kept stealing her stuffed animals, especially her favorites, to give to her obnoxious cousins. That's fucked up.I hope Choi writes more in the future, hopefully less about her family though. Its giving me a headache.;)

  • Alisha Marie
    2019-04-09 21:10

    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 no income. My brothers and sisters were homeless." Yes some of those types of memoirs tug at my heart strings, but it was refreshing to read one in where the family is dysfunctional but love each other while not really standing one another.Even if you aren't Korean, you'll love this novel. It's relateable to anyone who has felt embarrased or annoyed at their family members or felt that they wouldn't live up to the expectations that were set by them by their family. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a memoir about a slighly dysfunctional family, yet want to laugh out loud. I read this book in about four hours and had to stay up late to finish it. I just couldn't put it down.

  • Carelle
    2019-04-02 20:14

    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 fit in if she’s always forced to wear her cousins’ old unfashionable clothes, since they live in Korea and the fashion there is totally different. But, at the end of the day, as difficult as it might be, Annie loves her family and thinks that the only way to survive is to always stick together. I personally found this book hysterically funny and very amusing. All teenagers can relate to it because the author talks about her teenage experiences, her embarrassing moments and her arguments with her parents most of the time. This book doesn’t only make you laugh but it also teaches you more about a Korean family, their lifestyle and habits: their language, their food, and their beliefs.

  • Tara Thai
    2019-03-26 21:16

    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 disasters.I learned a lil more about korean culture, and it still sounds as crazy as ever to me.It really made me laugh out loud several times…so yeah, this book delivered exactly what I expected.It was pretty fun.I grow very very attached to some books. I could never borrow from a library, cause when I love a book, I keep it. Even if I know I will never read it again.This book never made it to my bookshelf, when I finished it, I smiled it and then placed it in the box containing books to bring to the Green Apple used bookstore.It was fun, but meaningless in a way…that’s why only 4 stars.

  • Corielle
    2019-04-01 23:08

    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 during or after college. Her stories about her mother in particular, who has a less than firm grasp of English (while Annie barely speaks Korean) but a definitive idea of her goals for her daughter (Harvard-educated lawyer/doctor) are very funny. However, I think what I enjoyed the most were Annie’s descriptions of Korean culture (tradition, dress, etc.), about which I knew little to nothing.Happy Birthday, or Whatever was a fun little read, and now that I know that the author has a website (, I’m sure I’ll start following her blog.

  • HM
    2019-04-11 00:16

    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 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 of a family crisis, Annie comes to realize that the only way to survive one another is to stick together . . . as difficult as that might be. Annie Choi's Happy Birthday or Whatever is a sidesplitting, eye-opening, and transcendent tale of coping with an infuriating, demanding, but ultimately loving Korean family.

  • Suzie
    2019-04-13 19:26

    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 make this deep, just funny and thoughtful. I feel bad about saying it because this is the author's life, and I feel like if we met, I would like her. She has the kind of bold personality that I look for in a friend, and she's clearly OK with making fun of her own more embarrassing moments and just being herself. All of that being said, I did enjoy the book, and laughed more than once. I don't regret reading it. I don't think I would reread it though.

  • Stefanie
    2019-04-06 19:19

    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 parts of the book. I admire how Annie kept true to herself and yet had a sense of filial piety. Her family certainly has its characters like any ohana out there. And any child has her own opinions and view on life which usually differs with her parents.This author has a strong voice which I liked and certainly a raw and real quality in her writing. You go girl! I would recommend this memoir read.

  • Sandra Lopez
    2019-04-11 20:14

    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 only bring home the man she’s going to marry, which then indirectly sabotages any relationship she ever has. If you like "Las Niñas: A Collection of Childhood Memories" by Sarah Rafael Garcia, then you’ll love this Korean version of it, which is filled with powerful and gripping stories that make you feel right at home—after all, “in the end…we are family and we should spend time together, even if it kills us.” (pg. 213)

  • Shirley
    2019-03-31 21:33

    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, "he was going to be a DOCTOR!" Oops!). Although my upbringing was different in a lot of ways from the author's, I still identified with a lot of it. When I wasn't laughing while reading this, I felt appreciative to have a strong culture to identify with (and thinking about how my own daughter, third-generation Korean/Taiwanese-American, probably won't). Curious to see what non-Korean-Americans think of this...

  • Jeanette
    2019-04-12 21:14

    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 vegetarians don’t eat chicken, and the impossibility of bringing a guy home your parents won’t hate – well, let’s just say that many, many of us have been there. Like Laurie Natoro’s IDIOT GIRLS books or Susan Jane Gilman’s HYPOCRITE IN A POUFFY WHITE DRESS, this is a funny and poignant memoir about growing up that will appeal to all young women – and maybe their mothers, too. This book is hilarious and poignant all at the same time. Check out Annie's hilarious blog at

  • Nitya
    2019-03-25 18:27

    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 family banquet.With everyone watching. Choi's predicament, being dressed in traditional Korean attire 2 sizes too big, and watching all her cousins come up and take perfect bows, captures childhood performance anxiety in a way anyone could relate to.I love memoirs, and this one did not disappoint. It's not The Liar's Club, or Angela's Ashes, but it was entertaining, and that's all I expected.

  • Sara Scott
    2019-04-07 21:04

    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 Whatever has such a humour in between its words, you really capture Annie's embarrassment in the majority of the book. I read this book quite fast, because of the humour and action happening with her family - it was hard to put down! I recommend this book to anyone would wants to have a good laugh!!!