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I just finished reading The Ramen King and I, by Andy Raskin (2009). It was a gift from a friend, who insisted that I would love it.

Yes, I loved it. It has obvious flaws, but it was both really fun to read and provided great insight into the human condition, so there you go: a good read.

Brief Summary: The story, which is mostly true, follows two threads that weave sometimes tightly, sometimes loosely around one another: Japanese culture – particularly its very charming form of gourmandism – and sex addiction. The focus on Japanese culture surrounds Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant Ramen. You get a lot of biography on and quotes from the guy, who I must say is definitely worth writing a book about. The sex addiction is Andy’s own memoir. The connection? Most simply, Andy ends up going to a 12-Step program and decides that Momofuku is his higher power.

What could be called the core of the narrative is the story of Andy’s spontaneous trip to Japan in an attempt to meet, well, God. The rest of the book is more a collection of longer stories, brief anecdotes, musings and selections from his 12-Step notebooks.

So, this was going to be brief. The Good: It’s really fun to read. Part of that is that I love reading travelogues about Japan. This is mostly one, but not entirely. Andy is also a pretty entertaining writer – it moves quickly, and you enjoy yourself. He brings a lot of very bold honesty to the table, and it’s envigorating to read.

I also like how the threads are not so tight. This has its problems in holding a story together, but after thinking about it, I decided I like how the food thread and the 12-Step threads don’t feel the need to really join up any more than Andy chooses for them to. That’s how life works, and I often find it distracting when authors try too hard to wrap everything up at the end. We have many kinds of threads wrapping around our lives; they are connected merely by being important to us. They don’t need to intersect.

Finally, I must say, his insight into his life at the end is really inspiring. To sum it up: all of his struggles – including his addiction – are an attempt to struggle with the voice of criticism in his head. Dealing with the problems in his life is dealing with that problem. How, I won’t go into. I will mention, however, that this is a very valuable thing for me to be hearing right now, in my life. It’s very true. Perhaps I will revisit this thought, as I think about it.

The bad of this book is twofold: first, the structure, which cycles between different narratives, is very confusing. I was left without truly grasping the order of events. It jumps around too much. Very simple problem; too bad Andy didn’t work it out better.

The other is that it is too long. It’s a short book, in terms of the amount of words. What I mean is that the book continues long after the narrative has lost its momentum. This was a little disappointing, but, fortunately, the first four fifths of the book had more than enough momentum to carry me to the end.

But despite these two flaws, it’s a solid read. I recommend it to a wide variety of people. There are, of course, the japanophiles, ramenophiles and foodies. However, I think people participating or interested in 12-Step programs would enjoy this book the most. If my memory serves me right, it’s a big, fat lesson on Step 2. The book is an excellent illustration of what it means for the non-religious to find a higher power. But, what’s more, it really shows you the details of how the higher power can help you – how to use it best. Maybe this is par for the course for 12-Steppers – I’ve never been through a program so I don’t know.

I’m led to sincerely wonder how a higher power might fit into my own life. And I’m also wondering if maybe so quickly assigning this role to a traditional deity is a serious hindrance to the program doing its work. But that’s for another discussion.

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