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The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese Hardcover – 30 Jul 2013
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Advance praise for "The Telling Room"
"Elegant, strange, funny, and insightful, "The Telling Room" is a marvelous tale and a joyful read, a trip into a world peopled by some of the most remarkable characters--and, yes, cheese--in memory."--Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief"
"The list of writers I would read even if they were to write about a piece of cheese has always been short, but it includes Michael Paterniti. He has proved here that if you love something enough and pay a passionate enough attention to it, the whole world can become present in it. That's true of both the cheese and the book."--John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of "Pulphead"
"An amazing achievement, "The Telling Room" is an inspired, masterly epic that expands and refigures the parameters of the storyteller's art."--Wells Tower, author of "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned"
"A gorgeous and impassioned monument to the art and mystery of storytelling, "The Telling Room" is rich, funny, humane, devastating, and beautiful. It made me want to applaud, it made me want to cry, it made me want to move to Spain. Michael Paterniti is a genius."--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love"
"Michael Paterniti is one of the best living practitioners of the art of literary journalism, able to fully elucidate and humanize the everyday and the epic. In his hands, every subject, every moment of personal or global upheaval, is treated with the same curiosity, respect, empathy, and clear-eyed wisdom."--Dave Eggers, author of "A Hologram for the King" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Michael Paterniti is the "New York Times" bestselling author of "Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain." His writing has appeared in many publications, including "The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Harper's, Outside, Esquire, "and "GQ, "where he works as a correspondent. Paterniti has been nominated eight times for the National Magazine Award, and is the recipient of a NEA grant and two MacDowell Fellowships. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and their three children. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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A word about the "apparatus": this is a book with footnotes of footnotes of footnotes (mercifully just four of them). As a playful riff on postmodernism and the Mandelbrot-set (fractal) side of narration, this is not without its ingenuity. It does, however, take us away from the "plot", and only the most indulgent of readers (myself included) will devour all these musings with interest as well as pleasure. Any writer strays into lengthy digression at his or her peril, and one suspects the low markings of some Amazon customers derives from this idiosyncrasy, stretched to its limits.
On balance, though, certainly one of the best literary books about Spain in a long time. And to be taken with a pinch of salt - as well as lashings of Ribera del Duero.
"It was a privilege to walk this land, to live in this place, to watch the grain grow." - Author Michael Paterniti, on living in Guzmán
"... I'm writing the epic history of the ingenious Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, visionary cheesemaker and witch doctor of human truths, towering human and storyteller extraordinaire." - Author Michael Paterniti, on his reason for living in Guzmán
As a starving grad student in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, author-to-be Michael Paterniti made sandwiches at Zingerman's Deli on the weekends. It was at this eatery that he became acquainted with a very expensive cheese imported from Spain, Páramo de Guzmán. It wasn't that Michael could actually afford to buy any to eat. No, he became acquainted with it by editing the owner's monthly newsletter, in which said owner rapturously raved about the stuff.
Years later, married and with offspring, Paterniti ran across the old newsletter that contained mention of the cheese. While endeavoring to learn more information about the delicacy, he discovered it was no longer being made. So, he set out with his family to live for several months in the small, Castilian Spanish village of Guzmán (116 miles north of Madrid) to write the story of the cheese and its former maker, Ambrosio Molinos. Oh, and by the way, he went armed with a publication deal for a book on the subject, which was to ultimately become this volume, THE TELLING ROOM.
Michael learned from Ambrosio that his cheese had become wildly successful in the international marketplace. Ultimately, however, the business was, according to Ambrosio, stolen from him by his treacherous, former best-friend Julián and two conniving investors. Thus, the book's subtitle: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese.
Well, ok. But THE TELLING ROOM is more a tale about the author's decade-long infatuation with rural Spain and the charismatic character of Ambrosio Molinos. As such, the book is best suited for one who's been to Spain and loves the country and/or its history. And it doesn't hurt if such reader has a propensity for making heroes out of rustics. I'm neither.
I first thought that THE TELLING ROOM was a novel, but eventually realized that it isn't. There is indeed a Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, (still) a Páramo de Guzmán cheese, the village of Guzmán, and a lawyer in Madrid named Julián Mateos - he has a Web presence. Ambrosio is real also, presumably.
The author loves to insert many and lengthy footnotes at the bottom of the page. Indeed, in one horrific example spanning the bottoms of four (!) pages, the footnotes have footnotes which have footnotes. Really? Puhleeze! As one who usually leaves unread footnotes listed at the end of a book, I found this practice unnecessarily distracting. Ok, annoying actually. But, that's just me.
The story proceeds at a glacial pace that will perhaps delight the reader who savors it as one might savor the taste of a fine wine or cheese by sipping or nibbling it slowly. However, THE TELLING ROOM is also the author's narrative of the writing of the book, something which he admits took too long - literally years - for one perfectly reasonable reason or another. He left in his wake some irked to very irked publishers when contractual deadlines weren't met. Even his wife Sara advised him to get it done and move on. Thus, by the time I reached the last third of the book, I also just wanted to be done with it so I could move on to other books on my shelf. That feeling wouldn't, and doesn't, make for a ringing endorsement, though I recognize that others may, and will, find the story absolutely delightful.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I started the book late at night, a mistake, as I could not stop reading until the very end, sometime in the pre-dawn light of a new day. And I was sorry that it was over, the spell broken.
I highly recommend it!
It's not about the cheese. ( But, then again, it is. Have a hunk handy to nibble on.) It's not about the cheese maker, Ambrosio. ( But, then, it is.) It's not about Paterniti, the author. ( But, it certainly is!)
It's about Castilian life. It's about an author's life and life style. It's about a friendship ( the author's and Ambrosio's) that becomes tantamount to love. ( It's also about two best friends in Guzman, Spain. Ambrosio and his boyhood friend, Julian.) Well, it's about the nature of friendship. It's about seeing the world through another's eyes for, in actuality, Guzman ( population 80) is not a gorgeous tourist destination. But, it becomes more beautiful with each telling and with each of the author's visits there. The book is peopled with a grand cast of characters, who don't seem like "characters". We get to know the townspeople, Paterniti's children, etc. We live the story!
What about the betrayal, the revenge? It's all there.
Yes, there are myriad digressions. But, they are not really digressions. The digressions become the story. Paterniti tells us that storytelling here with all its retelling by various people, with all its digressing, is really a Castilian thing. We get story upon story--each one adding to our enjoyment.
A big part of this story is that Paterniti had trouble finishing this book. It's as if he didn't want to complete it because his life in Castile would then be over. And, he'd know ( perhaps) if Ambrosio was really betrayed, deceived.
This is a big book masquerading as a tale of cheese and as a search for justice. Not entirely,though, of course. It's really about life and the things we value in life. Lest you think that this is too philosophical, it's not--but it could be--if you wanted it to be. It's full of savoring and humor and strange turns of plot.
Five plus stars if I could.
Also, having made the shift from high end corporate world to simple life in the country, I just found the wow, look at me and how cool this all is, I have found that not everyone lives a crazy warp-speed life that seems to pervade this book a little hard to take. Haven't checked, but I suspect the move, physically and spiritually, will NOT have been a permanent one for the author.
Sorry, love Zingerman's and their catalogue and their cheeses, and am big on back to the land and eating your view and all, but this was like someone from a hip cable program's take on it all ...
Paterniti does some great "investigative" journalism, taking his family and young child to Spain to explore Paramo de Guzman, the "world's most expensive" cheese. Paterniti's interest wasn't random, he had worked at a gourmet food store in Ann Arbor during college writing descriptive articles about some of the eclectic products from around the world that the store stocked. As he was beginning his journalistic career, he thought back to this cheese and decided to explore what made it so special and expensive. This begins his journey to Spain and the town of Guzman and the entertaining origins of the cheese, the bitter feud that broke up a deep seated friendship and left the cheese a shadow of its former self under new ownership.
While the book can meander at times, it is in a way emblematic of the journey that Paterniti ultimately found himself on to tell this story and move beyond biased connection to Ambrosio Molinos, founder of the cheese, to a more dispassionate journalist seeking the truth. Much like Paterniti's journey, the book started out strong, hit a valley in the beginning and reached its peak at the end.