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The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal,…

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's…

by Michael Paterniti

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The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti isn't really about cheese, and yet it is. This nonfiction narrative certainly began with cheese as the inspiration in 1991, when Paterniti accepted a part time job as a proofreader for Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While proofing the articles, he came across a description of the cheese, Páramo de Guzmán, and thus began the fascination and perhaps a tad bit of obsession about this cheese. Páramo de Guzmán is made from the fresh milk of Churra sheep, and is named after the village in the Castile region of Spain where it was made.

Paterniti kept the information about the cheese in the back of his mind until 2000 when he actually travels to Spain and the village of Guzmán. He finds Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, the man who originally made Páramo de Guzmán, and hears the story of love, devotion, deception and, ultimately, betrayal all surrounding the making of the cheese. This original meeting set the stage for the ten years Paterniti obsessed over the many faucets of Ambrosio's story.

A telling room is found in the bodega, a cave built into the hills on the northern boundary of Guzmán that served as cold storage in the past for the family who owned it. Now they are primarily places to go, eat, drink wine with family and friends, and tell stories. The Castilian way of storytelling is full of digressions, asides, and footnotes. Paterniti tells this story in the same manner. The footnotes are wonderful rabbit trails of other information or history or comments based on the narrative.

Therein lies the reason for the complete enchantment I felt and rapt attention I gave to reading The Telling Room. The layers upon layers of stories and history were shared and the book became about more than the cheese. It morphed into something more. It is a drama of mythical proportions that beautifully illustrates how we can subtly deceive ourselves when we tell and retell stories about our lives, how the telling can change the facts. How story telling can help you find a measure of acceptance over what has happened in your life and perhaps also some closure.

But it is also a humorous, delightful book as it follows Paterniti's life and recurring obsession with Ambrosio's story. I don't want to give away any of the conclusions. As I was reading, right at the start, the word "delightful" popped into my head and stayed firmly planted there for the whole book.

I had to laugh aloud over the line (found in the excerpt below) "We each had a futon and a stereo — and everything else (two couches, black-and-white TV, waffle iron) we'd foraged from piles in front of houses on Big Trash Day." You see, I live in a city with a very large university and now is the time for those "Big Trash Days" as most leases end the last day of July and begin the first day of August. The streets are currently filled with Uhauls. The areas with predominately student rentals have huge piles of trash in front of them and there are lines of cars and trucks, trolling the piles, looking to pick through the trash for good stuff.

This is an exceptionally well written nonfiction book. I am a big fan of footnotes, so the myriads of footnotes gave me great joy. I was reading The Telling Room as an ebook, however, which just doesn't do footnotes justice, in my opinion. I would have preferred a print copy so I could easily read the footnotes as they came up in the text. See the link below to a footnote, and nested footnotes, to get a better understanding of why I would have preferred a print copy.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

A single footnote with nested footnotes about Pringles



Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
The footnotes drove me nuts, especially as I listened to the majority of this book via Text-To-Speech. It is an excellent story, but the numerous footnotes are distracting even though they fit the storytelling genre. ( )
  iadam | Nov 29, 2015 |
The Telling Room is written by a man on a quest to learn the story behind Paramo de Guzman, a legendary Spanish cheese he encountered while working at a deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His attempts to discover the story behind this award winning cheese take him to a small Castilian village, where he meets Ambrosio, the cheesemaker. In the course of researching the book, he discovers there is much more to the cheese and the cheesemaker than he expected.

The author admits in the book that he had a very hard time writing the book. He had a contract for the book, he missed deadlines, and seemed to wonder if there was actually much of a story to tell. I don't think there really was.

It started out interesting enough. The gourmet cheese came from an old family recipe that Ambrosio had to recreate. No one knew exactly how to make it, so he made cheese after cheese, changing every possible variable from the diet of the sheep to the length of time the cheese aged. He then took samples to family members until he had created what everyone remembered as the old family cheese.

This is about as long as my interest lasted in the book. He goes on to talk about the formation and destruction of Ambrosio's business, Ambrosio's thoughts on the culture of food, and Spanish history.

The book becomes really disorganized with more footnotes than I have ever seen in a book. There are even footnotes within footnotes. The author himself admits that he doesn't like footnotes, but felt they were necessary since every conversation he has in the Spanish village seems to have so many tangents and asides, that it was impossible to include them all without footnotes. I could see the point if the text itself was linear and organized, but there also seemed to be so many asides within the text, I'm not sure which asides merited a footnote. I quit reading the footnotes halfway through the book because I couldn't take it anymore.

If this hadn't been for a book club, I would not have finished it.

( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
In The Telling Room, Michael Paterniti traces the backstories of both a rare Spanish cheese and Ambrosio, the man who learned to master its creation. After finding the delicacy working for a deli in college, Paterniti set out on a journey from Ann Arbor, Michigan to the small town of Guzman, Spain to unfold the mysterious cheese. Instead, he discovers a village brimming with secrets, ready to be released.

As The Telling Room begins, Paterniti details his spiral from confident writing student to struggling writer with a relateable, witty voice. Once he discovers Ambrosio’s cheese and makes the decision to tell his story, Paterniti’s style shifts to that of the telling room: detailed and verbose with pages of footnotes, a story for every story. While I commend him for working to bring Ambrosio’s storytelling to life, it’s a difficult voice to translate to the page and, despite my curiosity, I often found myself wishing for more simplicity.

This, however, is coming from someone with little background in the food culture. I have a sense that foodies will find the details in The Telling Room fascinating and have plans to recommend Paterniti’s book to several friends – perhaps they’ll cook me dinner in return. ( )
  rivercityreading | Aug 10, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book could have benefited from a more discerning editor. The first third was fantastic, focused on the history of the fantastic cheese, the appearance and history of the actual Telling Room, and the larger than life characters who embodied them both.

Then, however, the author decided to include a long, painful odyssey of his road to actually completing the writing of the book. The problem with that was he never quite decided whether he was writing a memoir, or someone else's story (namely Ambrosio).

I really believe he needed to focus the story on the wonderful character of Ambrosio in the perfect setting of Guzman, Spain and the cheese that dominated so many lives. While I understand that Paterniti meant to show how much of an impact the entire story had on him, I feel that it backfired and bogged the reader down in, sadly boring, unnecessary detail.
1 vote sangreal | Jan 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
“The Telling Room” never lives up to its subtitle hype, but that’s as much the hype’s fault as the writer’s. Mr. Paterniti wrings Ambrosio’s histrionics for all they’re worth, then throws in his own infatuation with all things Spanish, tasty and quaint. And he injects himself into Ambrosio’s life with enough humor to offset some of the flagrant artificiality that didn’t belong in a book about the importance of the authentic. “Yes, this was all about cheese,” he writes about the story’s central feud. “And now by resolving it, we could begin on the road to world peace.”
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Jul 22, 2013)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385337000, Hardcover)

In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine.
It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. An unusual piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. Eating it, some claimed, conjured long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. . . .
By the time the two men exited the telling room that evening, Paterniti was hooked. Soon, he was fully embroiled in village life, relocating his young family to Guzmán in order to chase the truth about this cheese and explore the fairy tale–like place where the villagers conversed with farm animals and lived by an ancient Castilian code of honor, where they made their wine and food by hand, from the grapes growing on a nearby hill and the flocks of sheep floating over the Meseta.
What Paterniti ultimately discovers there in the highlands of Castile is nothing like the idyllic slow-food fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot. As the village begins to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti finds himself implicated in the very story he is writing.
Equal parts mystery and memoir, travelogue and history, The Telling Room is an astonishing work of literary nonfiction by one of our most accomplished storytellers. A moving exploration of happiness, friendship and betrayal, The Telling Room introduces us to Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras, an unforgettable real-life literary hero, while holding a mirror up to the world, alive to the power of stories that define and sustain us.

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:05 -0400)

In the picturesque village of Guzmn, Spain, in a cave on the edge of town, there is a cramped limestone chamber known as "the telling room." This is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets--usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine. It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a Spanish cheesemaker as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio's cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled, relocating his young family to Guzmn in order to chase the truth about this fairy tale-like place. What he ultimately discovers is nothing like the idyllic fable he first imagined. Instead, he's sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot.--From publisher description.… (more)

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