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 is the co-founder of a children’s storytelling center in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife and their three children.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpt from book:
“It sat silently, hoarding its secrets.”
This particular story begins in the dusky hollows of 1991, remembered as a rotten year through and through by almost everybody living, dead, or unborn. I’m sure there were a few who had it good, maybe even made millions off other people’s misfor- tune, but for the rest of us, there wasn’t a glimmer. January dawned with tracers over Baghdad, the Gulf War. It was a bad year for Saddam Hussein and the Israeli farmer (Scud missiles, weak harvest), the Polit- buro of the Soviet Union (dissolved), and the sawmills of British Co- lumbia (rising stumpage fees, etc.). An estimated one hundred and fifty thousand people died in a Bangladeshi cyclone. The IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street, shattering the windows and scorching the wall of the room where Prime Minister John Major was meeting with his Cabinet (“I think we’d better start again, somewhere else,” said the prime minister). In the Philippines, Mount Pinatubo erupted, ejecting 30 billion metric tons of magma and aerosols, draping a thick layer of sulfuric acid over the earth, cooling temperatures while torching the ozone layer.
It was a brutal year for the ozone layer.
Here in America, it was no better: the rise of Jack Kevorkian, Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis, Donald Trump’s dwindling empire. Rape, mass murder, and masturbation.* The country slopped along in a recession, and meanwhile, I wasn’t feeling so good myself.
To kick things off, I got dumped in January. I was twenty-six years old, making about $5,000 a year, pretax. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my roommate, Miles, both of us graduate students in the creative writing program for fiction, a.k.a. Storytelling School. 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.
That year, I toted around a book entitled The Great Depression of 1990, one bought on remainder for a dollar, and that predicted abso- lute global meltdown . . . in 1990. But I, for one, wasn’t going to look like an idiot if it hit a year or two late. The advantage I had over most everyone else in the world was my lack of participation in the econ- omy, except to issue policy statements, from the couch, before our bliz- zardy TV screen of black-and-white pixels. The eleven o’clock news brought us Detroit anchorman Bill Bonds and all the bad acid and strange perversions of the year—the William Kennedy Smith trial, the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Rodney King beating—all deliv- ered from beneath his superb toupee, woven it seemed with fine Incan silver.
Nineteen-ninety-one was the year we were to graduate, and as the months progressed toward that spring rite of passage, a funny thing happened: We, the storytellers, could not get our stories published— anywhere. We typed in fits of Kerouacian ecstacy, swaddled our stories in manila envelopes, sent them out to small journals across the coun“The Telling Room embodies the spirit of slow food and life.”—Michael Pollan
“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
“By the time you hit the tenth page of The Telling Room, you realize you’re in the hands of a storyteller so masterful, emotionally subtle, and smooth that you’re willing to follow him anywhere, even into a cave. And you will.”—The Daily Beast
“Unforgettable . . . a must-read for all who think of Spain as magical, who consider cheese as the ultimate gift of love, who love stories of betrayal, despair, revenge and redemption.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Rich and shaggy, full of Castilian-size detours . . . one hugely likable book.”—The Boston Globe
“Exquisite . . . [a] gripping tale. [Grade:] A”—Entertainment Weekly
“Captivating . . . Paterniti’s writing sings.”—NPR
“Breathtakingly cinematic . . . reads like Bill Buford’s Heat, conveying the passions of both author and subject, but with David Foster Wallace’s gift for digression.”—The Tampa Bay Times
“Paterniti dives deeply into Spain’s political history, the pleasures of craft, and the motives and methods of storytelling itself.”—Harper’s
“Few writers can write about the taste of food with Paterniti’s vibrancy and precision. . . . [He] is a master of finding and telling great stories (the finding, for most writers, often being as difficult as the telling) that appear to be about something small, such as cheese, but are actually about something far larger—in this case, the whole of human existence. . . . As much as The Telling Room is about a Spaniard’s quest to create a cheese that embodies all the love and pain and joy he’s ever known, it’s also the story of a writer’s quest to channel that obsession into the perfect story.”—Esquire
“For my money, Paterniti is one of the most expansive and joyful writers around—big-hearted and humane and funny. This book is a wild and amazing ride.”—George Saunders, author of Tenth of December
“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 ev