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review 2016-01-03 19:15
Review: Love and Other Ways of Dying
Love and Other Ways of Dying: Essays - Michael Paterniti

Essays aren't my thing. Not usually. I've read a good essay now and then, but an entire collection of essays, especially a rather lengthy one, rarely breaks my top 100 most desired reads. But I was enticed by the pretty cover and the hype, so I decided to give Michael Paterniti's collection, Love and Other Ways of Dying, a try. I'm glad I did.


Paterniti begins with a quote from Steinbeck. Not just any quote, but the dedication Steinbeck included with his manuscript of East of Eden that he sent to friend and editor, Pascal Covici. This was also the epigraph used in East of Eden itself. In case you didn’t know, East of Eden, is the greatest book ever written; it’s a fact. The quote was a bold move, but it really encapsulates what Love and Other Ways of Dying is.


The essays in this collection are selected from among the best Paterniti's written over his long career. They span decades and many walks of life. From childhood baseball heroes to a Ukrainian giant, from the busy kitchen of the most imaginative restaurant in the world to the fields of a downed airliner, Paterniti clears a path around the world and makes it sound easy.


Not only does the travel seem effortless, but so does Paterniti's prose. He weaves sentences gorgeously. Such vibrant prose is not easy for a fiction writer, but it seems that taking a factual story and uncovering the beauty of it would be so much more difficult. Which brings me to the one thing that left me uncomfortable about Love and Other Ways of Dying: how true are some of these stories; how much of Paterniti's prying to discover the heart of the story left those behind heartbroken? Undoubtedly, the author works very hard for his stories. He gets confessions that I imagine required a great deal of confidence (or imagination). While reading the story of competing motels in Dodge City, Kansas, a story about unabashed racism that mentions specific individuals and motels, I was curious if the people and businesses truly existed. They do. Further research led me to Dodge City's shocked response and the reactions of those mentioned in the story, including the victim of the racism who herself felt saddened by Paterniti's portrayal of her. I couldn’t shake this feeling of how much was too much when it comes to a story. Brand a story as fiction, and as long as you don’t make it too obvious, you can say what you want. Sell it as fact, use actual names and events, and one must consider the consequences. Certain stories left me uneasy. Others left me inspired. All but one or two left me with strong feelings.


Love and Other Ways of Dying didn’t only tug at my heart, it stimulated my mind. Nearly every essay sent me to Google. My search history is full of names, places, and events. Paterniti successfully found the most unbelievable stories, made them sound even more unbelievable; yet, search after search proved that the subjects were indeed fact. I learned so much. It was this attainment of knowledge that really earned this book the highest rating.


Which bring us back to Steinbeck. Paterniti’s essays have a strangely similar feel and beauty to Steinbeck’s many stories. There’s the same pushing of emotional boundaries that some find manipulative, others find powerful. The subjects are just as unbelievable. The difference is found in the fact that Steinbeck’s unbelievable supposedly-true stories (eg, the itinerant Shakespearean actor in Dakota [Travels with Charley], the bluff of a small, unarmed troop that resulted in the capture of an army twice its size [Once There Was a War]) are likely tall-tales that mirror our hopes and entertain us. Paterniti’s stories, largely factual and certainly capable of stimulating the reader’s wonder, often leave behind a sense of sadness. There are exceptions; some really big exceptions, like the story of the heroes of Air Florida Flight 90. Largely these essays are meant to inspire awe, not hope. Love and Other Ways of Dying is educational, fascinating, and filled with beautiful words; the only things it might be missing are hope and compassion.

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review 2014-01-10 12:20
The Telling Room
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese - Michael Paterniti

bookshelves: fradio, published-2013, winter-20132014, autobiography-memoir, food-glorious-food, lifestyles-deathstyles, nonfiction

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from January 04 to 10, 2014



BBC description: In the picturesque Spanish village of Guzmán, villagers have gathered for centuries in 'the telling room' to share their stories. It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti listened as Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras spun an odd and compelling tale about a cheese made from an ancient family recipe. Reputed to be among the finest in the world - one bite could conjure long-lost memories. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong.

Paterniti was hooked. Relocating his young family to Guzmán, he was soon 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 began to spill its long-held secrets, Paterniti found himself implicated in the very story he was writing.

Michael Paterniti is a journalist and has been nominated eight times for the National Magazine Award. One of his stories was chosen for True Stories: A Century of Literary Non-fiction, joining four other writers as the best examples of literary journalism from the last hundred years. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling book Driving Mr Albert. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Reader: Will Adamsdale Abridged by Eileen Horne Produced by Clive Brill A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.

1. Michael Paterniti investigates the blood feud and tale of revenge that lies behind arguably the world's finest cheese.

2. Ambrosio the artisan-cheese maker recounts the story of how his incredible cheese was born, and grew into an international success story - until one day the tables turned.

3. Paterniti continues to investigate the rise and fall of the world's greatest cheese and relocates from America to the village of Guzman, obsessed with the cheese maker's tale.

4. Bit by bit, Michael Paterniti learns more about the history of the betrayal of Ambrosio Molinos, and finally gets the chance to taste the master cheesemaker's famous creation.

5. The author finally achieves closure with the world's greatest cheese.

This isn't about cheese, it's about:

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review 2013-10-10 00:00
Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain - Michael Paterniti In hindsight I wish there had been a lot more science about the nature of Einstein's brain. Just today I've read of a study showing that the two lobes of Einstein's brain had a higher than normal number of connections, so not only did his brain survive the trip, its structural makeup may have more value than portrayed, in approximately one sentence, basically, in the book.

At any rate, the book was a brilliant concept. It also contained enough human interest stories -- none of them at any great depth, mind you -- to deserve the rating.
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review 2013-07-20 00:00
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese - Michael Paterniti 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.
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review 2013-06-06 12:07
A Book About The World's Greatest Piece of Cheese... And More
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese - Michael Paterniti

This book is filled with magic but isn’t fantasy. It captures time, culture and gives you the meaning of storytelling. Reading this will have you traveling through time, feeling that magic and wanting to hear more. True, this is a story about cheese but as the cover title says, “A tale of love, betrayal, revenge…” all of those descriptions are spot on. Michael Paterniti is very lucky to have met Ambrosio and has to be kismet. If the events of his life didn’t happen exactly the way they did, this beautiful story would have been hidden in Guzman forever.

I’ll admit that the cheese drew me into reading this book. This is one of the signed advanced reading copies I received from Book Expo America 2013. This book/author was the first signing through the door and it’s also the first book I selected to read after lugging home a small suitcase full of books. I finished all 340 something pages in less than a week and felt so grateful at the opportunity to meet this Author (although at the time I had no idea how much I would truly like the book). I wish I could turn back time and ask him so many questions. 

But back to the cheese, I’m a cheese snob so I thought this would be the perfect book for someone like me… and it was, but not because of the cheese. Paterniti captures the magic a food can hold, that one taste that can transform the way you look at that particular food each time. The way a food can bring forth a memory, something that was preserved in time from that flavor… THAT is the magic. 

The best part of this book was the courage Paterniti and his family had to just give up the modern world for a small time and move to Guzman. Without giving too much away, all I can say is that you’d be surprised how amazing life can be when you truly experience it. At first I didn’t know who I would recommend this book to… (Cheese Lovers? Food Snobs? Frequent Travelers?), after I finished the book it became clear that there is something in this book for everyone. I HIGHLY recommend it.

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