Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms Hardcover – Oct 25 2011
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“Mycophilia is the most engrossing, readable book about mushrooms and the science of mycology I have ever read. This is THE book to give to people interested in mushrooms, whether they are beginners, longtime mushroom hunters, or professional mycologists.” ―Gary Lincoff, author of The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms
“Engaging trawl through the labryinths of mycophilia...lyrical and precise...Ms. Bone ends her odyssey elegantly, discovering mushrooms may be the most important--and most hopeful--ingredient of life on Earth.” ―Wall Street Journal
“One of the most beguiling books I've read this year. A generous sprinkling of amateur photos only adds to the charm of "Mycophilia"...Weird details,combined with a flair for startling analogies, brighten even the most rambling passages of Bone's book...Set her on the hunt for fungi in the aftermath of a forest fire and Bone can make you shiver in the slovenly vacuum of a campsite she compres to a cold fireplace...Bone deployes the precise, uncommon vocabulary of the best naturalists. Bone's enthusiasm would prompt even the most languid armchair ecologist to take a new interest in...mushrooms...Each and every fungus contains properties that, as described by Bone, sound almost magical...Delicious, surprising and dizzyingly informative book.” ―New York Times Book Review
“Earthy and honest...with good humor and clear writing.” ―The Denver Post
“Mycophilia...will delight many readers...[Bone] makes a charming and witty tour guide through the vast world of fungi...Mycophilia is one of those books that can completely change the way we view the Earth, making us ever more conscious and even conscientious citizens.” ―The Plain Dealer
About the Author
EUGENIA BONE is an author and a food writer who has been featured in numerous national publications. She writes a blog on preserving foods for the Denver Post. She lives in New York City.
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An unusual book, Mycophilia is a journal peppered with scientific information, folklore, gardening tips and the occasional bad pun, providing us with a window into the world of mushrooms and the cast of characters who hunt, cook, document, experiment, dye (and much more) with them. As I read I could not help but wonder at how little attention we collectively pay to an organism (neither plant nor animal) which makes up 25% of the planet's biomass, is among the earliest life forms and which is intricately intertwined with so many aspects of our existence. As she was instructed prior to embarking on a mushroom hunt (foray), one only need to stop and look.
It is a very well written and enjoyable read. Along the way I learned a great deal more than I had anticipated, not least of which is how little I have learned about this large and varied kingdom in 20+ years of science education. I was surprised to find that fewer than 5% of the species have been identified, described scientifically, and yet how many uses have been discovered and described for mushrooms. I found myself spouting mushroom facts at the dinner table which in turn has gotten my son more interested in science : I believe the things which grabbed his attentiu0on were: that there is a mushroom which tastes like maple syrup "let's grow them," and that if all of the spores from one of the more prolific species were to bloom at once, it would throw the planet out of orbit). I now know why the tomatoes in my carefully prepared raised bed are not doing as well as those in other parts of my garden (and also that I have to learn a good deal more to make use of that information). There is so much information here that I think she provides a touchstone for just about everyone; an entry intro the partially hidden parallel universe of fungus.
I so thoroughly enjoyed the book that I have gone looking for more books on mushrooms (there are quite a few) and more books by Eugenia Bones. It seems we share a passion for Italian cooking. I may well become a collector.
First, this is not a field guide. You will need a library of field guides as well as local experts if you wish to follow up her stories with real life experience. But even while not a field guide, I can only hope the actual edition has color plates and quality printing. I am reviewing an advance copy and the illustrations are abysmal.
Eugenia Bone has obviously been influenced by Paul Stamet's Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, a book I highly recommend to mushroom lovers, environmentalists and lovers of the quirky. While Stamet's has the depth of years of collecting, experimenting with and propagating mushrooms- indeed he is one of the leading experts on the subject- Boone is a fascinated amateur. I like her book, her enthusiasm and her ability to pick up interesting facts and her ability to make them understandable to mushroom newbies.
I have been collecting and cooking mushrooms for 30 years, but generally confine myself to polypores (mushrooms with pinholes underneath instead of gills) where it is easier to avoid poisonous mistakes. It is also the part of the mushroom kingdom where most of the medicinal mushrooms are found, and as a practitioner of Oriental Medicine I make use of those. I have maybe 30 books on mushrooms in addition to herbals that reference them. Still I found Mycophilia to be enjoyable and worth reading.
Just to be clear, Mycophilia is not a mushroom guide. It won't tell you how to avoid the poisonous ones or identify the edible ones. There are no recipes or color photos, and the grainy black and white photos that are there rarely add much. Instead, Eugenia Bone's growing interest in mycology and travels to different conferences, festivals, and farms form the basis of interesting, if eclectic, chapters that cover truffles, psychedelics, pro mushroom hunting, medicinal mushrooms, and even mushrooms as potential environmental heroes. The chapters stand well on their own and can be read out of order. (If anything, they can be just a little repetitive as several people are introduced more than once.) Read together, however, they drive in Bone's point that mushrooms are in, on, or affecting just about everything on this planet.
Accessible but not dumbed down, Mycophilia is perfect for the factoid-loving layperson. Although I have several books on mushrooms, Bone has an eye for quirky and fascinating facts that few others mention: the fungal parasites that turn their caterpillar and ant hosts into zombies and eventually fruit through their bodies, the truth about truffle oil, the fungus growing within Chernobyl, the possible link between fossil fuels and mushrooms.
Bone is a lively and slightly snarky narrator who isn't afraid to experiment on herself, often with entertaining results, as she attempts to grow oyster mushrooms, gather her first morels, trip out on shrooms, lose weight on the mushroom diet, and have a serious conversation with a renowned mycologist while both are in the hot springs, completely naked. There are a few stories that toe the TMI line, but overall, the book achieves a sprightly balance between memoir and fact.
Mycophilia is an enjoyable read that offers plenty of breadth, if not so much depth. I'm happy to add it to my other mushroom books, which include Greg Marley's more sober Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms, which identifies the four types of edible mushrooms that are hard to confuse with others, Gary Lincoff's National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (National Audubon Society Field Guides), and David Arora's quirky Mushrooms Demystified. Readers who already own several mushroom books will enjoy getting to 'meet' the authors in Mycophilia, as Eugenia Bone rubs shoulders with quite a few prominent mycologists over the course of the book. And if you're not already fascinated with mushrooms, Mycophilia's not a bad place to start cultivating a lifelong romance of your own.
It defines many terms that are pretty obvious, and fails to define many technical terms that fall beyond the scope of my dictionaries. This book desperately needs a glossary.
The greatest flaw is the lack of meaningful illustrations in color. I appreciate that this is not meant to be a field guide to the mushrooms of North America, but the book's pictures are small, murky black-and-whites printed on the page stock, and a number of the pictures were, to my eye, simply incomprehensible.
Perhaps the idea was to hold down production costs, but in doing so, the result is unsatisfactory.
So the book is just OK, when it could have been superb.
There are many reviews focusing on the details of the book so rather than reiterate that information I will focus on the author. This isn't the first book I've read by Ms. Bone, and that, not an obsessions with mushrooms, is the reason why I selected this book.
A couple of years ago I read her book on canning, "Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods." That book, somewhat like this one, isn't a typical book on the subject. Venturing off the well-worn path caused the book to receive some critical reviews. The standard canning book formula includes plenty of recipes -- hers did not. Instead it was a story of her pattern of canning seasonal produce throughout the summer and fall in Colorado and hauling back her bounty to New York City to enjoy throughout the winter. Although not plentiful, her recipes were unique. I'd been canning for years, but that book unlocked my imagination and it changed my approach to canning, making the experience infinitely more creative and fulfilling.
That leads to my reason for selecting" Mycophilia." The effect of Ms. Bone's last book with its unique approach is still with me. That alone prompted a read of her new work -- and it didn't disappoint. The author has a distinctive voice and point of view, and her curiosity is contagious. She doesn't instruct so much as to share her journey and the reader is free to do what they will with the information. Sometimes it is inspiring and sometimes simply interesting - but I don't find much of my reading usually accomplishes either. Not only is she willing to go out and explore, she can genuinely tell a good story about her adventure.
So rather than measure if I am now an expert in the study of mushrooms, I measure how the author sparks my own adventuresome side, my own imagination. I don't know what new project Ms. Bone is working on, but I fully intend to follow the next installment, wherever that leads. I feel confident that the resulting book will make the subject wholly her own and will not conform to an expected format.