I am delighted to share my review today for The Secret Life of Fungi by Aliya Whiteley. Autumn is a wonderful season and it is ideal for those of us who like to go foraging for mushrooms. I only ever pick the ones that I know are safe, so tend to stick to puffball or field mushrooms.
My huge thanks to Alison Menzies for getting in touch about this book and sending me a wonder paperback copy from the publisher Elliott & Thompson.
Fungi are unlike any other living thing—they are almost magically unique. Welcome to this astonishing world. . .
Fungi can appear anywhere, from desert dunes to frozen tundra. They can invade our bodies and live between our toes or our floorboards. They are unwelcome intruders or vastly expensive treats, and symbols of both death and eternal life. But despite their familiar presence, there’s still much to learn about the eruption, growth, and decay of their secret, interconnected, world.
Aliya Whiteley has always been in love with fungi—from her childhood taking blurry photographs of strange fungal eruptions on Exmoor to a career as a writer inspired by their surreal and alien beauty. This love for fungi is a love for life, from single-cell spores to the largest living organism on the planet; a story stretching from Aliya’s lawn into orbit and back again via every continent.
From fields, feasts and fairy rings to death caps, puffballs and ambrosia beetles, this is an intoxicating journey into the life of an extraordinary organism, one that we have barely begun to understand.
This is a brilliant little book that delves into the murky world of Fungi. The author has a wonderful way of expressing her interest in this subject and it makes it very interesting reading. Last year I read a book by Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree, this book went into a lot of detail about the way fungi connect the trees. In The Secret Life of Fungi, the author, Aliya Whitely explains how fungi are part of our everything. It survives in the most surprising of conditions and environments. There is a lot more to fungi than the mushrooms we see in fields, on trees or on decomposing vegetation.
This book is set out in quick sub-chapters, with three main chapters entitled – Erupt, Spread and Decay. A simplified version of a lifecycle.
As the author makes her way through the chapters and subchapters she gives examples of research, observations and discoveries over the years. This introduces the reader to the basics of this far-reaching and unstoppable organism and follows it to the ends of the earth and beyond.
This would fall into the Science and Nature genre and to some extent, this is what it is. But rather than being all science, symbols, maths and other undecipherable, this book keeps to the basics. It makes sit a very easy-to-read book and the journey the author guides the reader on is like an adventure of discovery.
There are dangers to foraging and there is a section that describes some of the symptoms. Also going into details about how harmful spores can be spread and nature’s own way of dealing with them. Often the strands of fungi, or mycelia, have a symbiotic relationship with another plant and so it continues its lifecycle. It can be easily spread and there has been evidence of fungi in the International Space Station.
Not just confined to being eaten, this can be used for health and medicinal cures and treatments, just think of penicillin as an example. The other side of this can also be the strain that can cause pneumonia or Valley Fever and have devastating results.
Wherever you are in the world you will be near some type of fungi. You probably won’t even notice it, you may not see it, but it’s there.
This was a really interesting book and the author has a real passion for her field and this is evident in her writing. A cracking read that took me by surprise in a very good way. This is a relatively quick read at just over 200 pages, and if you like nature, the natural world and being outside then this is one that you would probably really enjoy. Very accessible and totally absorbing I soon discovered time had passed by as I was busy reading this one. I would definitely recommend it.
After finishing this book I decided to go out into the garden and explore. I knew there were some fungi and I hunted for more. This is what I found.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(www.aliyawhiteley.wordpress.com / @aliyawhiteley)
Aliya Whiteley is inspired by how fungi and humanity share the world. She grew up
in North Devon where she developed an early passion for walking and observing
nature. She writes novels, short stories and non-fiction and has been published in
places such as The Guardian, Interzone, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and in
several anthologies. Previously a magazine editor, she has written about the natural
world for Mental Floss and in her fiction. Her novella, The Beauty, was shortlisted for
both Shirley Jackson and Sabotage Awards, and depicts a future world in which a
fungus interacts with humanity to create a new form of life, leading readers all over
the world to send her photographs and articles relating to mushrooms.
She walks with her dog through the woods and fields around her home in West
Sussex every day, taking inspiration from the hidden worlds around her.
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