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Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming

Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming
Gary Alan Fine
University of Illinois Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 324 p., $19.95

Gary Alan Fine’s Morel Tales is certainly not just about mushrooms. Not only does Fine address mushrooming, he focuses even more on the culture of amateur mushroomers and professional mycologists. Many of us might wonder why anyone would go out into the woods to root around for a fungus. Fine answers this question with descriptions of the adventure of exploring and the thrill of discovery. And frequently there is the element of danger associated with an unknown type of mushroom. As Fine states, “Social pressure impels mushroomers to try even those mushrooms of which they are not certain.”

But to view this book as simply a scientific study of mushrooms and the people who collect them would miss Fine’s humor as he addresses the greater issue of how people react in “naturework.” Many of his examples are offbeat, such as the idea that “as humans act, so do objects.” Or, as one enthusiast notes, “they’re elusive little rascals. You have to walk slowly and quietly and spot them before they spot you, or they’ll get up and run away from you.” Morel Tales told me probably more than I ever needed to know about mushrooms and the culture of collecting them, but it provided a delightful, eccentric take on this whole culture. My only complaint was the overload of quotations from a multitude of mycologists.

— Joan Richards, library volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden