We've started to get the big fall rains in Portland recently, which means we’ve started seeing mushrooms pop up everywhere. I’m a bit of a fungi novice — I love eating chanterelles, but haven’t yet embarked on the Pacific Northwest rite of passage of foraging for my own mushrooms. Luckily, there are some fantastic books to guide the next stage of my mushroom appreciation. Whether you’re just beginning to seek out sumptuous spores, looking to identify the new friends sprouting from a tree stump, or just searching for more fungus puns in your life, this list is for you.
All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms
by David Arora
One of the best, most charming mushroom hunting guides out there. This is worth a read even if you have absolutely zero interest in mycology, because it’s so dang delightful (and sprinkled with goofy photographs of fellow mushroom hunters in action). Fun bookselling fact: This 1991 guide makes the Powell’s bestseller list pretty much every year, right as the Pacific Northwest gets rainy and folks start looking for the perfect gift for their outdoorsy relatives.
Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
by Paul Stamets
Mushrooms and fungus get touted as a miracle solution for a lot of pollution-related woes, and for good reason. They’re resilient, good at growing in places of decay, and actively improve the environment where they reside by breaking down and redistributing nutrients for healthier soil. Mycelium Running is the place to start if you want to know more about the restorative properties of the humble fungus.
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures
by Merlin Sheldrake
When I embarked on this booklist, I was inspired by mushrooms. Entangled Life goes much deeper into fungi, of which mushrooms are just one part — and it’s an enthralling exploration! Sheldrake dives into fungal networks, the symbiotic relationships between fungi and plants, and reveals their shocking strengths and abilities (fungal networks helping plants attract wasps to stave off aphid attacks, for example!).
Fungipedia: A Brief Compendium of Mushroom Lore
by Lawrence Millman and Amy Jean Porter
I was charmed by the illustrations in this pocket-size history book, but this glowing review from David O. Born in the Minnesota Mycological Society newsletter (Toadstool) is what really sold me: "There are writers who have the ability to astonish readers with each new page, such is their erudition, their wit, and their ability to turn a phrase. Millman is one such writer, providing in Fungipedia, a book that draws novices like me into mycology, but which also has tidbits, tiny morsels of trivia if you will, that will satisfy the more discerning palate of the experts among us."
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
The Mushroom at the End of the World takes a close look at a single variety, the matsutake. It’s notable for growing only in forest areas disturbed by humans, being pretty much impossible to cultivate, and being super valuable and much sought-after. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing builds out the captivating story of who seeks out this fungus, and how it holds hope for a better future. I have a bad habit of answering many questions with “because capitalism is a scourge,” but this book has some surprisingly hopeful answers for what can be built and grow from the mess we’ve made of the planet.
The Secret Life of Fungi: Discoveries From a Hidden World
by Aliya Whiteley
A fascinating book for anyone dipping their toes into the world of spores, stems, caps, and gills. Packed with trivia, and connected to her past and inspiration for writing, this book benefits from Aliya Whiteley’s descriptive skills as a fiction writer. (I’m absolutely hooked on the premise of one of her horror novels, The Beauty, set in a world where all women have died and mysterious mushrooms have started to grow over their graves.)
The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning
by Long Litt Woon (Translated by Barbara J. Haveland)
A stunning memoir about grief and finding renewed hope. When anthropologist Long Litt Woon’s husband dies suddenly, she takes refuge in a Mushrooms for Beginners class that leads to an obsession with mushrooms. As Sarah Lyall put it for the New York Times: “Seeing Long’s capacity for wonder and even contentment in the midst of her sadness feels like seeing tiny shoots of grass peeking from the ash in a landscape stripped bare by fire.”
Fungus is fun for all ages! If your little reader is excited about science, delights in slightly disgusting facts, and is ready to learn about zombie ants, this is the beautifully illustrated book to kick off their mycology education.
Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi
by David Arora
Are you an experienced forager, looking to take your skills to the next level? This guide is robust, featuring both a beginner’s checklist of common mushrooms, and advanced information on thousands of fungi. This hefty guide is over 1000 pages of deep knowledge from terminology to identifying mushrooms to the deeper meanings behind these fungal friends.