The Secret Life of Fungi by Aliya Whiteley

ISBN: 9781783965304
eBook ISBN: 9781783965311
Cover: Hardback
Published: October 22, 2020
Size: 198x129mm
Page Count: 160 pages

**This book was kindly given to me by Elliott & Thompson for a review.**

The year 2021 has been the year of fungi books for me. A delightful introductory addition to this list is The Secret Life of Fungi by Aliya Whiteley. This book is a perfect gift for anyone who wants a preliminary outline of the enormous world of fungi. Just above 160 pages this short book delivers morsels of mycological world through three sections devoted to the life cycle of a fungus. The sections are named ‘Erupt’,’ Spread’, and ‘Decay’. The writing is charming and not overwhelmed with too many facts or jargon. Whiteley’s words evocate a yesteryear charm that was present in televised natural history programs for the younger audiences during the 90s. Personally, those programs had a huge impact on my interest in biology. To read a book that has the same quality is a treat.

Whiteley is not a professional mycologist and yet when she describes the Common Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) or the Shaggy Inkcap (Coprinus comatus) she becomes one of us. The amateur foragers who take strolls and admire a tree bark encrusted with white brackets of shelf-like fungi. But the book in itself is not amateurish. Rather it is a treat for fellow mycophilic readers like me. She surprises the readers with a recipe entry like “Slow Mushroom Stew with Cheese Dumplings” or indulges our futuristic senses with architecture created with mycelium bricks.

Whiteley has created a gentle approach to biology writing. Her prose is a delicate balance between biological phenomena and the wondrous aspects of nature around us. Consider her description of a fungal spore,

A spore is a daredevil. It can be a bold glider, a champion swimmer or a living cannonball, flung upwards, outwards, at incredible speed. It can tame insects to its will, infecting a body to take it to the perfect atmospheric conditions, or it can ride animals for miles. Born along by the wind, it can traverse countries and climb mountains. No place is out of reach to all spores; there will always be one that risks — and succeeds.
A spore is an opportunist.
…..
A spore does not strive, or try, or persevere. It’s only a spore.

Whiteley’s latest book From the Neck Up and Other Stories is a collection of gothic stories. Unsurprisingly, her penchant for gothic elements is present in the fungi world too. She gives us bits of myco-culture. William Hope Hodgson’s The Voice in the Night (1907) and the 1963 Japanese film inspired by the same story called Matango. And of course, my personal favorite, Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (first published in 2014) inhabits unclassified fruiting bodies and spores which write messages for trespassing humans. Fungal species are often celebrated in science fiction and new weird fiction genres. There is a reading list of fungal fiction at the end of the book for interested readers. I highly recommend this book for a quick and pleasurable nature reading.

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