The Secret Life of Fungi: Discoveries from a Hidden World

Aliya Whiteley. Pegasus, $26.95 (204p) ISBN 978-1-64313-785-8

Novelist Whiteley (Skyward Inn) ruminates whimsically on her experiences foraging, cooking, and researching mushrooms. “Biology is not my best subject,” she writes, and though she explains a few mycological mysteries (for example, how the enzymes of the Aspergillus tubingensis can break down plastic), her talents come to bear when describing the shape (“a whitish woolly cylinder”), smell (“an active aroma of climbing damp and shifting soil”), and taste (“mildly nutty... a hint of earthly flavor”) of various fungi. She marvels at the symbiotic relationships mushrooms form with other organisms, and how some reproduce—Pilobolus crystallinus, she notes, disperses its spores at a speed of 32 kilometers per hour. Among other bits of trivia readers are treated to is the fact that there are 108 species of lichen on the stones of Stonehenge, and that NASA is considering using mycelium—the threadlike filaments from which mushrooms form—as building material for radiation-resistant living shelters on Mars. (There’s also a recipe for mushroom stew with cheese dumplings.) Though too lighthearted for serious mycologists, casual nature lovers will enjoy this compendium of trivia and musings. Budding fungi enthusiasts, take note. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Sept.)