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. Lawrence Millman: mycologist, adventurer, environmental advocate, travel writer, poet, and humorist is one of those rare individuals. I’ve devoured many of his books and picked up Fungipedia, anticipating yet another joyful journey. I was not disappointed.
Readers should be warned: this is no field guide to mushrooms. You won’t learn how to become an amateur mycologist, nor will you find exotic recipes for the morel, shitakes, cremini or enoki mushrooms you picked up at your local farmers’ market. This book is more of a trip (no pun intended) through a fantastical garden led by a tour guide who can approach fungi (mushrooms and otherwise) from any one of a dozen different angles – and does.
In my experience, one way to stir a child’s curiosity in a subject is to “surprise” them with unusual facts about trees, critters, flowers – you name it. I know of no other resource that offers as many surprising facts about fungi as Fungipedia.
The book is packed to the gills (pun intended) with enough facts to stimulate your child’s curiosity or to satiate the most voracious trivia nut in your life. Millman discusses one fungus named after Spongebob Squarepants. He explains how the oyster mushroom we love to eat, itself eats nematodes and various bacteria and, in the wild, is both home to and the diet of fungus beetles. He names eleven of the types of “hair” found on mushrooms and explains their function. Millman introduces you to Civil War Captain Charles “Old Ironguts” McIlvaine, who classified mushrooms as edible as long as he didn’t suffer a “violent evacuation.” There’s even an entry explaining the relationship between Santa Claus and mushrooms.
But facts are just the spores in Millman’s book. Once nestled in the nooks and crannies of your brain, Millman’s facts grow into stories and more often than not will leave you laughing.
Filled with dozens upon dozens of short, but fascinating entries, the book in nonetheless pocket-size, suitable for jaunts in the woods, long waits in the dental office, or reading in the seclusion of our new, Covid-haunted reality.