A well-spent rainy afternoon for me is relaxing in my reading chair, large quantities of tea and a good book, maybe a sandwich, which on this occasion was a cheese and mushroom toastie, all of which are perfect conditions for reading The Secret Life of Fungi: Discoveries from a Hidden World by Aliya Whiteley.
I will admit I don’t know a lot about Fungi, and after reading The Secret Life of Fungi I’d say there’s still a barrel load I would still have to learn to even claim to have a passing knowledge of Fungi, apart from they taste good, but I now have a better understanding, or appreciation, as to how much they affect the world around them.
The Secret Life of Fungi explores the world of the Fungi and how we, in many ways drastically underestimate this organism that pervades our lives, from the time we wake up and enjoy a cooked breakfast to decomposing our bodies after our deaths, Fungi plays a vital part in our world and the natural world as a whole. With new ideas that Fungi could help clean up our pollution it could very well be nature’s own ‘vacuum cleaner’ taking care of not just our waste but also nature’s waste when plants, trees end their days. Fungi is there to help it on its way.
However, Fungi doesn’t just help clean up after us, we’ve been using it for thousands of years in various formats and has even influenced some of our more well-known horror and science-fiction stories, such as John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, which I was watching last night.
I found The Secret Life of Fungi a good ‘family book’ if there’s such a thing? There’s certainly something here that would appeal to all readers regardless of whether any interest in Fungi or not, from age-old cooking to science, metaphysics and even exploding Carpenter Ant heads when they’re taken over by a certain genus of Fungus (eyes my cheese and mushroom toastie with some suspicion now), yet all told with Aliya Whiteley’s friendliness, warmth and personal passion that keeps the reader entranced from start to finish.
After reading I was reminded of an ex-girlfriend of many years ago who tried to grow her own mushrooms, so I contacted her as we still speak to ask her how she’d gotten on growing them. Apparently, she only grew one, which she ate. It was very nice.
• The Secret Life of Fungi: Discoveries from a Hidden World by Aliya Whiteley is published by Elliott and Thompson Books (£12.99). To order a copy go to www.eandtbooks.com
Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at tomasstanger.com