Category Archives: book

Mushroom Fever

millmanSome of you in warmer climes are already out there, scouring the woods for the favorite fungi of spring. Morel fever is back, exacting its toll once again. No doubt legions of mushroom hunters are walking around right now at this very moment with stiff necks and eyeballs ready to pop out of their heads. But for the rest of us, we can only wait in anticipation for such symptoms.

Or settle back into the armchair for a vicarious thrill.

I’ve been traipsing through Larry Millman’s new collection of fungal vignettes, Giant Polypores & Stoned Reindeer, to keep the fever at bay. It’s the sort of off-season reading we all need on occasion: a reminder that somewhere, someone is enjoying our favorite pursuit, and soon—soon!—we will be that someone.

Millman brings a visceral appreciation and a traveler’s erudition to the mushroom hunt. He forages among the headhunters of Borneo; takes a trip to northern Siberia in search of Santa’s favorite shroom; and journeys to the opposite pole in his imagination, where the mushrooms of the mind take on epic proportions. One of his well known articles, “Notes on the Ingestion of Amanita muscaria,” is included here, with the memorable line: “Larry is drinking a beer, and he says he can relate to the bottle, that the bottle can relate to him, and that the two of them are actually enjoying each other’s company.”

In “The Thrill of the Hunt,” Millman diagnoses the fever as much larger than a quest for mere edibles, illustrating that it may not even require a walk in the woods. His beat-up Chevy Nova’s back seat carries a variety of mold and rust passengers. A friend’s brassiere is filled with inky caps. Should you find an owl pellet, he advises, “look at it closely: there might be an Onygena species growing on it.” The essay concludes with a visit to a touristy spot in Death Valley, California, where, against the odds, he stumbles upon “a group of stalked puffballs lifting their heads proudly to the bright desert sky.”

In other words, we are surrounded by the kingdom of fungi. Open your eyes—and your mind—and you might cure that fungal fever in the most unlikely of places. Millman’s new book is an entertaining and informative panacea for all that ails us mushroom hunters.

For those of you in the Seattle area, Larry Millman will be speaking at the Puget Sound Mycological Society on May 13, 7:30 p.m.

New York Area Slideshows

sisters2For all my East Coast readers, I’m bringing The Mushroom Hunters back to the New York area in the first week of March. I’ll be giving slide presentations at three mycological societies in the Tri-state area: the New Jersey Mycological Association in Basking Ridge, New Jersey; the Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association in Purchase, New York; and the New York Mycological Society in Manhattan.

If you’re a member of any of these organizations, I hope to see you there. If not, maybe this a good opportunity to think about joining one and delving more deeply into the kingdom of fungi. Becoming a member of a mycological society is the single best way to learn about edible mushrooms.

I’ll be showing slides and telling stories about the hidden economy of wild mushroom harvesting, from patch to plate—the pickers, buyers, chefs, and others who make up this little known wild food chain, with its echoes of the Gold Rush and free-wheeling frontier-style capitalism.

Here’s more information on my upcoming slide talks:

March 2, 1:30 p.m. New Jersey Mycological Association. Somerset County Environmental Education Center on Lord Stirling Road in Basking Ridge, NJ.

March 4, 7:30 p.m. Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association. Friends Purchase Meeting House, Purchase, NY.

March 5, 6:30 p.m. New York Mycological Society. New York Horticultural Society, 148 West 37th, 13th floor, Manhattan.

2014 Pacific Northwest Book Award

I’m excited to share the news that The Mushroom Hunters has won a 2014 Pacific Northwest Book Award! Some of my favorite writers are past winners; my head is spinning…

A sincere and heartfelt thank you to all those readers and bookstores across the region for their support. I’ve been overwhelmed by enthusiasm for the book, and it goes without saying that this has been a dream of mine—to journey deep into nature’s secret garden and come back with a story that resonates with a wide audience—so I’m incredibly grateful.

I’d also like to acknowledge two arts foundations that provided financial support at critical junctures, enabling my “boots-on-the-ground” research in far-flung places: Artist Trust and 4Culture. The work they do to promote the creative process cannot be overstated.

On Saturday, February 8, at 7 p.m., I’ll be at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle for the award ceremony. Elliott Bay is my local. It’s where my first book event was held, and I look forward to coming full circle for this occasion. Hope to see some of you there!

Signed Gift Books

mushroom_hunters_gift_cover Give a signed copy of The Mushroom Hunters to the readers on your holiday gift list! I’m happy to inscribe, sign, and mail books. The cost is $25 for the book, including tax (a discount on cover price), plus $5.60 to ship each copy priority mail with 2-3 day delivery, for a total of $30.60.

Contact me at finspotcook AT gmail DOT com with mailing address and recipient name, and I’ll send you PayPal instructions. No gift wrap. Hurry while supplies last and there’s still time to send priority mail.

Everyone knows Santa loves mushrooms… Happy holidays!

Seattle Book Events

well_readTwo pieces of good news: The Mushroom Hunters was just short-listed for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Awards (thank you local indies!), and my first TV interview will be broadcast on the PBS show Well Read. Admittedly, I didn’t sleep much before the interview (and I had a frog in my throat, the first cold of the season), but the 30-minute conversation flew by in a blink, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with host Terry Tazioli, who is smart, curious, and an all-around good guy.

I’ll be staying close to home through the remainder of 2013, with plenty of readings and slide talks planned for the Seattle area. If you’re curious about edible fungi or the hidden subculture of mushroom pickers and buyers, stop by one of these events:

Next Stop, the Big Apple

newyork1The West is now home, but I never pass up a chance to revisit my childhood roots and plug into the electrical current that is New York City. On November 21, at 7 p.m., Slow Food NYC is hosting me for a slide presentation in Brooklyn, at Fitzcarraldo restaurant, and I guarantee a good time for all.

The picture above was snapped a few years ago from the inside of a wild mushroom delivery van as it hustled several hundred pounds of Oregon chanterelles from Newark International Airport to the finest restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can’t research North America’s fast-and-loose wild mushroom trade and not visit the most fabled eateries on the continent, where fungi have been elevated to a place among the top ingredients in a chef’s pantry. I write about my time in New York in a chapter titled “Ingredients as Art,” a phrase borrowed from Sam Sifton’s 4-star review of Del Posto in The New York Times. President Obama happened to be in town to light the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and Occupy Wall Street protesters had just been evicted from Zuccotti Park. As always, electricity was in the air.

If you’re in the New York area and you’re curious about the wild mushroom trail—and the colorful characters who make their living on this itinerant, informal circuit—then come on by, have a beer, and stay for the presentation. I’ll be showing slides and talking about the book.

Upcoming Events

This fungi train keeps a-rolling…

Thursday night, October 24, I’ll be part of an all-star lineup for Seattle Lit Crawl. Other readers will include Ivan Doig, Will Self, Claire Dederer, Neal Thompson, Ellen Forney, and many more. Join me at Capitol Cider at 8pm for the “Farm to Fable” crowd, with readings by Kathleen Flinn, Joe Ray, Kurt Timmermeister, and myself. After Party at Richard Hugo House at 9pm.

This weekend, October 25-27, I’ll be in Eugene, Oregon, to speak at Lane Community College on Friday at 7pm, as part of the Cascade Mycological Society’s fall lecture series, and on Sunday I’ll be signing books at the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Fest.

For fungi fanciers around Puget Sound, I’ll be reading and showing slides at Village Books in Bellingham on November 13 as part of the North Cascades Institute’s “Nature of Writing” series. And on November 14 I’ll be at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

After that, I take a bite out of the Big Apple. More on my East Coast swing later…

Mushrooms for the People

The Mushroom HuntersMy new book The Mushroom Hunters has been on the shelves for nearly two weeks and I couldn’t be happier with the reception so far. If it inspires a few curious readers to get outside and interact with their natural environment, all the better.

The Wall Street Journal calls the book a “rollicking narrative…delivering vivid and cinematic scenes on every page,” and The Seattle Timescomparing the book to Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, Michael Pollan, and Hunter Thompson, says it both “instructs and delights” while “connect[ing] the dots between natural history, socioeconomics and cooking.” Callers jammed the lines at both my Diane Rehm Show appearance and on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But equally important to me are the testaments from readers outside the professional media outlets. Ronald Holden at the Cornichon blog writes, “As always, it’s Cook’s story-telling skill that keeps you reading,” and here’s a post from a reader from Portland that recently circulated on Facebook:

I just finished reading The Mushroom Hunters by Langdon Cook… It’s beautifully written and has a powerful, interwoven story. He really knocked this one out of the park! More than just a book about harvesting and selling mushrooms, he takes on so many important issues such as wealth/class structures, ecology and human interaction, small business challenges, immigration, and asks profound questions about happiness and satisfaction in life.

I feel lucky to have readers like these.

***

In my next post I manage to sneak away from my desk to see why recreational mushroom hunters in the Pacific Northwest are calling this a banner year…

This Tuesday, September 10

The Mushroom HuntersFriends and readers, the publication of my new book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, is just around the corner. Good things are brewing. Publishers Weekly calls it “intrepid and inspired,” The Daily Beast named it a “Hot Read,” and both Amazon.com and Apple picked it as one of the Top 10 Best Books of September. The Seattle Times reviewed it this past Friday, with comparison to Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, Michael Pollan, and Hunter Thompson.

Here’s a snippet from a Library Journal review that, to my mind, encapsulates my efforts:

Not simply about mushrooms, this book examines human behavior, economics, food, society, and nature. In the end, readers will have learned a great deal about U.S. economic and social structures—all while being entertained and enlightened by stories of gastronomy and mushrooms. Highly recommended.

The book goes on sale September 10. That day I’ll be a guest on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR (check for your local listing). The official book launch will be at Elliott Bay Books on Thursday, September 12, at 7pm. I plan to show slides, read a bit from the book, raffle off bags of morels, and the cafe will have some shroomy bites to eat. There might be a spacial guest in attendance as well…

After that I hit the road to visit mycological societies, mushroom festivals, and do other events through the fall and winter. I’ll be at the Wordstock Lit Fest in Portland the first weekend in October and the Breitenbush Mushroom Gathering a couple weeks later.

The confluence of food, nature, and adventure is a mother lode of literary possibility. Join me on the mushroom trail and get your copy soon!

Big Fall Books Preview

The Mushroom HuntersMy new book The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America has been included as an Editor’s Pick in Amazon’s Big Fall Books Preview. Scroll down to read editor Jon Foro’s review. He calls it “a ton of fun—equal parts adventure, natural history, and gastronomy.” Foro adds: “Naturalists (who aren’t necessarily foodies) will learn about some of the more exotic fungi and their uses on the table, while foodies (who might not be naturalists) will find the loamy details of the mushroom trail enlightening.” Loamy details. I like that!

The book is available now for pre-order and officially on sale September 10.