Radical Mycology!

We live in one of the most fungally rich regions in the United States. Oregon has the largest single living organism on Earth in the Malheur National forest. It’s a fungus known by several names: Armillaria, scientifically; Honey Mushroom commonly; or, locally, as the Humongous Fungus. By 2015 it was three square miles large and a few thousand years old. It lives in the soil and spreads its filaments outward so that it grows one to three feet each year. It’s also killing the forest.

Or is it simply performing its natural function of recycling the trees back into the soil, but on a longer time scale than most humans are capable of understanding? Questions like these underpin the field of Mycology, the branch of biology that studies fungi, one of the least understood branches of life on Earth. Several recent books delve into this field from both the highly specialized scientific perspective as well as that of radical DIYers. Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake, is a highly readable account of the author’s love for mushrooms and fungi as well as a tour through current trends in mycology to examine just how little we understand about these organisms. Similarly, Doug Bierend’s In Search of Mycotopia shows us the possibilities of fungal and microbial life. Both authors are trained experts and believe that understanding the fungus among us can radically alter how we experience our own lives as well as the world around us.

Peter McCoy is the current emperor of the citizen mycological science movement. In 2016, McCoy published Radical Mycology, his magnum opus, making this specialized discipline of science accessible for lay-people. It first started as a zine back in 2009 in Portland, OR, yet quickly launched a movement. In 2011 the first Radical Mycology Convergence occurred, drawing amatuer enthusiasts and trained scientists alike from all over the world.

For something so small, yet also potentially massive, fungus often evokes strong responses in humans. They repel us, intrigue us, kill us, and also enchant us with their beauty. The Ultimate Guide to Mushrooms showcases that beauty with lush illustrations and tasty recipes, while Fungipedia shares a collection of the lore and legends surrounding fungi. The Beauty, a science fiction novel, leaves readers awed by the uncanny transformative powers of fungi (literally), while Mexican Gothic expands our sense of dread and horror.

There’s no doubt that mushrooms are having a moment culturally and scientifically. This list will help you find the titles mentioned here as well as numerous others on identification, cultivation, use, and mind-altering possibilities. However, please do not ingest mushrooms or other fungi you cannot positively identify, as many species are toxic and deadly to humans. In addition to the books listed here, you can also visit the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s website for numerous resources.

     ~ Posted by Veronica H.

What Happens When Poetry Propagates a Nation?

Citizens, the month of harvest is here. Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Here comes, once again, An American Sunrise. Arrived, once again, a proliferation of poetry; each poem The Winged Seed of a thousand thoughts.

From whence do they come, these Words Like Thunder? Of course, from poets, those propagating Children of Grass who Forage for Earth Vowels, Mosses and Lichens, all the while seeking The Clearing, some clear view in the distance to get to the end of the poem, the manuscript, the line.

Poets Carrying Water to the Field have to learn How to Carry Water. They have to, carefully, tend to Pale Colors in a Tall Field until music, Field Music, fills air and it goes abuzz with Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth.

In the Field Between Us fallen leaves, leaves from that tree, The Forgetting Tree. Heed the Hollow, mind the Migrant Earth, seek Refugia. In those Quickening Fields, seek visions, seek poems, seek out poets, the month of harvest is here.

Say to yourself, My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree and believe it.  There is power in poetry. Plenty and plenty more poetry is powered by what is possible. There is enough poetry for us all to partake in its possibility.  The Sun and Her Flowers, know.  The sun, every flower, each poet and poem knows this to be true, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through.

What Happens When Poetry Propagates a Nation? Find out for yourself, check out the resource list of poetry books and widen your field of vision during the month of April and beyond.


~posted by Chris

Writers in the Hemingway Tradition

If you’re watching Lynn Novick and Ken Burns’ documentary Hemingway this week on PBS, you’ve heard a lot of writers and commentators talking about what a profound influence Ernest Hemingway has had on American literature. As the writer Tobias Wolff puts it, “It’s hard to imagine a writer today who hasn’t been in some way influenced by him. It’s like he changed all the furniture in the room, right? And we all  have to sit in it. We can kind of sit on the armchair, or on the arm…” No matter how you may feel about the man (or mansplainer, philanderer and self-mythologizer), there’s no denying that Hemingway the writer originated an oblique, minimalist style that has cast a long shadow over our literary landscape.

Among his near contemporaries, many authors in the genres of hardboiled crime and noir adopted a similar colloquial, hardbitten style. Try reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and see if you don’t fine a spiced up version of Hemingway’s understated prose from the very first line: “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” Other classic noir writers of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Cornell Woolrich or William Lindsay Gresham, reveal a similarly uncompromising, clipped style that is still found in many hardboiled writers – such as Elmore Leonard – today.

Perhaps no writer epitomize’s Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” of writing – the idea that the writer can omit anything, and that omitted part will strengthen the story – as Raymond Carver. Pick up pretty much any of Raymond Carver’s short stories about struggling and often inarticulate Americans, and see if you aren’t struck by what Carver chooses to leave out. At their best, both Hemingway and Carver manage to create profound and ringing silences around their words. The title of Carver’s first published story collection – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?  – feels almost like an homage to a line of dialogue from the great Hemingway short story Hills Like White Elephants: “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

Although not coming from American tradition, sometimes the terse, plainspoken writing of Swedish author Per Petterson can be very reminiscent of the Hemingway tradition. Listen to this passage from Out Stealing Horses: “I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.” Petterson seems to follow Hemingway’s rule to “cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

A number of Northwest writers have crafted similarly terse novels of gritty reality, such as Shann Ray’s story collection American Masculine,  parts of David Guterson’s The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind, or Larry Watson’s As Good As Gone. One not to miss is the powerful contemporary tragedian Willy Vlautin, whose ruthlessly honest stories of the struggles and losses of American dreamers are pitch perfect snapshots of contemporary life, stunning in their authenticity and restraint. Check out Vlautin’s latest, The Night Always Comes.

Here are some other authors and titles that harken back in various ways to Hemingway’s pared-down, oblique style.

     ~ Posted by David W.

With “Masked Classics” Pandemic Publishing Comes of Age

When in doubt, fall back on a classic. It worked for Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and its many spinoffs, and now resourceful publishers, making up for lost time and revenue, aim to make it work for a pandemic-weary reading public. Gimik Books (a division of Langweiliger-Zellstoff) has just premiered a new line of “masked classics,” featuring slightly rewritten versions of familiar titles. So we join Mrs. Dalloway as she struggles with the banal details of arranging lawn chairs for an appropriately distanced social gathering, and we experience afresh the noughting of Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist as he struggles not just to be seen, but to be heard through a double mask. 

Racing them to the marketplace is Impulse! (a division of Seelenlose-Gier), with its own line of masked reprints, including the intrepid girl detective Nancy Drew going up against a new sort of “invisible intruder,” and Tolstoy’s doomed Anna Karenina, who recklessly persists in leaving her nose hanging out, even amidst the hustle and bustle of a crowded train station.  Continue reading “With “Masked Classics” Pandemic Publishing Comes of Age”

2021 Audiobook Awards: And the Winners Are…

This month saw two major audiobook awards: the Grammys and the Audies. We have a full list of nominees and winners in our catalog, here, but here are at least some of the audiobooks that went home holding trophies this month.

The winner of this year’s Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album is: Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, by Rachel Maddow, read by the author.  Think it’s all about the money? Guess again: it’s all about the oil. The popular cable news star digs deep on the dirty open secret of geopolitical power.

Continue reading “2021 Audiobook Awards: And the Winners Are…”