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Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming

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Overview

A landmark work of environmental sociology, Morel Tales is an engaging and instructive examination of a thriving community, one with its own language, ceremonies, jokes, narratives, rivalries, and social codes. Fine also provides a detailed discussion of the American phenomenon he calls "naturework" - that is, culturally constructing one's own place in the natural environment through communities with shared systems of assigned meaning.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Nicholas P. Money is wild about mushrooms. "I count myself among the few humans who love fungi, truly, madly, deeply," he writes in Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard, a companionable foray into the realm of stinkhorns, black mold, yeast, and even Malassezia, the dandruff-related fungus that Head & Shoulders shampoo is designed to combat. Money is an English-born mycologist who has spent his life uncovering the secrets and lore of fungi, including varieties that thrive in solid granite, feed on human flesh, assist in crime-scene investigations, and, as in the case of a particular armillaria covering twenty-two hundred acres in Oregon, grow to become the largest organisms on earth.

Of course, the fruiting bodies of various fungi are prized for their epicurean and hallucinogenic properties. In Morel Tales, the sociologist Gary Alan Fine makes an amusing study of the "culture of mushrooming," tagging along with intrepid members of the Minnesota Mycological Society as they perform the "naturework" of plucking such deep-woods delicacies as slippery jacks and bringing them home to sauté. Wild mushrooms, Fine writes, are "culturally mediated objects," and millions of risk-loving Americans now enjoy the weekend thrill of harvesting them.

Peter Jordan's Wild Mushroom is too hefty for your backpack, but perfect for the kitchen. Jordan is a British mushroomer who offers tips on identifying toothsome amethyst deceivers or lethal death caps, recipes for whipping up Hedgehog Mushroom Pancakes or Shaggy Ink Cap Soup, and endless enthusiasm: "Imagine the ultimate triumph of finding your first giant puffball -- its head actually bigger than your own!" (Mark Rozzo)

Booknews
The moral of this ethnographic narrative by Fine (sociology, Northwestern U.) is that the natural world proffers much-needed balance to urbanized lives. He delves into the mystery of how wild mushroom collectors form a sense of community despite secrecy being integral to their quest. Viewing nature as culture- bound, the author conducted three years of field research into the meanings mushroomers assign to their fungus, activities, and "talking wild." Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Contemporary Sociology

As with the best of good sociology, we are quickly persuaded [in Morel Tales] that by studying seemingly esoteric behavior, mushroom hunting, we can learn about basic social processes. Examining the odd can lead to confrontation with what is central to human experience...Fine argues and illustrates with rich data that there is no nature without culture and no culture without particular social groups acting within concrete situations...A well-crafted sociological study, Morel Tales weaves together a well-developed grounded theory with interesting ethnographic description. .. Next time someone asks me 'What's so special about the way sociologists approach the world? What do sociologists have to offer?' I will recommend Morel Tales.
— Robert Bogdan

Society for General Microbiology Quarterly [UK]

A delightful ethnographic analysis of the culture of field mycologists (mushroomers) as a paradigm of the customs of naturalists in general (birdwatchers, ramblers, botany clubs, etc.)...This book is strongly recommended to all introspective naturalists, particularly field mycologists and their professional colleagues, and should be a priority acquisition for any library...with a natural history collection.
— Royall T. Moore

Canadian Journal of Sociology

This book is first and foremost an eminently readable ethnography about the everyday lives of hobbyist mushroomers, the social world framing these lives, and the mentality of these enthusiasts as it springs from their leisure passion...[T]his study constitutes a rare contribution to the sociology of science, a field where ethnographic research is rare and the role of amateurs consistently ignored.
— Robert A. Stebbins

American Biology Teacher

If traipsing about in the woods looking for fungi is your idea of a great time, then Gary Alan Fine's Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming is the book for you...Dr. Fine presents the experiences and perspectives of several mycolophiles in their own words. From encounters with wild animals to tales of valuable mushroom findings along with some blunders, these pages provide insights into the popularity of the mushrooming pastime...I thoroughly enjoyed Morel Tales and can recommend it to both amateur and professional mycologists.
— Stephen S. Daggett

Contemporary Sociology - Robert Bogdan
As with the best of good sociology, we are quickly persuaded [in Morel Tales] that by studying seemingly esoteric behavior, mushroom hunting, we can learn about basic social processes. Examining the odd can lead to confrontation with what is central to human experience...Fine argues and illustrates with rich data that there is no nature without culture and no culture without particular social groups acting within concrete situations...A well-crafted sociological study, Morel Tales weaves together a well-developed grounded theory with interesting ethnographic description. .. Next time someone asks me 'What's so special about the way sociologists approach the world? What do sociologists have to offer?' I will recommend Morel Tales.
Society for General Microbiology Quarterly [UK] - Royall T. Moore
A delightful ethnographic analysis of the culture of field mycologists (mushroomers) as a paradigm of the customs of naturalists in general (birdwatchers, ramblers, botany clubs, etc.)...This book is strongly recommended to all introspective naturalists, particularly field mycologists and their professional colleagues, and should be a priority acquisition for any library...with a natural history collection.
Canadian Journal of Sociology - Robert A. Stebbins
This book is first and foremost an eminently readable ethnography about the everyday lives of hobbyist mushroomers, the social world framing these lives, and the mentality of these enthusiasts as it springs from their leisure passion...[T]his study constitutes a rare contribution to the sociology of science, a field where ethnographic research is rare and the role of amateurs consistently ignored.
American Biology Teacher - Stephen S. Daggett
If traipsing about in the woods looking for fungi is your idea of a great time, then Gary Alan Fine's Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming is the book for you...Dr. Fine presents the experiences and perspectives of several mycolophiles in their own words. From encounters with wild animals to tales of valuable mushroom findings along with some blunders, these pages provide insights into the popularity of the mushrooming pastime...I thoroughly enjoyed Morel Tales and can recommend it to both amateur and professional mycologists.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252071317
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 2/17/2003
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Alan Fine is Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
1 Being in Nature 27
2 Meaningful Mushrooms 57
3 Sharing the Woods 93
4 Talking Wild 134
5 Organizing Naturalists 164
6 Fungus and Its Publics 205
7 Naturework and the Taming of the Wild 248
Notes 263
Index 316
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