MOREL TALES

MOREL TALES

by Gary Alan FINE
     
 

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In this thoughtful book, Gary Fine explores how Americans attempt to give meaning to the natural world that surrounds them. Although "nature" has often been treated as an unproblematic reality, Fine suggests that the meanings we assign to the natural environment are culturally grounded. In other words, there is no nature separate from culture. He calls this process

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Overview

In this thoughtful book, Gary Fine explores how Americans attempt to give meaning to the natural world that surrounds them. Although "nature" has often been treated as an unproblematic reality, Fine suggests that the meanings we assign to the natural environment are culturally grounded. In other words, there is no nature separate from culture. He calls this process of cultural construction and interpretation, "naturework." Of course, there is no denying the biological reality of trees, mountains, earthquakes, and hurricanes, but, he argues, they must be interpreted to be made meaningful. Fine supports this claim by examining the fascinating world of mushrooming.

Based on three years of field research with mushroomers at local and national forays, Morel Tales highlights the extensive range of meanings that mushrooms have for mushroomers. Fine details how mushroomers talk about their finds—turning their experiences into "fish stories" (the one that got away), war stories, and treasure tales; how mushroomers routinely joke about dying from or killing others with misidentified mushrooms, and how this dark humor contributes to the sense of community among collectors. He also describes the sometimes friendly, sometimes tense relations between amateur mushroom collectors and professional mycologists. Fine extends his argument to show that the elaboration of cultural meanings found among mushroom collectors is equally applicable to birders, butterfly collectors, rock hounds, and other naturalists.

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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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674036857
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
File size:
1 MB

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