Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.
They are the things we step on without noticing and the largest organisms on Earth. They are symbols of inexplicable growth and excruciating misery. They are grouped with plants, but they behave more like animals. In their inscrutability, mushrooms are wondrous organisms.
The mushroom is an ordinary object whose encounters with humans are usually limited to a couple of species prepackaged at the grocery store. This book offers mushrooms as much more than a pasta ingredient or trendy coffee alternative. It presents these objects as the firmament for life as we know it, enablers of mystical traditions, menders of minds lost to depression. But it acknowledges, too, that this firmament only exists because of death and rot.
Rummaging through philosophical, literary, medical, ecological, and anthropological texts only serves to confirm what the average forager already knows: that mushrooms are to be regarded with a reverence deserving of only the most powerful entities: those who create and destroy, and thrive on both.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.
Part I. Mystery
Part II. Metaphor
Part III. Mycology
Part IV. Medicine
Part V. Magic
Sara Rich is an Assistant Professor of Honors at Coastal Carolina University, USA. She is the author of four recent books, including Closer to Dust (2021) and Shipwreck Hauntography (2021), and editor of Contemporary Philosophy for Maritime Archaeology (2023).
"In times when fungi mean high tech and big business, this book gracefully brings the human-mushroom relationship back to earth. An ode to our partners in eco-intimacy and mortality, it reminds us that foraging involves much more than learning how to ID – it also requires risking, dreaming, and opening to the future. Mushroom belongs on every forager's shelf, next to the field guides."
– Margret Grebowicz, author of Rescue Me: On Dogs and Their Humans