Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians
The press release for this great new book says that Bill Roody "has devoted a significant portion of his life to studying the mushroom." Fortunately, he has found time to study and photograph far more than just that one mushroom, and now he has taken time to share a substantial body of his knowledge and art with us. Anyone who has attended mushroom forays in the eastern U.S. likely has met Bill or at least seen him in action. He is a frequent and popular lecturer, workshop leader, and identifier at events of all sizes, and his activities earned him NAMA's prestigious Award for Contributions to Amateur Mycology in 2000. He's also well known for garnering an inordinate number of prizes in the annual NAMA photography contest. Although this is his first solo book, he was a co-author of North American Boletes with Alan and Arleen Bessette (reviewed in THE MYCOPHILE, March/April 2001). OK, so much for Bill; what about the book?
The introductory material is brief. It includes short sections on what mushrooms are and how they are named and classified, describes eating them, being poisoned by them, how to collect them, and how to make a spore print. This material is followed by directions on how to use the book and a picture key to the main groups into which the mushrooms have been categorized (different in some respects from similar breakdowns in other field guides). All of this occupies a mere 11 pages. This is followed by 486 pages of mushrooms, a glossary, list of suggested readings, and index.
Each of the nearly 400 featured species is presented on one page (or two pages if the comments are lengthy). Photos are typically a generous 11.4 x 7.6 cm (4.5 x 3 in.) and are placed at the top of the page. Simply put, they are consistently splendid. I can't think of a field guide that has better photos. The descriptions include the scientific and common names; a short list of synonyms; family and order names; characteristics of cap, gills (or tubes, teeth, etc.), stalk, spore print color, and spores; and occurrence (habit, habitat, fruiting season, life style, and commonness). A sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy, paragraph of comments highlights key features of possible look-alikes, gives the meaning of the specific epithet, and offers other interesting tidbits.
What I especially liked about the book (excerpts from a long list):
- The cover photograph is stunning.
- The photographs are great, and they are printed large enough to do them justice.
- The selection of taxa is very good. Bill resisted the urge to include all the usual things that appear in all the other field guides, and included many species I've never seen, plus quite a few I hadn't even heard of.
- It gives the meanings of the specific epithets, demonstrating once again that scientific names need not be incomprehensible, even for amateurs.
- The introductory material is short and doesn't repeat all the same "how-to" stuff that's in most other field guides.
- Bill's comments are useful and often entertaining.
- The writing style is very accessible.
- It's a detailed regional guide. We have more than enough guides to the common widespread mushrooms; now we need more books like this that cover the characteristic mushrooms of the different parts of North America.
- It's written by an amateur, another example of the contributions that amateurs can make to mycology.
What I didn't like about the book (this is pretty much the entire list):
- The layout editor insisted on landscape orientation of all the photos in the species descriptions and cropped out important portions of many photos (e.g., the stipe bases of amanitas).
- The names of the fungi do not stand out-they were set in the same font as the text and positioned below the photos. The name should appear at the top of the page in a large font.
A couple of things that would have made it even better:.
- An indication of the overall distribution of each fungus would have been helpful for those attempting to use the book beyond its focus area.
- The icons used in the "Pictured Guide" (the picture key to the major groups of fungi) have no indication of scale. This could prove confusing for folks who aren't already familiar with the different types of fruiting bodies.
And a few minor errors crept in, as they always do. There are occasional typos and a handful of ecologically mis-categorized species-Clavulina cristata and the hydnellums and sarcodons all are ectomycorrhizal. But that's what second printings are for.
Overall, this a wonderful book. As field guides go, I can think of none better. There are lots of mushrooms, described well and illustrated with can't-be-beat photographs. And, happily, the price is quite reasonable, given the quality and hefty content. Any mushroom hunter within a spore's-flight distance of the Appalachians will find it essential. Other Easterners and Midwesterners no doubt will find it very useful. And even Westerners would do well to get a copy for armchair foraying or preparing for a trip to what this book shows is a mycologically bountiful part of North America. Now that he's done writing, maybe we can talk Bill into hosting another NAMA foray so that we can give his book a real workout.
— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 44:4, 2003