I’ve got a bunch of inky caps mushrooms deliquescing in a jar. And a new to me mushroom that’s all over our yard makes a great yellow stain. I’ve been boiling it on a fire out side. So I bought Make Ink the book by Jason Logan that I was resisting buying because I couldn’t find a second hand copy. Omg I love this book. I want to marry this book.
Make Ink is about foraging for color in the city. Its beautiful and printed on lovely paper and the descriptions and stories and histories are dreamy. The book keeps repeating that there are no rules! Try everything!
Jason Logan publishes a free newsletter every Friday about color and ink making that is the only newsletter or blog I read regularly and I look forward to it every week. He is also working on a documentary called The Color of Ink.
This is one of the books that the Biophlilium holds as Required Reading For Humans because it explains what a human is inside and out. In the first chapter Ed Yong explains symbiogenisis far more clearly and more satisfyingly than Lynn Margulis did in her seminal book on the subject. Each of our cells is descendant from a merger of bacteria and archaea. Oh.
Next he talked about biogeography. He compares the biogeographical studies by Darwin and Wallace to the micro-biome studies happening now. He talks about every body as a landscape with differing bio regions. Then he talks about the difficulty in identifying the individual. We actually use the genes of our microbes to develop our bodies and express our selfness.
The book investigates the ideas of symbiosis and dysbiosis by looking at a series of trophic cascades like coral reefs and then compares them to the human body. He presents cutting edge research on the effects of changes in our gut biomes to digestion, mental health and immune systems and suggests that more research into the microbes that live with us could lead to an entirely new approach to wellness and medicine.
This book greatly influenced how I expect the next 300 years on earth will play out and inspired me to get my gut biome sequenced. (Which was expensive and not very interesting, I think they just gave the same ambiguous results to everyone.)
Lab Girl is a terrific book. It’s about a woman’s life as a research scientist and about plants. Her analogies between botanical physiology and the scientific world are insightful and entertaining. I’ve learned so much about how seeds and leaves and roots work and about what a plant is. It’s beautifully written and I’ve read it far too fast.
Sum is a fun book about what happens in the Afterlife written by a neuroscientist . It’s 40 short pieces of speculative writing. It’s fiction, but there are no characters, instead you insert your own life and identity into the parameters described so the book is different for every one. Each one is creative and playful and funny and offers clever opportunities to reflect on your own life and identity.
Sum suggests an afterlife where you relive your life in different orders or from different points of view. It suggests afterlives where the underlying codes of reality are revealed in different ways. It presents novel ideas of heaven and hell or the creator or gods or our relationships with them. It is written with a patriarchal monotheistic baseline point of view but suggests different iterations of a creator/createe relationship that feel refreshingly naughty. Most iterations suggest that the creator is not interested in our prayers and does not do a lot of judgement but presents the Gods as scientists or doctors or amateur magicians with their own insecurities and loneliness. Some do not include a creator and are very fractal in the way they present infinity and eternity. Some offer ways to be everyone at once or to meet all of yourselves, weather from different ages or from different possible lives and all center on the satisfaction from the unraveling of a profound reveal. It’s an unchallenging way to do some self reflection and check in on how you feel about your life choices and what you think life is.
I always recommend Biocentrism by Robert Lanza. I should reread it so I remember exactly why I think it’s so important that you read it. It’s about the nature of consciousness and it uses the classic sexy physics demonstration, the double slit theory (that proves that matter behaves differently when it is observed) with entangled particles to illustrate that all matter in the universe existed only in a state of possibility until it snapped into existence when consciousness became aware of it. Maybe that was a spoiler.
I enjoy reading physics that’s just beyond my understanding. This book consistently stayed on the edge of what I already understood and what I’d never dreamed of. Except the part about Einstein’s theories of time, that was pretty challenging, but it was explained clearly enough that I was able to use the concept in conversation with an astrophysicist a year after reading. I don’t remember the concept now. Something like: since light moves like this, then time must all happen at once. Yes I will put it on my reread pile… there are a lot of good books on that pile.
I was very happy to find Beyond Biocentrism, the second book in the series about the physics of consciousness, or rather, the effects of consciousness on physics. When I read their first, Biocentrism, I thought it was the best book ever, but it was possibly the first non mycology non-fiction book I’d read. Now that I’ve read a lot if science books I was excited to find out how the writing would compare, and excited that this one would include a chapter on plant perception and a chapter on the illusion of death!
Beyond Biocentrism stood up as a very good read. It was only slowish because I had to stop a few times on each page to ponder and re-evaluate my understanding of reality. I enjoyed following the book’s logic. The first book in the series convinced me that all mater snapped into existence retroactively after consciousness observed it. This time around I disagreed with a lot of the logic, but disagreeing lead me to develop my own materialist beliefs and fleshing out what I think time and perspective is.
I was entertained by the constant anthropomorphic language and metaphor that you’d think a scientist who is talking about the relationship between consciousness and matter would cut out rather than repeatedly, euphemistically and unnecessarily saying that mater knows this and understands that. I enjoy marking up a book with pencil to correct the metaphoric intention that English can leave in science writing, but this time my copy was a library book.
The chapter on plant intelligence was not as fascinating as it could have been. They began by discrediting it, then referenced some science fiction films and then declared it real. I wish they’d talked more about the experiments that have studied plant perception and plant intelligence by the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology and the adversity faced by the Plant Signaling and Behavior Society. If you want to know more read Brilliant Green by Stefano Mancuso and Thus Spoke the Plant by Monica Gagliano.
I don’t think they offered a great argument against the existence of death, but they set the stage and invited us in to manifest our own. Most memorably by asking when consciousness entered our body. To me it seems like it didn’t, it was just already there when our brains grew around it and created the illusion of a separation between self and everything else and the illusion of time and space, which leads us to think that when our brains stop working that our consciousness will go back to being one with the universe. But on the other hand I believe that emotions are chemical and produced by the material of living bodies and that when we die all that get’s mixed back up into the world in an unconscious way.
The appendix at the end was a bit contradictory, that all matter and time exists only in our minds and that our minds exist not in our brains but where ever we direct our attention. I wish that page had been included in the main text rather than an aside on the last page as it was unsatisfying, but all in all I will recommend this book to anyone curious about physics and consciousness and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.
I enjoyed reading David Sibley’s What it’s like to be a Bird while drinking my morning coffee over a couple of weeks. It ‘s a beautifully illustrated book about bird behavior and physiology. It’s designed to be flipped through, each paragraph stands alone and directs you to a similar concept on a different page. It is an illustrated choose your own adventure book about birds. I tried to read it all in order cover to cover but keep getting whisked away to learn more about how feathers grow or that chimney swifts stay airborne for 10 months of the year! This meant that I reread my favorite parts when I caught up to them chronologically. He does a very good job at articulating ideas and has made a fun read. If you don’t like to read about biology it’s worth it for the paintings.
The Wildcrafting Brewer by Pascal Bauder is enriching my foraging life. He uses foraging for brewing as a way to study, interpret and appreciate the local wildlife. He talks about the magic that is lost in contemporary mass produced products that replace the biologic ingredients that had medicinal and symbolic importance with synthetic flavors- that replace wild fermentation, a living process with mechanical carbonation- and sweeten them with mass produced, subsidized corn syrup. Grocery store soda pop is dead but wild fermented sodas and beers and wines are living brews, one of a kind nuanced experiences that strengthen and celebrate the local wildlife an our relationship with in.
His writing style is easy to read, exciting and repeats the parts that you need to read over again. The text works just the way a foraging obsession works. And he’s all about figuring out how to express the non monetary value of a plant or place. He explains the magic of knowing the wildlife around you so well.
I’ve been foraging for 4 big medicinal tea projects since spring. I loved drinking my forest tea every Sunday last winter and wished I could make it a daily practice. I quit fermenting Kombucha, because I didn’t need the large quantity of sugar in my diet and didn’t love the commercial products I was using but I miss the process…. Duh. The answer is simple. Ferment the medicinal teas I’ve been working so hard to collect. Use wild yeasts. Throw my own fermenting pots. Taste everything!
I’m very happy that my Underworld Tea is now Root Beer from the Rhyzosphere! My Forest Tea is now Marlborough Mead. I’ve got Monalulu Scrumpy and Blue Finger Fox Wine fermenting. And Sumac and Rosehip Pop. And my Moon Tea will be medicinal menstrual beer! It’s taken no time to get all this going. The book is beautifully illustrated and makes me feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit.
This book is a description of EO’s love of biological systems.
He was considered the greatest biologist alive until he died in 2022. His insights are deeply informed by biology and are also a bit mystical. He articulates the magic of life in the language of science and puts into words many passions that I share. This book explores the innate human urges to observe and learn about wildlife and asks ‘Is it possible for humanity to love life enough to save it?’ He describes his own Biophilia as the awe he feels while observing and learning about non-human organisms and how indulging in these practices increases his appreciation of all life. He places the value of wildlife within a context of culture and human survival. He describes the elegance of art and science as part of human evolution.
I want to memorize every sentence in The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It’s a super book about the behavior of trees and how this behavior makes a complicated ecology that is a forest.
It explains how trees live in connection with their kin and describes the relationships between trees and other organisms. It illustrates how a forest functions as a living system. It talks about how they perceive the world and how they communicate. This book is written by a German forester turned conservation ecologist and is required reading for anyone interested in ecology, wildlife or plants to be able to participate in conversations on contemporary ecology. It’s also just a nice read.
He has written several similar books, this is the best one, but The Secret Wisdom of Nature is also a very good look at the interconnectedness of a forest.
The Secret Wisdom of Water by Craig Childs Reviewed by Alexis Williams May 2021
I have a new favorite book. The Secret Wisdom of Water, written by Craig Childs. He describes his adventures seeking water in the desert. He describes the relationships between water and life and our utter dependence on it. He describes mechanisms and dramas of storms. He describes powerful natural phenomenon in words that are neither scientific nor spiritual but also are both. He says things like: ‘if I prayed for rain the sky would laugh at me’ and ‘The world changes color when you think you might die soon.’
Then come the floods. Its intense and moving and inspired. He must write as things happen, dangling from a climbing line a months hike from help. He uses rich similes that invoke powerful imagery. He presents beautiful science, insightful poetry, and smooth adventure.
This book is unpretentious, easy to read and cool. I’m looking forward to reading it again. I’m so glad he’s written other books I can read.