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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

4.0 54
by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

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In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, Elisabeth Tova Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her encounter with a Neohelix albolabris—a common woodland snail.
            While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has


In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, Elisabeth Tova Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her encounter with a Neohelix albolabris—a common woodland snail.
            While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious creature brings and comes to a greater understanding of her own place in the world.
            Intrigued by the snail’s molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, offering a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal.
            The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence, while providing an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher


NATIONAL OUTDOOR BOOK AWARD FOR 2010 in Natural History Literature



BEST BOOKS OF 2010: MORE OF THE BEST, Library Journal



“Beautiful.” —Edward O. Wilson

“Universal, deeply felt, and with an enormously generous soul, the gently told story grants readers a heightened appreciation for the ever-shrinking, ever-fascinating, secretive parts of our unkempt world.” —Alexandra Fuller for The Daily Beast

“How interesting can a snail be? Entirely captivating, as it turns out. [Bailey] is a marvelous writer, and the marriage of science and poetic mysticism that characterizes this small volume is magical.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Bailey] found comfort in an unlikely companion--a tiny snail, whose micro-doings are the source of a surprising philosophy.” —Entertainment Weekly

“An exquisite meditation on the restorative connection between nature and humans. . . Bailey's slim book is as richly layered as the soil she lays down in the snail's terrarium: loamy, potent, and regenerative.” —The Huffington Post

“[A] small, quiet masterpiece, already destined to become a classic.” —Washington Times

“A spare, beautifully quirky grace note of a book.” —Family Circle

“Though illness may rob us of vitality, sometimes it can also help bring us understanding---albeit in improbable disguises . . . Perhaps there's something to be said for moving at a snail's pace.” —NPR.org

“This elegant little gem is a triumph.”—Maine Sunday Telegram
Kirkus Reviews
In this quiet but moving debut, essayist Bailey chronicles a year during which her fascination with the simple life of a snail kept isolation at bay and gave purpose to her life. At age 34, the author was struck by a neurological disorder while vacationing in the Alps, and her condition rapidly deteriorated as her autonomic nervous system became dysfunctional: "all functions not consciously directed . . . had gone haywire." In order to receive care, she was moved from the Maine farmhouse where she had lived with her dog to a bare, one-room studio apartment where she was isolated from friends and family. The snail entered her life by chance when a visiting friend potted a violet and brought it to her, including the snail that had been sitting beneath its leaves. Bailey watched intently as the creature began to explore its new environment. Since it was nocturnal and her sleep was intermittent, the author had time to observe the animal eating, noting the "tiny, intimate sound" as it chomped on dead leaves from the violet plant or mushroom slices that she gave it. When her caregiver found the appropriate empty space, her friend helped to convert it into a roomy terrarium full of native plants from the snail's own woods. Although she had not been familiar with the snail's habits before welcoming her new companion, Bailey learned about the species through careful observation and the few things she was able to read during her recovery. Watching the snail was not only absorbing, but as the author was drawn into its "peaceful and solitary world," she was soothed and left with a profound sense of how "life itself continues to evolve."A charming, delicate meditation on the meaning of life. Agent: Ellen Levine/Ellen Levine Literary Agency

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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Meet the Author

Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s essays and short stories have been published in the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, the Missouri Review, Northwest Review, and the Sycamore Review. The hardcover edition of The Sound of Wild Snail Eating was a Barnes & Noble Discover title, an Indie Next Pick, and a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Bailey has received several Pushcart Prize nominations (in addition to the awards listed above), and the essay on which this book is based received a Notable Essay Listing in Best American Essays. She is on the Writers Council for the National Writing Project. Winner of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she lives in Maine.

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Sound of a Wild Snail Eating 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
SAHARATEA More than 1 year ago
"...the snail had emerged from its shell into the alien territory of my room, with no clue as to where it was or how it had arrived; the lack of vegetation and the desertlike surroundings must have seemed strange. The snail and I were both living in altered landscapes not of our choosing; I figured we shared a sense of loss and displacement." Elisabeth Tova Bailey was in her mid-thirties when struck with a mysterious illness that soon led to her complete incapacitation. Without knowing the cause, much less the cure or the course that it might take, the disease was a frightening visitor. One day, a friend stops by with a rather odd gift. A snail, from out in the yard. First placed in a flower pot and eventually a terrarium, the snail becomes Bailey's constant companion. Because of her lack of mobility and energy, much of her time was spent observing the creature. You might think this would be dull, or worse, that you'd be stuck listening to someone bleakly describing their every physical complaint. Not so. This book has very little to do with health issues and far more to do with curiosity and resilience. Bailey is not a complainer, actual details of her health are few and without self-pity. She doesn't simply give up either, she makes clear she wants to fight this unknown assailant on her life. That she does so with the help of a small snail is astounding. The first surprise is that snails have a daily routine. They have certain times to eat and sleep and travel. They often return to the same place to sleep, and they sleep on their side. (!!!) As she watches the daily activities of the snail, she manages to study research on snails in general and in detail. Turns out snail research is pretty deep...volumes have been written on every tiny detail. As in: snails have teeth, 2200+ of them! Seriously, if they were bigger you'd think twice about stepping on one. They also have a special talent for when the going gets tough in their little world: they start a process called estivation. It's not hibernation (they do that too!) but instead it allows them to become dormant when the weather goes bad, or they lose their preferred food source, etc. Some snails have been known to estivate more than a few years. The process of sealing off their little shell is fascinating, and a study in insulation. Then there's the romance. Researchers have studied that too, and I won't go into too much detail, but let's just say lady snails are not complaining about romance in their life! Male snails really knock themselves out on the charm aspect. So much of the research that is out there is fascinating, and Bailey sorts through it and shares the most interesting details. This isn't just a science project for her, she sees parallels in her condition as well as the snail's. Illness took her out of her social circle, and her life seemed slow and inconsequential. And snails usually are a typical example of slow and inconsequential living: "Everything about a snail is cryptic, and it was precisely this air of mystery that first captured my interest. My own life, I realized, was becoming just as cryptic. From the severe onset of my illness and through its innumerable relapses, my place in the world has been documented more by my absence than by my presence. While close friends understood my situation, those who didn't know me well found my disappearance from work and social circles inexplicable."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is unlike anything I have read before. At first description I thought it might be odd but I like unusual things and decided to take a chance on reading this. It has bound me to it's pages! Being familiar with ill health, I can identify with the author's frustration at not being able to move from her bed. When she begins to care for a snail that was brought to her by a friend, the story takes on a very sweet aspect. I don't think I will ever see a snail again without thinking of this account. I am halfway through the book. I read a few pages at night and it is very interesting and soothing to contemplate the relationship between living things. This will be on my list of favorites to read again.
AudreyCooper More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because of its title. I work in a greenhouse and am a little sentimental about the various creatures that are often called pests. Snails, especially, intrigue me. This book really is about snails and there is a great deal of information about the complex little mollusks. But it is also a memoir by a women confined by illness to a small world and her struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome. It is a soothing narrative and one that I recommend highly to anyone who wants a relaxing read about an animal we rarely think about, or befriend.
idajo2 More than 1 year ago
Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is rife with finespun, and fascinating, detail about a "white-lipped forest snail" and its person. The small snail captured my heart from the moment s/he munched on a withered purple flower petal! I saw the snail as a lifesaver during the long days and nights the author struggled to come to terms with her devastating and debilitating illness. For those of us who love this book, the snail might well be described as a lifeSAVOR. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating changed my perception of gastropods ~ forever. I will never view snails in the same light again nor will I ever intentionally harm a snail!
gmanpma More than 1 year ago
I usually read WWII history, but the title grabbed me. A great relaxing read. Read and enjoy.
juleecm1 More than 1 year ago
I couldn't imagine enjoying a book about observing a snail. How could I have been so dumb? It's a fascinating, lovely, delicate book about a woman's horrific health problems, and how the introduction of a little, forest snail into her life allowed her to participate in something other than her illness. Her inability to even get up led to a severely restricted existence, and by quietly watching this little snail, her horizons broadened and she felt as though she was participating in life again. And guess what? You CAN hear a snail eating, if only you are quiet enough and really listen. A wonderful reminder of the powers of quiet observance and healing. Marvelous book, can't recommend it highly enough.
Drora More than 1 year ago
Will never look at snails the same way again!!! A wonderful way to turn a terrible situation to a bearable one.
KristyMcCaffrey More than 1 year ago
In her 30's, Ms. Bailey contracted an unknown virus after a trip to Europe. What seemed at first to be the flu eventually turned into a two-decade struggle with a debilitating illness, leaving her bedridden for months at a time. She acquires a snail from the woods near her house and spends hours each day observing the creature. Her insights are intriguing--how many of us know what a snail likes to eat, its favorite place to sleep, or how they reproduce? With simple, easy-to-read prose, Ms. Bailey shows us how wide the world becomes when we focus on small details. Forced to slow her life to a snail's pace, the creature becomes a kindred spirit in a most profound way. I found this book to be an unexpected treat; her illness is heartbreaking, making you feel gratitude for the good health most of us take for granted, but her observations into the snail's world shows us that we move through life so quickly, invariably missing the magic of other creatures sharing the planet with us.
AnnieBB More than 1 year ago
It's hard to imagine how one would live life if severely challenged by a devastating illness. But this book shares one woman's experience and how she found meaning and even joy in a pot of violets and a little wild snail (or two or three). This is a very satisfying read.
Amy Christiansen More than 1 year ago
Through illness, the author finds herself in possession of the time and pace to be able to observe in great detail the life and habits of a snail, and individual who, as her only true companion and connection to the world, sustains her through the worst of her illness. She peppers the text with beautiful spare poetry featuring snails, and with observations and writings of naturalists and snail specialists, including fascinating scientific tidbits of snail biology, life cycle, and evolution. A beautiful and lyrically written short work that expresses reverence for life along with rigorous science and meticulously documented references for further reading and enjoyment. Slow down the pace of your life and revel in this short introduction to an entirely new and foreign world - that of a snail.
LisaDunckley 4 months ago
This a beautifully written, little GEM of a book. The author, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, is stricken with a strange illness that has sapped her strength, she is too weak to do anything besides lie in bed. Reading, watching TV, visiting with friends—all of these are too draining for her to do. One day a friend brings her a pot of violets with—of all things—a snail in it. The mere idea of the responsibility for this is almost overwhelming for Elizabeth, but the quiet, slow, peacefulness of the snail gradually wins her over. What started as a bizarre unwanted gift became her main focus and companion. Elizabeth is an excellent observer of nature, and her growing interest in the snail leads her to learn all she can about them. The book switches back and forth between Elizabeth's history that lead up to her illness, her current life and snail story, and everything she learns about snails in general—which is fascinating. I am not a fan of snails, and this book made me want to have one as a pet. This is proof of good writing! Snails are hermaphrodites, for one thing. They can meet, mate, and both snails can later lay eggs. But if there's no love to be had, snails can be do without, and fertilize themselves and lay eggs. Elizabeth's snail lays several clutches of eggs which eventually hatch into the almost microscopic teensy new snails. Before that, the pot is exchanged for a large aquarium, and the snail's territory expanded to include a small rotten log, moss, pine needles, ferns, bark with lichens, and other materials taken from the woods outside (the natural environment of the snail). Despite no voice or mammal-type facial features, the snail is able to communicate well with regards to what it likes and doesn't like. The author describes it as a “tireless and fearless explorer” as it makes its rounds inside and out of its area. Other books, both fiction and non-fiction, are referenced. Some notables include the poem by A. A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) who wrote about a snail named James who journeyed (with a compass) from one of a brick to the other. Another was the horrifying story The Quest for Blank Claveringi, about giant, man-eating snails who slowly but relentlessly trail their prey. Non-fiction includes everything from Aristotle's writings about snails, to an old children's book call Odd Pets. The snail's teeth, grooming habits, and food needs are charmingly discussed. The entire book is fascinating and leaves you with an appreciation for a creature that most of us ignore or even dislike. The author takes something that probably creeps most people out, and makes it downright irresistible!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lovely book by a very I'll woman on her reflections a friend brings her a snail and a pot of violets . Watching her snail gives some focus and meaning to her life as she is bedridden due to a mysterious illness. I highly recommend this book . It is a gentle look at nature and discovery of something we take for granted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would u say a nine year old could read it....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having had aquatic moon smails as pet when iwas a child .. I really enjoyed this little gem of a book. Ic
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I honestly don't know what to make of this. I think it's got some potential. A fairly quick read for me. The author seems to go more into scientific detail rather than the character's own life, and personally, it felt like reading a science report of some sort, which I didn't like at all. So I'm on the fence with this one.
kyohin More than 1 year ago
Each Christmas I try to find a gem of a book which will appeal to my grown daughters, and give them some food for thought. This book was perfect, and they both said they really enjoyed reading it. I'd recommend this for anyone who likes to mull over what they have consumed with their eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this - found it hard to put down. I was drawn by the character of the narrator and by my own curiosity about her little snail friend. A quiet story that draws you in - Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was entertaining, touching and contains a lot if wisdom and surprising insights into our humanity and the nature of all living things. Less enjoyable for me were the countless quotes from other sources on the details of snail biology. It's not that I don't think these details interesting, or relevant, but they just didn't seem to fit with within the rest of the story. I suspect that's because the author did most of this research after her time with the snail. The poetry of this book seemed more natural and genuine than the scientific commentary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago