The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a delightful tale of Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s interaction with a wild snail. Baily, afflicted with an illness that keeps her bedfast most of the time, interweaves her story affliction with the story of a wild snail. In 189 pages Baily succeeds in telling a reader everything they will ever need to know about snails. After reading the book I felt like I have earned an advanced degree in snailology.
One early spring day a friend of Baily spotted a snail in the woods and decided to take the snail back to Bailey so she could see it. The friend dug up a few violets, put them in a pot, and delivered the pot and snail to Baily.Bailey’s friend brought her the snail because she thought her invalid friend would enjoy it. Her reaction was:
Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility—especially for a snail, something so uncalled for—was overwhelming.
Thus begins the relationship of Elisabeth Tova Bailey with a lowly common forest snail. Over the course of a year Bailey details her interaction with the snail.She paid close attention to the habits of the snail. What did it like to eat? When and how did it sleep? How did the snail procreate? (as she found out quickly and in great numbers)
If the book was just a science book about snails I suspect that some readers might bore of all the snail minutia dispensed by Bailey. Personally, I loved the minutia about snails because I love minutia in general. Just the kind of knowledge one uses to impress to people at a social gathering? Things like…. Do you know snails have teeth? Do you know that snails are hermaphrodites?
I found myself drawn into Bailey’s story not so much because of the subject, a snail, but because of Bailey’s debilitating illness.
There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in its isolation; the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time. One can not bear to live through another loss of function, and sometimes friends and family can not bear to watch. An unspoken, unbridgeable divide may widen. Even if you are still who you were, you cannot actually fully be who you are. Sometimes the people you know well withdraw, and then even the person you know as yourself begins to change.
There were times when I wished that my viral invader had claimed me completely. How much better to live an exuberant life and then leave as one exits a party, simply opening a door and stepping out. Instead, the virus took me to the edge of life and then left me trapped in its pernicious shadow, with symptoms that, barely tolerable one day, become too severe the next, and with the unjustness of unexpected relapses, that, overnight, erased years of gradual improvement.
I wept as I read this passage. It resonated deep within me. As a fellow pilgrim on the road of debility I understood the cry of Bailey’s being. The remembrance of what once was. The lament over what has been lost. Sometimes, it is a simple thing, like a snail, that comes along to give us a bit of purpose and meaning.
I heartily recommend The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. If you do read this book please share with us what you thought of the book.