Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (briefly): What She Read Review

Compact and graceful, stately in its pace, spiraling outward as it slips imperceptibly onward.
Look inside to sample Bailey's
graceful prose.

A snail or The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating?  Or both.

Think Annie Dillard meets Emily Dickinson: The Housebound Pilgrim at the Terrarium.

This brief memoir of Elisabeth Tova Bailey's two year sojourn with a snail and its progeny offers musings on debilitating illness, natural history, interspecies relationships, evolution, time, and beauty too. 

Bailey, as far as can be gleaned from the book itself and her website, has been living mainly horizontally for many years due to a rare illness brought on by a rogue pathogen.  One day, a friend brings some violets and a woodland snail to her bedside and so fatigued is Bailey that she finds observing the snail to be a perfectly paced diversion.  The bulk of the book offers her observations of her snail's quotidian adventures interwoven with research on the history and science of mollusks that, years later, Bailey accomplished when her health improved a tad.

Certainly, this would be a lovely book to read on a summer afternoon or a winter snowbound day.  Bailey's fluid style and unusually close observations offer a quietly engaging read for anyone with a modicum of curiosity about the natural world and about what it might feel like to be in Bailey's situation.  And anyone who loves words will smile at reminders of 'gastropod', 'malacologist', 'prostostomes', 'deuterostomes', and 'estivation'.  By no means daunting, these flashbacks to high school bio enliven the reader's experience here.

Finally, it's profoundly heartening to know that this young woman, felled early in her life by illness, did accomplish this lasting record of her world and her ways of seeing it.

Action:  I will make a morning pilgrimage into my yard and garden to see what's stirring each morning for a week (unless it's snowing as it was this morning!).  And I'll record my observations and reflections, in full-on Annie Dillard style. 
         I've long considered writing a small book about my imperfect forays into suburban permaculture.  One of our favorite summertime activities is to stroll about our small, oddly acute-triangle-shaped yard and "survey our domain", appreciating all the flora and fauna. Would you be interested in my efforts and minor catastrophes?  The mole in winter?  The battle of the orchard masons and the yellow jackets?  The deer and the cherry tree?  The rat and the hens?  The heather's rebellion and the block dogs' revenge?

MFB, slowly and steadily,
L

p.s. You'll enjoy this trailer...Listen closely, friends...



p.s. And for all you Crazy-for-Books blog hoppers, I'd say that, in addition to what I offered above, Ms. Bailey - certainly the central human character of this memoir - seems observant, self-deprecating, thoughtful, and - as one might well understand - alternately sad and determined.  Although this memoir focuses on the snail, her fascination with the creature offers us many glimpses of her compassion and empathy for all beings as well.  And she was a professional gardener before her illness, so we read about her love for the plant kingdom too.  In retrospect, and thanks to this question, she's a character well worth meeting.  I hope you'll try her book.

6 comments:

Jo said...

I LOVE this book. I checked it out from the library and liked it so much I bought a copy for myself and for a friend. Then, chose it for one of my book group selections (and everyone loved it). Lovely book to read, especially at the beginnig of Spring.

nice to read your thoughts on it!

BookBelle said...

This sounds like a fascinating book although I'm not sure I would think to read a book about a snail per se. I'm a new follower. You have a lovely blog and I enjoy your writing. Belle

Miss Good on Paper said...

The title of this book is enough to make me want to check it out. I've been looking to read more non-fiction. Thanks for sharing!

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Hi there--just stopping by on the other, brand new blog hop. Funnily enough, the two people above me on the list I already follow, but it's nice to have another excuse to stop by your blog!

Sidne,the BCR said...

Hello, blog hopping late but hoppin on by. i must pause to let you know that I am awarding you the Versatile Blog Award. love your blog and action you find from the novels you read. CONGRATULATIONS. stop by my blog to get complete details under the versatle award link on the right side of my blog.

Laurie said...

Jo - I'm interested in the response from your book group, wondering what points of discussion sparked the most lively conversation...
Belle - Luckily, it's a short read and well-written, so the snail focus actually stayed fairly engaging.
MG - I tend to read a mix of fiction & non-fiction. What sorts of non-fiction are you looking for? This one's memoir.
Hi Crowe! Off to visit you too, and the same was true for me on the hop, so I just hopped to additional new blogs...
Gee, thanks, Sidne! I'll stop by...

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