This book made me fall in love with snails and I was so ready to get a pet snail… until I looked up pictures of snails and realized that they’re icky and slimy. Any book that can make me see snails as beautiful and sophisticated creatures is an amazing book! Elisabeth Tova Bailey weaves a poignant and touching tale of a rough period in her life and how a snail helped her through it. 🐌
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 under standing of her own confined place in the world.
Intrigued by the snail’s molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal.
I’m very much obsessed with the name of this book (as I’ve gushed about before), and it was what made me pick this book up in the first place. I had no clue if The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating was non-fiction or fiction (I guessed non-fiction, because of the nature-sounding title) or what genre it fell into. All I knew was that The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating sounded magical, natural, and unique. It made me imagine what kinds of sounds a wild snail eating would actually make (a crunchy sound, as Bailey describes) and why that was important.
The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously. I watched, transfixed, as over the course of an hour the snail meticulously ate an entire purple petal for dinner.
This book is a mixture of memories and facts: at its soul is a memoir of Bailey as she develops an unknown disease that makes her bedridden. She can barely move at all, and she recounts the difference in her life and her aspirations before and after getting ill. Her friend brings a pot of violets and a snail, and Bailey starts developing an interest in her snail and snails in general. The facts on snails are scattered throughout the book, and we learn about why snails are slimy, what they eat, how they reproduce, and much more.
I’m intrigued by Bailey’s vivid and detailed descriptions of her snail’s behavior, mainly because the snails I’ve met in my life are always super small, and I don’t pay attention to how they eat or what they do in their spare time. After reading this book, I was certain that snails are the cutest, friendliest, most clever creatures ever. I spent a good chunk of my spare time looking up how to take care of pet snails before I realized that snails are not that great after all, and I was just carried away by the book. (I think I’m okay with one snail, but seeing images of multiple snails in the same container makes me feel uncomfortable.)
Aside from the snail, Bailey’s day-to-day experiences of her illness and her subsequent feelings of helplessness and homesickness are very touching. While the snail seems to be in the spotlight most of the time, a book on just the snail is not as enticing as one with a more human perspective. Although Bailey’s illness is a mysterious one, I could empathize with her feelings of being alone, despairing over her future, and reminiscing of all the things she was able to do in the past.
This book is a floaty mix of snail physiology and memoir. Be prepared to be brainwashed into liking snails, if you don’t already like them!
Do you like snails?
Do you have a favorite memoir?