Elisabeth Tova Bailey, suffering from a debilitating chronic illness, once spent a bedridden year in the company a land snail. When she first received the snail from a friend as a gift in a pot of violets, she was bewildered:
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 much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility—especially for a snail, something so uncalled for—was overhelming.Soon, however, the snail began to mesmerize Elisabeth and she was compelled to start learning about the snail and its kin not only from popular books but also from specialized publications. At the end, when she was well enough to return home, the snail had turned Elisabeth into a malacologist. And she understood that snails and the like are not to be ignored:
If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on...Snails may seem like tiny, even insignificant things compared to the wars going on around the world or a million other human problems, but they may well outlive our own species.Elisabeth recounts the story of her illness and her snail companion in her little book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, that came out just recently (Algonquin Books). There are many short chapters on snail biology, including one devoted to snail slime. Elisabeth even gives us her anecdotal data on snail homing (her snail, eventually identified as a Neohelix albolabris, often went on nightly forays to explore its surroundings and always returned to its pot), food preferences and parental care. The chapters often end with Elisabeth's reflections on her illness. I thought the transitions between malacology and personal affairs were sometimes awkward and hence the overall flow of the book was slightly choppy.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable read. It would be a good book for a long plane ride or a lazy summer vacation.