Monday, September 29, 2014

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Elisabeth Tova Bailey has a mysterious illness that lasts for many years.  At one point during this illness she is confined to her bed.  She can only sit up or hold a book for minutes at a time.  She has been removed from her beloved farmhouse to a condo in the city so that she can be cared for around the clock.  One day a friend brings Elisabeth a snail that is nestled in a pot of violets.  This is the story of how a snail ferries one woman through countless hours of suffering into a place of wonder-induced healing.

I, too, was swept up in the White-Lipped Forest Snail’s trail of reverence, all at once feeling luminescent with its gooey charm.  The moment the snail emerged from its shell the first day and explored the pot of violets I was completely absorbed.  As the snail nibbled square-shaped holes into unsuspecting scraps of paper and slimed its way into Elisabeth’s vigilant wonder I was breathless with bewilderment and curiosity.

You will gasp and hoot your way through this book as you discover that snails gallop, shoot darts at those they love and inspire biomimicry that may greatly reduce the discomfort of colonoscopies.  You will momentarily forget to breathe as you read the piece about snails offering up their own trails for their loved ones who cannot produce enough slime to propel themselves forward.  And I’m certain you will tell everyone you know about the art of ‘foot drinking’ and snails catching magic carpet rides on leaves.

Elisabeth’s prose is simply magical.  One review brilliantly describes it as "the marriage of science and poetic mysticism." This is not a never-ending mumble of snail trivia.  It is the story of a woman whose life is changed by a snail, and as she illustrates the snail’s impact she decorates the book with stunning interpretations of snail trivia.  Elisabeth also gifts the reader with a plenitude of quotes including the poetry of Billy Collins and Kobayashi Issa and an extensive list of malacology literature with wildly intriguing titles like “Lessons from Snail Tentacles.”  By the end of this book you will be bursting with fondness for gastropods and reading every little nugget of information including her acknowledgements and sources in an effort to never close the book.   

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