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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 24, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At age 34, Bailey was stricken with a mysterious virus while on a trip to Europe. Her healthy life had been full of activity, and now just the thought of getting up to get something was exhaustive. When a friend found some violets and brought her one in a pot, she also added a live snail below the violet’s leaves. Bailey wondered why she needed a snail, but after square holes began to appear in a letter propped on the violet’s pot, it occurred to Bailey that the snail needed food. She put a withered flower in the saucer below, and when the snail began to eat, Bailey realized that she could hear it eating—it was the sound of someone very small munching on celery. Soon the author realized she was attached, the snail providing an oasis of calm for her frantic and frustrated thoughts. She worried that the snail’s world was too artificial, so her caregiver created a woodland terrarium. Not only did the snail have a new home but Bailey had a new game: hide-and-seek with a snail. She began to read about snails, learning from scientists, early naturalists, poets, and writers, and found herself beginning to understand a snail’s world. And when her snail began to lay eggs, Bailey discovered that she might be the first person to record observations of a snail tending its eggs. This beautiful little book will not only make snail lovers of its readers, it will make them appreciate the small things in life. --Nancy Bent

From Kirkus Reviews

A charming, delicate meditation on the meaning of life. -- Kirkus Review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565126068
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565126060
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (268 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elisabeth Tova Bailey's natural history/memoir, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, received the 2012 William Saroyan International Prize for Nonfiction, a 2011 John Burroughs Medal Award for Distinguished Natural History, a 2010 National Outdoor Book Award in Natural History Literature and a Gold Award from Foreword Book of the Year for Memoir and was selected as a top ten Science & Technology title for 2010 by the American Library Association and one of the Best Books of 2010 by Library Journal and The Huffington Post. Editions/translations are available in the U.S., UK, and Australia/New Zealand, Germany, France, China, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, and (forthcoming) in Japan.

The Sound of a Wild Snail has found a special home in the medical humanities field with coverage in Academic Medicine, Hektoen International, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, Advance for Nurses Book Club and numerous national patient publications. The book is also being used in secondary and higher educational settings.

Bailey's essay, "A Green World Deep in Winter: The Bedside Terrarium," on the invention of the terrarium by a 19th century London physician and its use in palliative care, is available on the free access online Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine. Bailey lives in Maine.

To watch a slide/talk with the author, hear audio interviews, see a brief film, read full reviews, or to send along your own snail story, please visit:

Image credits: Portrait of the author by E. LaRoche, photo of terrarium by D. Smith

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

220 of 226 people found the following review helpful By Amy Henry TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"...the snail had emerged from its shell into the alien territory of my room, with no clue as to where it was or how it had arrived; the lack of vegetation and the desertlike surroundings must have seemed strange. The snail and I were both living in altered landscapes not of our choosing; I figured we shared a sense of loss and displacement."

Elisabeth Tova Bailey was in her mid-thirties when struck with a mysterious illness that soon led to her complete incapacitation. Without knowing the cause, much less the cure or the course that it might take, the disease was a frightening visitor. One day, a friend stops by with a rather odd gift. A snail, from out in the yard. First placed in a flower pot and eventually a terrarium, the snail becomes Bailey's constant companion. Because of her lack of mobility and energy, much of her time was spent observing the creature.

You might think this would be dull, or worse, that you'd be stuck listening to someone bleakly describing their every physical complaint. Not so. This book has very little to do with health issues and far more to do with curiosity and resilience. Bailey is not a complainer, actual details of her health are few and without self-pity. She doesn't simply give up either, she makes clear she wants to fight this unknown assailant on her life. That she does so with the help of a small snail is astounding.

The first surprise is that snails have a daily routine. They have certain times to eat and sleep and travel. They often return to the same place to sleep, and they sleep on their side. (!!!) As she watches the daily activities of the snail, she manages to study research on snails in general and in detail. Turns out snail research is pretty deep...volumes have been written on every tiny detail.
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83 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Bookventures Book Club on August 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Sound of Wild Snail Eating is not your typical memoir or inspirational novel. Nor will you expect to hear much talk about finding God in between these pages. Elisabeth Tova Bailey takes us on a brief journey through her life and the mysterious disease that leaves her in a state of paralysis. Not being able to stand or walk or even sit up in bed, you would think that her life was over and yet when she begins observing the life of a small woodland snail, she finds meaning not only in herself but in our own species.

I really enjoyed reading this story even though it is based entirely on snail watching. I did not know much about the book before I contacted the publisher and even if you read the synopsis, you would still be surprised by the story in front of you. The Sound of Wild Snail Eating is a truly quirky memoir and Bailey is a very resilient, courageous woman. It was painful reading about how debilitating her mysterious disease left her. Even worse was reading the epilogue and having bailey describing her numerous diagnoses. I couldn't help but think how I would handle the situation if it were me. However bailey has the spirit of a lion and she found a renewed sense of purpose from her observations. It was a joy to read about her discoveries with the snail and subsequently her own personal revelations about life.

For a book whose tone threaten to be s....l....o....w, I thought that this book was a fast read since most of the chapters are short and the prose is quick and flows nicely with the story. Bailey is very descriptive and rightly so since she's involved in participant observation. There were times when this book felt like a documentary into the life of a snail rather than a memoir.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By J. Reichhold on August 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey is a healing book. While a woman recovers from a life-threatening condition she has the time and patience to observe one small wild snail. Her thoughts, research, and experiences help her, and us, to heal our damaged relationship with the world of nature. The result of careful and heartfelt observation of even the smallest bit of life can not only enrich a life but also find and give life anew. This book is the perfect gift for anyone recovering from a set-back or in need of inspiration. I love how Elizabeth, while appreciating the small things of life, also brings in haiku. Perfect.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Susan Anderson VINE VOICE on November 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I had absolutely no idea what The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating was about when I picked it up to read. If you had told me it was all about a woman who's stuck in bed staring at a snail, I would have said "no thanks." But after finishing the book, I found myself wishing it was longer.

Yes, it's all about snails and their behaviors, but I promise you, after reading this, you'll never look at snails again the same. But really, (at least for me) I'll never look at anything the same again. This book made me realize how little I know about so many things in this universe. How much I have to learn. It took Elizabeth Tova Bailey's illness for her to learn this and now she's teaching all of us.

So, yes, this book really is about so much more than snails. And it's pretty short, so if you're unsure about it, it's not a major commitment. But I think that, like me, you'll be wishing it had about 100 more pages. And now I want a pet snail!
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