Eastern Home & Travel May/June 2017 - Page 29

GREAT READS “THE SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING” By Elisabeth Tova Bailey That old saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” seems to ring mostly false for me. Oftentimes while browsing in a bookshop or library, scanning covers and looking intently at artwork and font choices, I judge what must be inside each tome’s pages. It is with that snap judgment that I decide whether to pick up a book or leave it on the shelf. And so, the cover of “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, with its tiny snail illustration leaning over the title, intrigued me. I thought the title must be a play on words, and the snail a metaphor for the narrative within. Oh, how my judgment was wrong. This delightful little book—part natural history essay, part memoir—is the true story of the author’s yearlong observations of a wild Maine woodland snail. Bailey is no scientist; instead she came by her study in an unusual way. Following a brief trip to Europe when she was 34 years old, Bailey was felled by what she calls “a mysterious viral or bacterial pathogen, resulting in severe neurological symptoms.” Her illness left her lying for days in bed, unable to much of anything. One day, a visiting friend scooped up a small snail she discovered outside and dropped it in a plant near Bailey’s bed, thinking it could be a companion of sorts. Bailey describes her first encounter with her new roommate: “I watched, transfixed, as over the course of an hour the snail meticulously ate an entire purple petal for dinner. The tiny, intimate sound of the snail’s eating gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared space.” As she lay prone each day, hoping her illness would subside, Bailey said she felt deep isolation. This isolation was sometimes tougher to deal with than the other symptoms she experienced. She credits the snail with getting her through this difficult time in her life, in helping her survive by keeping her connected. She writes: sleeping habits gave me a fresh perspective; I was not the only one resting away the days. The snail naturally slept by day, even on the sunniest of afternoons. Its companionship was a comfort to me and buffered my feelings of uselessness.” Bailey believes her attachment to the snail and her fascination with its daily and nightly habits added a welcome focus to her life. Watching this small inhabitant of the natural world also gave her fresh perspective on the universal experience of being alive. And she shares that fresh perspective in an inventive way in this delightful, curious book. Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s essays and short stories have been published in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, The Missouri Review, Northwest Review and the Sycamore Review. Bailey is on the Writers Council for the National Writing Project. She lives in Maine. — Molly Fellin Spence “The snail and I were both living in altered landscapes not of our choosing; I figured we shared a sense of loss and displacement. … (Its) daytime EASTERN HOME & TRAVEL 29