The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Never again will I casually crush a snail with the back of my trowel while gardening. Not after reading this book and developing a new and surprising appreciation of these hitherto-despised slimy creatures in shells.
Author Elizabeth Tova Bailey accidentally became an expert in all things snail during a debilitating illness that left her bedridden. A friend had potted up some wild violets from the woods nearby and popped in a snail as well, thinking she might "enjoy it".
Amazingly, she did, becoming fascinated by the snail's daily life, feeding it wilted petals and bits of mushroom and finding in it a form of companionship.
Increasingly intrigued, Bailey began filling her vast tracts of empty time by reading centuries-worth of literature on gastropods and learning the details of everything from her snail's sex life to the reasons it needed to be so slimy. The result is a book that's a blend of natural history and memoir.
Bailey is relatively sparing with information about her illness, conveying just enough for the reader to appreciate how trapped and despairing she felt being bed-bound for so long. All the detail belongs to the snail, and fascinating it is, too.
According to one scholar, the design of the snail's shell can be credited with inspiring everything spiral - from drill bits to Europe's most famous staircases. Snails can lie dormant for years. Their world is soundless. They shoot each other with darts as part of lovemaking.
Along with snippets of snail-related writing, these nuggets form the backbone of this slim volume that deserves to be read at the same gentle pace a gastropod moves.
The Sound Of A Wild Snail Eating is a reminder of how much there is worth noticing in the world if we can only slow down for long enough, and a record of how one woman found a way to sustain her spirit while her body was failing. Beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written, it is a rare pleasure.
And so I will have to resign myself to lacy silverbeet and nibbled lettuce leaves from now on, as it turns out the snail is far too elegant and extraordinary to be treated like a common garden pest.