The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – A Spoiler Free Review

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A picture of Bailey’s snail in the non-fiction novel, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.

Book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Author: Elisabeth Tova Bailey (pen name)

Age Group: Young Adult/Adult

Genre: Non-fiction, Nature, Disease, Survival

Rating: 5/5

It is true, I don’t only read teen fiction, and when I do I sometimes read non-fiction! In fact, I was privileged with a chance to read The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey in my non-fiction writing class this term. At first one is skeptical of the book… The sound of a snail eating? What was it about? How interesting could it really be? Well I’m here to tell you that it is in fact one of the most dynamic and delightful reads I’ve ever had in the world of non-fiction. I also thought this would be a fitting follow-up on my last review of the Calling as this novel, like the Calling is also one of survival.

Bailey is diagnosed with a mysterious illness that leaves her all but stranded and unable to move on her own (I don’t consider this a spoiler as they inform you this in the prologue!). Her friends come and go and pay her visits, but most of the time she’s alone. One day a friend brings in a pot of field violets and in the pot a wild snail. At first Bailey is upset about the snail as she’s unable to care for it and it seems like a useless gift. Over time though, the snail and her begin to bond as she realizes that they’re moving at the exact same pace. This bond with the snail helps carry her through. In an interview Bailey explains that she used to tell her friends that came to visit stories about the snail and their adventures together. In turn, her friends told her that she should write a book about it. In another interview Bailey informs the readers that Bailey is in fact not her true name, but a pen name as, since she’s still ill, she didn’t want to be thrust out into the lime light.

Bailey is an extremely well read and rounded author as at the beginning of every chapter there is a quote that pertains to the chapter. Sometimes this is from technical papers like The Dawn of Reason by James Weir and sometimes short haikus from Kobayashi Issa. She also has whole chapters about the snail like the one where snails have 2640 teeth or one about how snails reproduce and protect their eggs. At very few points does Bailey ever directly address her illness, instead alluding to different aspects of it via the snail. This book is not a cry for sympathy, for action, nor for understanding. It is instead a whimsical journey of a woman and her small gastropod (snail) friend. How, when you slow down your, sometimes you learn things you never expected.

Thus, I leave you with my favorite quote from this novel (and believe me there are many wonderful quotes in this!):

“If Homo sapiens thought we were in charge of the planet, here was clear evidence to the contrary. The humble snail and its clan have a far older, and stickier, foothold on the earth than we more recent creatures. It was clear to me that gastropods should make front-page headlines in the New York Times, and mammals, particularly the human sort, should be relegated to the back sections. But then, with its many-toothed radula, cellulouse-digesting enzyme, and lack of vision, my snail was more likely to eat the Times than read it.”

As always, thank you for reading my review and check out many of the numerous others below.

~ Yoku

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