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The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  4,805 Ratings  ·  1,143 Reviews
In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, Elisabeth Bailey shares an inspiring and intimate story of her uncommon encounter with a Neohelix albolabris —a common woodland snail.

While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sens
Hardcover, 170 pages
Published August 24th 2010 by Algonquin Books
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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo LeopoldWalden by Henry David ThoreauA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie DillardDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Best Nature Books
39th out of 488 books — 407 voters
Freakonomics by Steven D. LevittStiff by Mary RoachA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondBlink by Malcolm Gladwell
Interesting and Readable NonFiction
97th out of 895 books — 393 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Apr 09, 2011 Lena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Elisabeth Tova Bailey was 34 when she was struck with a mysterious, flu-like illness while traveling in Switzerland. Upon her return home, the flu symptoms subsided, but her health did not return. She found herself so weak and dizzy she was barely able to sit up, let alone stand or care for herself, and her doctors had no idea why.

Bailey's life changed radically at that point, shrinking to a single room almost entirely cut off from the outside world. On impulse, a friend brought her a pot of wil
Sep 15, 2016 Elyse rated it it was amazing
Solace in a snail....

I read this book - and I write this review in honor of Dov Zeller- who shares the same disease as Elizabeth Tova Bailey which often keeps him bedridden.

"Slime is the sticky essence of a gastropod's soul, the medium for everything in its
life: locomotion, defense, healing, courting, mating, and egg protection. Nearly 1/3
at my snails daily energy went into slime production. And rather than making a single batch of "all-purpose" slime, my snail had a species-specific recipe f
Aug 26, 2016 Eve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2011
Dear, dear was I to know that you are the epitome of elegance and strength of character?

Bailey develops a mysterious illness at the end of a trip to the Swiss Alps. While convalescing on her farm in Maine, she is trying to adjust to the sudden loss of control in her life. Practically incapacitated, and depending on the assistance of a caregiver and irregular visits from friends, she soon succumbs to depression and the monotony of the sick bed. A friend decides to bring nature to
Jul 21, 2015 Cherie rated it it was amazing
I never thought reading a book about a snail could be such a rewarding experience. Who knew so many people had written poems about snails?
Who knew that snails have a life and intelligence? I do now. I know a lot about snails that I never knew before. Until this wonderful book came my way, I thought the only good snail was a dead one.

Come on, you know you think the same thing! Read this book, it may change your mind.

Elisabeth Tova Bailey's story about a garden snail, picked up in the woods one da
Dov Zeller
The other day I was telling a sick friend about this book and I told her the author has an illness that sounds very much like ours and my friend said, 'no wonder she can hear the snails eating!' Because some people with this illness have chronic migraine symptoms including horrific sound sensitivity (which I sometimes call bionic hearing.)

As it turns out, the author does have the same illness as I do. The poorly named Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As Laura Hillenbrand, author of sea biscuit says, “T
May 13, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sue by: John Speer
I allowed myself a long and slow read for this small memoir of one year during a woman's lengthy, 20 year convalescence from an unknown virus. That year was made special by the presence of a snail brought in from the woods outside by a visitor. The author, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, was unable to live in her own home at that time, was feeling alienated from life, her surroundings, and felt isolated. This small creature led her to a year of observation, learning, fostering, and companionship. I ...more
♥ Marlene♥
Loved loved it.

First I have to tell you something about myself. I am known as the snail saviour. I am always telling everybody when they are visiting and tread in my garden, beware of my snails.

They are scared when they accidently do step on one because they know I will get my whip out!

A few weeks ago I removed most of the snails I could find from my back garden to my front garden, because I knew my dad and brother would not notice if they'd walk on my snails, while they were installing a new f
Jun 08, 2015 Almeta rated it really liked it
Recommended to Almeta by: Artfullyoung1
I have often stated that I need to get my larnin’ in disguise; I need to be tricked into it.

Because of this, I have a fondness for biology books like Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body and The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, which do not read like textbooks; in which the author does not talk condescendingly and chapters read like an intriguing story book, with pictures.

I’m pretty sure that author:Elisabeth Tova Bailey never intended to be
May 04, 2011 Aylin rated it really liked it
I accidentally read this. Downloaded a sample to my Kindle> liked it> bought the book to read later but just wanted to read a few more pages> read it all.

This is a quiet, intimate book about a woman and her land snail. The youthful author contracts some unknown and completely debilitating virus while vacationing abroad. This virus changes her body permanently. One day she is brimming with joyeux de vivre and the next day she is bedridden, betrayed by her body and literally without the a
May 25, 2015 Tara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ecolit
"Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life."--Edward O. Wilson

This quote is an epigraph to one of the chapters. Oh, how I love the quote and this little gem of a book. I'm thrilled to see it has over 3k reviews and won two awards. It's beautifully packaged with soft pencil drawings reminiscent of the 1970s and telling quotes about snails and nature at the start of each small chapter.

The book is a be
Suzanne (Chick with Books) Yester
Is it a memoir or a beautiful piece of nature writing? It is both, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a Neohelix albolabris, the common woodland snail, and encourage you to pick this book up and escape into a world you may never have known to exist...

Elisabeth Tova Bailey found herself suffering from a debilitating unknown illness that left her with severe neurological symptoms and virtually bedridden all the time. As her illness progressed, and as she had to move out of her farmhouse and to
Diane Barnes
I picked up this book because it seemed to be a quick read (190 pages) while I was waiting for another download for a library book to be available. Wow! What a surprise. Who knew snails could be so facinating? The author is a victim of a strange disease that keeps her bedridden. A friend brought her a pot of violets she had dug up in the woods, and there just happened to be a snail in residence. She becomes fascinated with his movements and motives and begins her research. They are intelligent ...more
Waverly Fitzgerald
Sep 14, 2013 Waverly Fitzgerald rated it it was amazing
The most soothing book I’ve ever read. It moves at a snail’s pace. Small in size, lyrical in language, precise in observation, delicate in articulation.

The author, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, is bedridden due to a mysterious auto-immune disease. A friend bringers her a flowerpot containing a wild violet from the nearby woods, and along with the plant, a snail. Bailey watches the snail and becomes fascinated by its journeys. Up and down the pot to sip the water that collects in the saucer. She figures
Aug 08, 2011 Julia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm just enthralled, and suggest everyone go to to learn more about the author and this slim volume of pure inspiration. Thanks to Heather Sturm for bringing this to the attention of our book club--I plan to buy my own copy very soon.

This observation states my views most clearly:

"Like Seabiscuit's Laura Hillenbrand, this author is at the house-bound, often bed-bound extreme of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (brain stem inflammation), a condition similar to Lyme mockingly l
When Elisabeth Tova Bailey returns from a vacation with a debilitating disease, she is confined to bedrest. A friend found a woodland snail and a bunch of field violets in the Maine woods to cheer her up. The snail was soon transferred from a flowerpot to a terrarium full of woodland plants, with a shell holding water and mushrooms for food. Bailey found watching the snail to be fascinating and relaxing:

"Watching it glide along was a welcome distraction and provided a sort of meditation; my ofte
Debbie "DJ"
May 03, 2014 Debbie "DJ" rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, animals
I really enjoyed this book. It's the story of a woman who becomes extremely ill after a trip overseas, and is "gifted" a snail. As she is confined to her bed she begins to pay attention to what her little snail is up to. What ensues is a fascinating look at a snails life. I will never look at a snail the same way again. Their little lives are designed to perfection, and they can teach us all to slow down a little, and smell the roses (or snails)!
Susan Ideus
Sep 09, 2010 Susan Ideus rated it it was amazing
"Survival often depends on a specific focus: A relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: the way the sun passes through the hard seemingly impenetrable glass of a window and warms the blanket, or how the wind, invisible but for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house."

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating records a year in the life of author Elisabeth Tova Bailey—a year in which she struggled for her survi
Apr 15, 2015 Kandice rated it it was amazing
This was a lovely book. I have always had a thing for snails and slugs so when I happened across this title I bought it without looking into what it was. I’m glad I didn’t because if I were to describe it to you it would sound dull. It was not.

The author contracts a mysterious, debilitating disease and is prostrate for months on end, needing care from those around her and unable to move from her bed without assistance. She doesn't dwell on her disease or personal circumstances, but you get the i
Nov 08, 2011 Corey rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
The writing and the premise of this book were great but the execution left a lot to be desired. I sympathized with the author’s horrible debilitating condition and felt the book offered a lot of insight about disability. However, the snail facts felt choppy and disconnected and I wish they had been incorporated into the narrative a bit better. The constant personification of the snail made me feel like the author kind of didn’t understand the animal very well. For instance, constantly feeling ...more
Lesley Moseley
Mar 07, 2016 Lesley Moseley rated it really liked it
I too have a recurring need for 'downtime', so could already emphasize with the author Elisabeth Tova Bailey.. I lie on my bed and look at the leaves changing colours, listen to the birds, and read.. This exquisite, well researched , well written, little book, was just the shot..Nature lovers will thrill to her close observations.
Jul 29, 2011 Shruti rated it really liked it
A great book for someone who is chronically ill or wants a unique perspective on what it's like. I really identified with the main character in this book. As someone who is frequently stuck in bed with a chronic illness, I found a lot of not only similar sentiments in the narrator but also inspiring thoughts.

I never thought that I would enjoy a book about snails so much, and, to be perfectly honest, I think I took one star off because I got bored with the snail topic after awhile.
Mar 03, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: animalia, memoirish
Having a favorite animal is very childish, isn't it? When I was a kid I was nicknamed Turtle because of how slow I ran. My dad, who coached me in softball, used to say that I was the only one who could hit it over the fence and still get a triple. I owned that nickname and learned to draw both realistic and cartoon turtles and often received turtle items as gifts. Even my senior year in high school, my first boyfriend made me a metal cast turtle that I still have.

There are kids in my second gra
Aug 23, 2010 Amy rated it it was amazing
"...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,
Oct 17, 2016 Lisa rated it it was amazing
If you need to slow down.
(Don't we all?)

If you want to marvel at the little wonders of the natural world.
(Slime and tenatacles that taste and love darts, no lie.)

If you cherish moments of peace strewn among the madness of a work day.
(Five minutes on the metro is enough.)

My own brain is chugging along too slowly to properly explain why you should read this tale of a bed-bound woman and her foray into the world of snails. All I know is that every time I picked up this book, it is exactly what I w
It is an interesting experience to read the words of someone who has been through a horrible sickness, one that spans decades.
Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health

This book is basically about the author's struggle through her illness, which was eased by the company of a snail. It may appear as a normal book about someone just rambling about them being in bed all day but it is exactly the opposite. Through a series of books on snails and the
Jun 20, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Clear, beautiful, easy to understand nature writing. Gave me a new appreciation of the humble gastropod. A friend brings the bedridden author a pot of violets with a snail under one leaf and the author spends one year studying her miniature companion, observing and reading all she could on her little friend. After the creature is moved to a terrarium with a habitat similar to its woodland home, the author can watch the snail's habits and life cycle. I learned its anatomy, that it cannot hear, ...more
Jan 14, 2015 Laurel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to write a full review, but it got erased as I was halfway through typing it. Since my health will not allow me to rewrite it, I will instead simply share a few of my favorite quotes, found below. While all the quotes are about illness (which resonated with me deeply, for obvious reasons), this book is much more about Bailey's observations of the mysterious life and behaviors of an unexpected companion at her bedside: a small snail given to her as a gift. It is a beautifully ...more
One of the many fun things about goodreads is being inspired to leave my reading comfort zone. This is usually a win-win proposition. When I end up liking the book, I feel excited that I expanded my horizons. When I end up hating the book, I get to write a snarky review. Worst case scenario, I feel kind of neutral or ambivalent about the book in which case I may or may not finish it but at least I can say I tried.

“The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” fell into the latter category. Animals are reall
Welp, if there is any one book to make you feel like you've just wasted two months of bed rest, it's this one. ;)

Although I have not been confined to the degree the author was, and I have known all along that the end is in sight for me, the frustration of bed rest can be all-consuming. I did find ways to deal with it, but nothing quite so beautiful as the author's snail adventure, except for maybe observing the fascinating developments of my belly...but those observations for me have been couple
Julie Markham
Feb 22, 2015 Julie Markham rated it really liked it
"Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten. But the snail....the snail kept my spirit from evaporating."

Having an isolating and chronic illness myself this book struck a very personal chord. The author Bailey contracts what is later revealed to be tick-borne encephalitis and CFS and while she is bedridden she becomes fascinated with her "pet" snail. The majority of the book is made up of snail facts, from their anatomy to behaviors and everything in between,
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Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s essays and short stories have been published in The Missouri Review, Northwest Review, and the Sycamore Review. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and a Notable Essay Listing in Best American Essays. She lives in Maine.
More about Elisabeth Tova Bailey...

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“Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten. But the snail....the snail kept my spirit from evaporating.” 19 likes
“Survival often depends on a specific focus: A relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: the way the sun passes through the hard seemingly impenetrable glass of a window and warms the blanket, or how the wind, invisible but for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house.” 12 likes
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