Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

WildSnailby Brad Nelson   5/14/14
I ran across this book by chance. “Eclectic” is how you could describe my taste in music (anything but rap and opera). The same is somewhat true of the books I like to read. And this is one of them.

It’s the true story of Elisabeth Tova Bailey who was struck with an illness in her mid-thirties that left her bedridden for months at a time. That certainly doesn’t sound like the material for an interesting or uplifting book. But there is little self-pity regarding her illness. It’s full of just matter-of-fact observations when that is the subject (and it is by no means the main subject).

But being stuck in bed, and being obviously a talented and inquisitive person, what is there to do? Even sitting up and writing was mostly beyond her means. How do you occupy your time when most of your friends have stopped coming to visit just as a matter of course (and her description of this is masterful)? Well, you adopt a snail, of course.

She discovers a small snail in a flower pot that someone had given her. She then proceeds to watch and describe its habits in interesting and fine-toothed (as snails have) detail. I don’t know how she pulled this off. Perhaps I’m easily amused. But this is a “stop and smell the roses” type of book. Instead of your typical roller-coast ride of various characters, subjects, events, and what-not, this book reads like a pleasant meditation. It’s a soul rush, to some respects, rather than a sugar rush.

And you’ll walk away from this book with a renewed sense of the awesomeness of life, even that of the humble snail. It is so easy for these small details in life, of life, to get lost in a blur of motion and short attention spans. This book is not dull, but it does manage to ramp back the ADHD factor and actually get you involved in the wonders not just of snails but of this one snail.

As one reviewer at Amazon aptly said:

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’s a rather pleasingly short book at 208 pages and is available in Kindle format. Bailey presses the creative boundaries of just what a book can be, and she does it without the new-age treacle that is typical of these kinds of efforts. No wacko here, just keen and inquisitive observations. • (1446 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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13 Responses to Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

  1. Anniel says:

    I read your review and a few others on Kindle, so, even though my birthday money at Kindle is long gone, you made me want to read this. This woman writes with such poetic beauty she takes my breath away. Thank you for a great review and recommendation. Bear says my mushrooms are ready in the kitchen.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Annie, I feel we should take up a birthday collection so that you can read this book. 🙂 And I’m glad to hear that my review kindled a desire to read it. That means I must be doing something right!

  2. Anniel says:

    Brad – Bear decided that Kindle means he gave the gift that keeps on giving. I try to be good and not overspend, but I feel this book is money well-spent. I had no idea how many people all over the world have studied snails. The idea of just taking the time to watch such a small life is fascinating. People used to do that, and I hope there are those who still do. The author’s descriptions of her illness and feelings about her world and the snail’s in its terrarium are spot on. Our youngest daughter has a rare and very debilitating neurological condition and she will recognize every cry, every agony this woman goes through. Bronwyn does not want to be known first and foremost as a “sick” person. She wants to be seen as whole. Illness does set one apart. So thanks again for this treat.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Don’t blush, but one of the things I like about your writing, Annie, is that it is unpretentious. And you have a creativity and vision that extends beyond thinking and talking like Charles Krauthammer or Peggy Noonan. I don’t at all mind Charles Krauthammer or Peggy Noonan. But one of the things I try to stress here at StubbornThings is to be creative, to think outside the box, to find one’s own voice.

      I don’t mean being different for different’s sake. That would be little different from just putting on one of the phony personas of the beltway chorus. Here’s a good example: You know that type of voice that (particularly women) put on in their role as a newscaster? Well, think about how extremely bizarre they would sound if they talked in that same forced-formal way to their friends and family.

      There seem to be two or three well-known and over-used templates or styles when doing any kind of writing that intersects on politics. And, frankly, I’m bored to tears by most of it (thus my love for Mark Steyn). This site is about people finding their own voice—as long as it’s not just an echo of the “Bush is dumb” screed or any of the other mindless garbage so often imbibed by those on the Left without a thought. Being opinionated (even wrong) about something is more than okay. But this place wasn’t designed to be a mere echo chamber for the Left, even if the low information voters or useful idiots are unaware of their own indoctrination.

      In much of your writing, you prove that life is bigger than typical conservative commentary and beltway styles. And that’s what I like about this woman’s book. Instead of being an environmental wacko book, or some over-emotional effusion of flighty new-age-ism, Elisabeth Tova Bailey does a splendid job of describing something that one would suppose would be an inherently boring subject. In addition, instead of self-consciously spelling out making lemonade out of lemons, she does so with the very style and existence of her book. It’s even, dare I say, a case of understatement. Imagine how much wind would have been taken out of her sails if the book had been titled, “Making Lemonade out of Lemons.”

      I seriously doubt that this person is a conservative. But she’s certainly not, gauging by this book, a whiny, self-indulgent “victim.”

      Bailey is also doing something that they used to call “natural history” until science narrowed this practice to mere measurements and thus lost the excitement of life and existence itself. Would this book have been better if it was full of exact numbers and figures about gestation cycles, weights, measurements, time, etc? Sometimes such minutia is interesting. But I believe that much of science has wrung the life out of the natural world (possibly a subject taken up by Paul Feyerabend in Against Method).

      Obviously there is a Leftist/secular ideology in which they specifically wish to de-mystify everything. Yes, I get that. But even beyond that, I read books occasionally on science and I would say that much of the culture of science itself has become dead and boring (thus my love for Richard Feynman who kept a schoolboy fascination for everyday things to the very end).

      We live in this insane world now where conceited and vein “experts” demand our acquiescence. And we have too easily given them this. We get into the habit of thinking that we mere “non-experts” have nothing to say about this world. And that is another trap that StubbornThings was very much self-consciously created to break out of. Most of the “experts” right now are telling us the lie of global warming, among other things.

      I’m sorry to hear of your daughter’s condition. I very much hope she enjoys this book. Write back and let us know. And if she’d like to pen a few thoughts of her own, all the better.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        As it happens, TCM last night ran The Legend of Hell House. Near the end, the skeptical physicist encounters some readings that contradict his theory, and comments (shortly before being killed) that he rejects the readings. This can be considered symbolic of so much that is wrong in modern science: theories are considered more important than the evidence that confirms or disproves them. Global warming aka climate change aka climate disruption is merely one spectacular example of this intellectual corruption.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          theories are considered more important than the evidence that confirms or disproves them.

          Science and scientists have become dishonest about what they are looking for. A great many of them, if not the majority, have become indoctrinated in Cultural Marxism. They are now Jihadists of a different kind. They are out to prove their view of the world, facts be damned.

          If it is true that science got its start in large part due to the Christian view that this was a coherent and knowable universe, then how ironic that this current crop of Scientific Jihadists (who despise religion) are regressing us.

          As I’ve noted on more than one occasion, other than the trinkets and medicines that are the technological fruits of science, our lives are not effected one way or the other by knowing of quarks, quasars, or quantum physics. What we increasingly are finding is that each branch of science is going down a rabbit hole. It gets more and more detailed, telling us more and more about less and less, that we lose site of the story, especially when radical materialism is considered the only legitimate way to see things. It becomes anti-human and un-human. What room is there in this world view for poetry, for instance?

          This one book about a snail will tell you more about life than a hundred biology books. I guarantee it.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Well, books on natural history (including at least one by Richard Dawkins) can be quite entertaining, as I learned over 45 years ago when I first encountered Animals Without Backbones. Incidentally, a book you might find interesting (it’s certainly quite an amusing look at modern science) is Science Made Stupid by Tom Weller (who later did a sequel, Culture Made Stupid).

  3. Anniel says:

    Brad – Bronwyn got home from another hospital stay last night and called to say she wants to read the book as soon as she can. I told her that I had mentioned her to you, but now I’ll see if she will respond to your kind invitation. Thank you again, again —

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      No prob. I hope she does have a few comments though.

      But if she doesn’t, I understand. I approached a friend of mine who is an avid reader and suggested he submit a review or two to this site. He said that sounded too much like home work. But for others, it’s what we call fun.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s what one reviewer says about Paul Feyerabend’s book, Against Method, which I had mentioned earlier (but haven’t read yet):

    It seems to me that one of the conclusions of the book is not to give automatic trust to what is called science. Scientific achievements are not to be under-appreciated, but there is no reason to follow the advice of scientists (or so-called experts), necessarily, on issues such as their critique of religion (or other competing ideas of the world at large), what should be taught in schools, where tax money should be spent, or even scientific issues such as whether genetically modified organisms necessarily benefit everyone. The invention of the transistor certainly has made life easier, but science can do as much harm as good: some of the most talented and intellectually persistent individuals are drawn into an institution where they are likely to spend their energy on publishing papers in obscure journals (of which millions of pages are published weekly), and their talent geared at solving questions important only to a tiny part of the community (mainly other academics). (To some extent they become like medieval monks, only that medieval monks did not hold their annual conferences at the most expensive vacation resorts of the Mediterranean.) Thus science, even in ideal circumstances (that is neglecting the possibility of corruption, nepotism, etc.), can be a major obstacle to the spontaneous flow of human creativity.

    I ran into a reference to this book today or yesterday, and I forget where. But it sounds as if it could be a good read.

    My contention is that science, as a culture, has imbibed far too much Cultural Marxism, which includes the viewpoints of atheism, radical materialism, anti-Western-Civilizationism, and white guilt. It is also stupid. I had a researcher at the University of Washington tell me that there is no such thing as truth (which is itself a truth proposition). I know this guy probably knows chemistry and the periodic table of elements like the back of his hand. But with this, and other things he’s told me, he’s obviously ignorant. He has no kind of well-rounded view outside of a narrow field (backed and narrowed by a narrow ideology…Leftism).

    I’ve read a lot of laymen-level (and sometimes above) science books. I find various subjects interesting. But more and more such books are counterproductive in terms of trying to gain an understanding of, and appreciation for, life and reality. This is why I will often find more insight into the way things are from reading a biography of Francis of Assisi than reading what has become a bastion of Cultural Marxism, magazines such as “Discover” or “Scientific American.”

    And that’s sad. Science has grown fat, dull, and arrogant. And, no, I don’t mean those who engage in putting scientific discoveries to commercial use. That is an area that is so pregnant with dynamism that I doubt that a hundred books could describe it. But as for basic research, and the general dynamic created by science merging with the state, it has become backward-looking and stupid. When the Grand Poobah, Stephen Hawking, tells us that we live in a “multiverse,” (as completely unprovable as heaven or angels) he shows us the height of the arrogance and irrelevance of the scientific culture. That many of these same people are proponents of the myth and scam of global warming shows you how corrupted the culture of science has become.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      It’s ironic that science is so anti-religious given that so many of its adherents are treating it as a cult. They cite scientists as if they’re prophets rather than analyzing their arguments, and seek to destroy heretics and apostates (cf. the recent campaign against Lemart Bengtsson in England) against beliefs they take on unchallengeable faith rather than on the basis of proven theories. (In fact, Bengtsson’s heresy was in pointing out how poorly the evidence fits the theories. That used to be an example of how science works. Now it’s an example of how science has become corrupt.)

  5. Anniel says:

    Brad: I’m having to read this book again to keep up with my daughter and her reading. But it’s OK, as long as it gives her some sense of hope. I hope she will do some of her own writing soon. Maybe she can get her own snail.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      You tell your daughter to hang in there. There is always hope. Whatever our physical limitations, what makes us unique is our ability to think our own thoughts. That was surely true from the act of reading that book. And I’m sure it was true for the author who wrote it.

      Also, I don’t know your daughter’s limitations. It’s heartbreaking to not (if this is the case) be able to skip and jump like all the other boys and girls.

      What this lady stuck in bed did was to use what she had to the best of her ability — and wrote a book.

      What we may find out, when all is said and done, is that to do one thing excellent is far more skipping and far more jumping than most “whole” people ever do. The drive to do something superbly, whatever one’s other limitations, is a gift. I hope she has that or finds that.

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