Elisabeth Tova Bailey Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Painting of the author by Edith B. LaRoche

Elisabeth Tova Bailey

An interview with Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is part memoir, part natural history and it details your relationship with a snail over the period of a year. What led you to write this book?

I wrote down some of my snail observations and a friend was so intrigued that she suggested I turn them into an essay. The essay seemed to really delight readers. After some years had passed, I wondered if there could be a book, but I wasn’t sure there was more to write. I began to read scientific gastropod literature, fell in love with it, and found there was quite a bit more to say. I wrote the book partly because I felt I owed the snail a biographical thank you and partly because I felt the story would be of help to other people going through a rough time.

The setting for your book is the geographically and emotionally isolated space of your bedroom. How did you survive that situation?
The isolation and limits of illness can be very tough, sometimes even tougher than illness itself. I do not know how I, or anyone, survives such situations. The snail was very critical in getting me through a hard time. I think each of us, in surviving any difficult life challenge, have to find a way to stay connected to the world as that connection is what sustains us.

At what point did watching the snail transition from the boredom of being bedridden to genuine interest?
When I first started to watch the snail, simply because it was there and moving around, I did not expect it to do anything of interest at all. It was when I became aware that the snail had habits, just like me, that I became intrigued. Like me, it woke up and went to bed. Like me it wanted something delicious for dinner. It turned out to have interesting small-sized adventures, as did I. That we were cohabitating and living our life patterns in parallel created a sense of kinship and sparked my curiosity.

Your descriptions of the snail’s life are so detailed and interesting that the snail becomes an actual character in the book, a key presence in your life. Did you know when you started writing the book that the snail would become a main character?
I knew that I would write as much as possible about the snail as I never wanted to write about myself. However, when two friends read an early draft, I was surprised by their reactions as one wanted more description of the snail and the other wanted more information about me. It was only then that I realized that I had two main characters. This seemed like a problem and it worried me for awhile, but as the book developed, I started to realize that I was sort of “channeling” the snail. While I was the initial main character it is through my experience that the reader experiences the same connection to the snail that I did, and in this way the snail’s character becomes the larger and more central presence in the book.

Most people wouldn’t think that a snail could be very interesting. Yet you became fascinated by the life of your tiny companion. What are some of the surprising things you learned about your snail?

Every creature on earth, when examined closely, leads a fascinating and full life. In some respects the lives of the smaller and short-lived creatures are even more intense, more crammed with plot, than our longer human lives. There are so many interesting snail traits that it’s hard to choose which to mention. I was in awe of my snail’s strength as well as its ability to exist in space at any angle, even upside down. My snail could go dormant whenever circumstances were not in its favor, which is an incredibly useful trait. Snails are also famous for spending many hours in courtship.

How did your relationship with the snail help you survive a difficult year?
My snail was at my side 24/7 and just to have that kind of contact with another life was critical as I was so cut off from my usual life. While I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do, I could, by watching the snail, enter into its microcosmic world, and so in that way, I was still able to participate in life. It was also helpful to see an example of a small creature adapt and persevere outside of its usual environment, as living with chronic illness involves adapting to changed circumstances and persevering.

Your book is about your isolation due to illness and how your situation parallels the hermit-like life of a snail, yet it highlights a remarkable interspecies relationship between a snail and a human. How did you write simultaneously about such opposites – isolation and connection?
Illness can limit one from participating in normal activities and even from socializing. So I wrote about that isolation and what it was like to observe my healthy visitors as they came and went. In contrast, the snail was constantly at my side, and so a very crucial interspecies bond developed. It was the diminished connection to my own world, due to illness, that allowed my increased connection to the snail’s world—a world that was more on a par with my reduced functioning level. I tend to think anyone in my situation would also have bonded with a snail.

Why would a book about an interspecies relationship with a snail be of interest to the average reader?
Ultimately, I think the book speaks to the universal experience of being alive. All humans understand isolation on some level, even within a family, a marriage or partnership, or a friendship; one can sometimes still feel isolated. Likewise, everyone has had the flu and knows what it is like to be laid low, at least temporarily. While the benefits of an interspecies relationship with common pets is well known, people are always intrigued to read about a relationship with a creature they don’t know well.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Here I Am
    Here I Am
    by Jonathan Safran Foer
    With almost all the accoutrements of upper middle-class suburban life, Julia and Jacob Bloch fit the...
  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain

An intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.