Book Biz: One of nature’s smallest creatures offers solace in a hectic world

It may seem impossible that a snail, a tiny mollusk, can become a bedridden woman’s companion and gives her a new perspective on life. That’s what happens when a friend brings a terrarium with a snail nestled in the violets to take up residence on Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s bedside table. Essayist and short story writer Bailey had always been an active person who enjoyed the outdoors around her country home in Maine. She was struck with a neurological disorder that left her too weak to sit up. The illness forced her to stay in bed where she felt life was slipping by, unused. At times, it was even impossible for her to read in bed.

“Hold up before you think this sounds like a depressing book,” says Lisa Newman, an associate at Lemuria Books in Jackson. “It’s not at all. Elisabeth’s illness is just the reason she has all this time to observe the snail and later its friend and over time very many baby snails.”

Newman recommends the book, finding its style reminiscent of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gifts from the Sea. Bailey details the fascinating world of snails as Lindbergh showed the beauty of shells as she reflected on her place in the world. In the opening of her book, Bailey cites a quote from Edward O. Wilson, which sums up the spirit of the book: ‘The natural world is the refuge of the spirit…richer even than human imagination.’

“The natural world did become the only thing that Elisabeth could keep pace with – the pace of a snail – and soon she was able to learn many things about snails through reading in addition to what she learned through observation,” Newman said. “One fact that I cannot forget is that snails have 2,640 teeth and can regenerate them as they dull.

“I should add that I did not act on the impulse to go out and get a terrarium in hopes of finding my own snail in the nearby woods. This idea is still in the back of my mind however.”

Bailey says she wanted to write the book as a biological thank you for the snail that helped her rediscover the beauty of simple things.

“I read this 178-page book over the course of an afternoon,” Newman said. “Through the stories, which are embedded with many facts about snail life, the reader escapes a world we would otherwise never know as we go through life at our often hectic pace.”

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